Podcast 11 – Magical Tools

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 11-

Summary
Today we announce the upcoming break due to Cory’s grad school (don’t worry, we’ll be back sooner than you think!).  Then we talk about magical tools in American witchcraft, and we have our WitchCraft and Spelled Out segments.

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 11

-Sources-
Mules & Men, by Zora Neale Hurston – mentioned in the show
Lucky Mojo site – particularly rabbits’ feet, gator parts, and raccoon bones
Hoodoo Root & Herb Magic, by Catherine Yronwode – lots of info on magical curios
Mojo:  Conjure Stories, by Nalo Hopkinson – the book I’m reading now which I mentioned when discussing gator heads

Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.
Promo 1 – Iron Powaqa
Promo 2-  Witches’ Brewhaha

Blog Post 66 – The Moon

In a lot of modern Pagan religions, such as Wicca and Druidism, there is a certain amount of emphasis placed on the moon.  Phases of our celestial companion become symbolic stand-ins for various god and goddess figures, or particular aspects of those figures (as in the famous Maiden/Mother/Crone cycle).  With the full moon upon us, I thought I might take a little look at just how American witchcraft interacts with that lovely sphere.

There is a great deal of lunar lore found in Native American legends.  In one tale from the Kalispel Tribe of Idaho, the moon is equated with the famous trickster/father figure, Coyote:

“Once there was no Moon for someone had stolen it. The people asked “Who will be the Moon?” The Yellow Fox agreed to give it a try but he was so bright it made the Earth hot at night. Then the people asked Coyote to try and he agreed. The Coyote was a good moon, not to bright – not to dim. But from his vantage point in the sky the Coyote could see what everyone was doing. Whenever he saw someone doing something dishonest he would shout “HEY! That person is stealing meat from the drying racks!” or “HEY! That person is cheating at the moccasin game!” Finally, the people who wished to do things in secret got together and said “Coyote is too noisy. Let’s take him out of the sky.” So someone else became the moon. Coyote can no longer see what everyone else is doing but he still tries to snoop into everyone else’s business” (WWU Planetarium American Indian Starlore page).

The Cherokee thought of the Moon as brother to the Sun (an instance of the moon being seen as male, which appears in several cultures).

The image of the Man in the Moon is frequently found in American folklore.  Many of these traditions hail from European lore, including poems found in Mother Goose:

THE MAN IN THE MOON
The Man in the Moon came tumbling down,
And asked the way to Norwich;
He went by the south, and burnt his mouth
With eating cold pease porridge.
(from The Real Mother Goose)

In other cultures, the moon contains figures less familiar to most Americans.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac includes examples of the moon seen as a woman with child, a toad, a giant, a rabbit, and a boy and a girl carrying a bucket (as in “Jack and Jill”).

There are also particular moons associated with particular months.  A good list of them can be found at the Farmer’s Almanac site, here.  Many are linked with agricultural cycles (such as Green Corn Planting Moon or Harvest Moon), and some are clearly linked to hunting (like the Buck Moon).

There is a plethora of magical lore associated with the moon.  My earlier posts on planting by lunar signs and weather lore both have lunar connections within them.  Likewise, the witch initiations post mentions the practice of shooting at the moon to become a witch.  Edain McCoy, in her book In a Graveyard at Midnight, also has a fun bit of moon magic:

“To remove a curse from your home, you can try shooting your shotgun out an open window at the full moon, while shouting a curse at the Devil.  However, don’t try this if you live in a city or populated area, or you will likely find the police at your door” (McCoy, p. 107)

There are also beliefs about marriage and courtship dates associated with lunar phenomena – waxing-to-full moons are best for “tomcattin’” according to Vance Randolph’s Ozark Magic & Folklore.

Of course, witches can find lots to do under a full moon.  Personally I find it to be an ideal time for:

  • Storytelling gatherings (especially around a campfire)
  • Divination and fortune-telling
  • Working with Otherworld entities like spirits, ghosts, fairies, etc.
  • Possession-based magic and shapeshifting
  • Love and beauty magic
  • Crafting magical tools and supplies

These are only my thoughts on the subject, of course, and there are plenty of great sources on lunar folklore out there.  And, of course, your mileage may vary when it comes to making the most of a full moon.  I’d love to hear what you all do with regards to lunar-linked magic.  Please feel free to share your methods, practices, ideas, and thoughts with us here!

Until next time, thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 64 – City Spirits

Today’s post is going to be a little different.  I’m not going to cite any outside sources (at least, I don’t think I will…I may not be able to fight the urge).  Instead, I’m going to present some thoughts I have had which were spurred on by discussions about modernization last week, and in particular a comment from Crystal on Podcast 10.  She mentioned that as a city witch, she often feels the pull to get back to nature, which got me thinking:  can cities, buildings, and skylines be a part of nature, too?

Now, I know this isn’t an original thought, and that there are deeper philosophical questions here about whether people are a part of nature and therefore whether their creations are also a part of nature, but that’s not really what I’m getting at.  When I talk about “nature” above, I really mean the whole of nature, encompassing the spiritual dimension as well.  I’m thinking more in terms of whether the Otherworld might well have city elements in it.

Do buildings have specific spirits?  Like spirits of the land do?  Can you tap into a building’s spirit and use it in magic?  These are the questions that are swirling about in my head.  For example, there are definite precedents in hoodoo for using things like dirt from a courthouse or a bank or a hospital, because it’s assumed that the land upon which those structures reside will have absorbed a particular type of energetic influence which the root worker can then use for his or her own ends.  Is using that energy akin to using a little bit of the spirit of those places, or is the conjurer simply using accumulated human energy?

Even more to the point, are there places in cities that echo the kind of spiritual resonance found in locations like the Rollright Stones or Stonehenge?  After all, those structures were, at least to some extent, man-made (though I won’t begin to deny that they may be sitting on top of very particularly powerful places that have nothing to do with people).  But why can’t the Empire State Building or Beacon Hill in Boston or the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville have their own resident spirit (or spirits)?  And moreover, why not use places like that to do magic—not just in terms of collecting dirt or knick-knacks for spells, but actually deploying spells there, or finding subtle ways to contact spirits and interact with them in those locations?

For me, train stations have always had this very powerful Otherworldly significance.  I imagine that after death, there’s this sort of “waiting” place which always seems like a train platform to me.  Trains come and go, taking each person off to different post-mortem existences, or sometimes allowing them to just ride and enjoy the scenery for a bit.  There are food cars, drinks, other passengers to play cards with if being dead gets boring…er, at least, that’s how I envision it.  But lately I’m thinking that going to a train station is a lot like going to the Crossroads in traditional hoodoo practice.  I think I may try out a few things at our city train station and see how it goes.  If I do, I’ll be sure to post on that and let y’all know about it.

This is, of course, not an extensive discussion of this idea.  And there are probably lots of better sources for reading and thinking about urban magical practice than our little blog.  In fact, Velma Nightshade over at Witches Brewhaha recently did an episode discussing city witchery that’s well worth checking out (I couldn’t resist the opportunity to link to something).  But I just had to let some of these thoughts out, as they were making a lot of noise in my head and the gerbil that lives there was getting upset.

What about your thoughts and opinions?  Any strong inclinations on city magic?  Does it depend upon specific places?  Is there some way to turn a city landscape of concrete and steel into the same kind of magical place an ancient grove might be?   Do you practice this kind of city magic yourself?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

PS – I will be closing the current polls at 5pm today, so if you still haven’t voted, please do!  See the top right of the sidebar to vote.

Blog Post 63 – Black Pepper

Today I thought I’d take a brief look at a magical ingredient which most everyone has on hand:  Black Pepper.  There are many uses for this dried fruit of the Piper nigrum plant.  Of course it’s valued for its ability to enhance food with a bit of heat, but it also has medicinal properties, and is very common in hoodoo practice as well.

Botanical.com lists the black peppercorn’s medicinal properties as being a febrifuge (fever reducer) and a stimulant and carminative.  For those with enflamed throats or ailments of the uvula, the site recommends using an infusion of black peppercorns as a gargle, and also suggests using the herb for constipation and urinary troubles.

In Appalachian practice, Granny women would sometimes use an infusion of black pepper to help induce labor in an expectant mother, because of its stimulatory nature.  They might also have the mother “snuff” or “quill” black pepper for the same results:

“Snuffing entailed having the mother sniff black pepper…from a plate placed under her nose; quilling involved blowing the same substances directly into the mother’s nostrils or throat with a goose quill, reed, or rolled piece of paper.  Either way, the objective was to cause a violent sneezing attack that would induce labor” (Folk Medicine of Southern Appalachia p.130).

In hoodoo, the black peppercorn is used primarily to harm or protect.  It’s often added to things like Hot-Foot powders or crossing tricks to facilitate an uncomfortable “heat” in the target’s life.  Catherine Yronwode also notes that black pepper can be used to stave off a jinx, particularly one which has been stepped in:

“To shield yourself from anyone doing these things [poisoning you through the feet via powder or other foot-track magic]…sprinkle black pepper powder or a mixture of black pepper and Fear Not to Walk Over Evil Powder in your shoes.  It is said that your track will be invisible or invulnerable to harm, and even if someone does throw for you or lift your foot track, they won’t be able to affect you in any way” (HHRM, p.53).

She also mentions that black pepper can be mixed with salt and thrown after someone when they leave your home to prevent them from ever returning or doing you harm.  Since salt and pepper are rather easy to come by in most homes, doing a spell like this is simple, and because the ingredients are so common most people don’t think twice about seeing them on the ground.  In fact, a light sprinkling of these ingredients would probably go unnoticed even in a busy apartment complex, and would be easily vacuumed up later, which makes a spell like this good for the urban root worker or witch (in my opinion, of course).  I’d combine it with the practice of leaving a broom behind the door just to double up the protection from unwanted visitors, too.

There are several potent curses which can be levied using black pepper, too.  Catherine Yronwode’s Hoodoo Herb & Root Magic book has an excellent entry on these, so I’ll not rehash everything in her entry here.  I will say that the spell she mentions involving a black candle and 99 peppercorns taken to a crossroads sounds particularly nasty, and would be well worth learning, if only to have an idea how to undo it should someone do it to you.

That’s it for today!  I wish you all a wonderful weekend.  Please don’t forget to vote in our polls, too!  They’ll be open through the weekend, and you can find them in Blog Post 61 or at the top right of the sidebar.  Thanks for voting, and as always, thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 62 – More Ideas for Urban Witchcraft

Greetings everyone!

Following on yesterday’s topic of urban conjure and rootwork, I thought today it might be fun to take a look at some spells that have roots in traditional American folk magic, but which use certain modern adaptations to accommodate contemporary life.

Courtcase Spell
In the past, courthouses were often wooden-floored buildings outfitted with spittoons for the convenience of trial attendees with a chaw of tobacco in their mouths.  Hoodoo developed a fairly ingenious way to exert some influence over a case by taking advantage of the spitting habit so prevalent in that day and age.  A defendant would keep a gob of Little John to Chew (the root known as galangal now—readily available in Asian markets) in his or her cheek, and then spit the juice onto the courthouse floor while ostensibly aiming for a spittoon nearby.  This sort of contagious magic would then bring favor in the case from anyone who walked on or near the spit.

Nowadays, spitting in court is probably a good way to lose your case.  Most courthouses are kept fairly secure, and tobacco products are seldom allowed in any government building (not that Little John is a tobacco product, but it’s supposed to look like it is, so either way, it’s out).  But there’s still a fairly simple way to work a spell in your favor:

1)      Get some dirt or water from the courthouse area – This can be dirt from a flower bed, from near the back of the building, or even from a potted plant somewhere on the premises if you can manage it.  Or, if the courthouse has a fountain out front, you can collect water from that, or fill a drinking bottle with water from the drinking fountain in the courthouse (or from the bathroom, etc.).  Barring all of these options, you  can scrape the side of the building and try to gather even just a little bit of dust from it, then mix it with soil from the closest source you can find.

2)      Take some Little John to Chew (galangal root) and work up a good bit of spit.  Spit the juice into the dirt or water, while reciting a petition or prayer appropriate to your situation (such as Psalm 35, “Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me…”).  If you have only a little bit of dirt, you can add the dirt to some water and make a sort of “tea” out of it and the spit.  If you have only a little bit of water, you can dilute it with some more water (add a little whiskey to it to give it a kick).

3)      Take the dirt or water and go back to the courthouse.  Sprinkle your mixture in a circle around the building, as close as you can get (if you have to walk a block, sprinkling a little as you go, that’s fine—just make sure the entire building is encircled).  Whenever the judge who tries your case crosses that line, he will be disposed to favor you.

This trick relies on the same contagious magic as the older trick.  Why not just chew and spit at the front steps to the courthouse, you ask?  Well, you can’t be sure that your judge will come up those steps, and you need him to come into contact with your trick.  Unless he or she lives somewhere in the courthouse, your judge will have to cross the ring you make around the area in order to get inside, and so you should be able to affect him or her that way.

Git-Gone! Spell
Hot Footing someone to get rid of them is an old hoodoo trick.  In the past, it was accomplished by either mixing dirt from someone’s footprint with a special mixture of potent spices called “Hot Foot Powder” (see here, here, and here to buy) or by sprinkling that powder where a target would walk over it.  While it’s still possible to work the latter trick in a modern setting without much trouble, getting someone’s footprint-dirt isn’t easy anymore.  Additionally, the older version of the trick requires deployment in running water or throwing it away on a road heading out of town.

To bring a trick like this into the modern age, however, is not difficult.  City dwellers who can’t pick up dirty foot-tracks can work around that requirement by laying hold of a sock or shoe (or any article of clothing from the target, really).  Once you have something of theirs, you simply mix the Hot Foot Powder and wrap it in their clothing (or in the case of a shoe, give the sole a good sprinkling).

Deploying the trick can be done a couple of ways.  The simplest is to return the clothing to the target and hope they wear it without noticing the powder first (this is best with shoes).  Often, in apartment buildings, this kind of work is fairly easy to do because people will leave wet shoes in the hallway to dry out (much to the chagrin of their neighbors on warm days).

If giving the item of clothing back seems like it would cause raised eyebrows, or just doesn’t strike you as the best method, there are a couple of other distinctly modern deployment techniques that might be worth considering.  Since deployment in running water is a traditional method, consider chucking the Hot Footed sock into a sewer (which contains running water, after all, along with all manner of nastiness to help convince your target the time to leave is now).  Or, instead of finding a road out of town, you could go down to a train yard or a bus station and toss the sock onto a boxcar or bus heading out of the city.  In a lot of ways, a bus station is like a modern-age crossroads with the constant traffic coming and going, so sending someone away via outbound bus is actually a pretty smart way to go about your work.  I’d also suggest the same is true of airports, but sneaking things onto planes is a BAD idea, especially right now.  You’d really be asking for more trouble than a trick like this is worth.  Stick with bus stations and trains.

Send Away Your Troubles
There’s a bit of American folk magic that involves a rather sneaky method for healing common ailments.  The person with the disease (usually something like boils, warts, or corns) creates a small packet and “passes” the disease to the materials in the packet.  Then he or she drops the bundle in a road.  Whoever finds and opens it then receives the disease, and the person who passed the disease is cured of it.  Vance Randolph describes the procedure in conjunction with warts:

“Another way to ‘pass’ a wart is to spit on it, rub a bit of paper in the spittle, fold the paper, and drop it in the road; the wart is supposed to pass to the first person who picks up the paper and unfolds it. Children are always trying this, and one can find these little folded papers in the road near most any rural schoolhouse” (OM&F, p.127).

In the modern age, very few folks are walking along our roads, and few of those are going to stop to pick up a strange packet.  Motorists zooming by at high speeds never see them and people walking through cities for the most part avoid picking up litter from the walkways.  So how can one adapt this sort of spell to work today?

The United States Postal Service processes over 500 million pieces of mail per day (according to their website).  So why not put that big, churning system to work for you?  Here’s what I suggest:

1)      Just like in the old version of the spell, take a piece of paper and rub it against the afflicted part of your body.  If you want, you can even write a short petition on the paper asking that it remove illness from you and carry it far away.

2)      When you feel like you’ve imbued the paper with the disease, put it in an envelope.  Address the envelope, either by selecting a real person to send it to (which I actually don’t recommend—it just seems like an awfully trite way to get vengeance on an enemy and it certainly doesn’t make you any friends) or by writing a “dead letter.”  A dead letter is addressed to someone fictional (like Santa Claus, Professor Moriarty, Xenu, etc.) or someone dead (this could be an ancestor or just a spirit you think might be willing to help you by taking your disease off of you and into the grave).

3)      Don’t use a return address, and post the letter from a public mailbox.  You might, for example, send your disease to:

Mephistopheles
First Circle
Hell, the Universe

This letter will then carry your disease away from you and into a sort of “limbo” space.

The only downside to this method is the same one that comes with the old method:  if someone ever does open up your letter, they may catch your illness.  But all magic comes with risk, so if it sounds like a useful spell to you, please feel free to use it.

That’s it for today.  I’d love to hear from other city witches and urban rootworkers if you have suggestions for tricks that might be traditional-yet-modern.  Feel free to comment or email us.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast 10 – Urban Conjure and an Interview with Rootworker Stephanie Palm

-SHOWNOTES FOR EPISODE 10-

Summary
In this episode, we share some thanks with our listeners and readers.  Then, we have an interview with urban rootworker Stephanie Palm.  We finish things up with our WitchCraft and Spelled Out segments

Play:

Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 10

-Sources-

Interview
Music City Mojo – The online store for our guest, Stephanie.   It features products and services as well as contact information.

WitchCraft
Drag Me to Hell – We mention this comedy/horror movie as a source of button-lore.

Magic Spelled Out
Lucky Mojo Freezer Spells – This has a good, concise history of the “Shut Your Mouth” tongue/freezer spells.

Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.
Promo 1 – Witchery of One
Promo 2- Standing Stone and Garden Gate Podshow
Promo 3 – Inciting a Riot (a custom-made promo from wunderkind and friend of NWW, Fire Lyte!)

Blog Post 60 – Appalachian Mountain Magic, Part III

Today I’m finishing up the introduction to the magic of Appalachia by looking at “yarb Doctors” and some of the other magical oddities of the mountains.

Yarb Doctors
The final part of the mountain magical triumvirate is the “Yarb Doctor.”  These are often seen as the male counterparts to the Granny women already discussed.  These were folks who knew enough herbal medicine to make cures and remedies for all manner of ailments.  Vance Randolph describes them thusly:

“Besides the regular and irregular physicians, who live mostly in the villages, the backwoods country swarms with ‘yarb doctors’…who have never studied medicine at all. Some of these nature doctors are women, others are preachers who do a little doctorin’ on the side, and many of them are unable to read or write. They rely mainly upon herbs, barks, roots, and the like. For internal medication these substances are steeped in hot water, and “horse doses” of the resulting teas are administered at frequent intervals. In some cases the tea is boiled down to a thick paste called ooze, or mixed with strained honey to make a syrup” (OM&F, p.92)

Often, this is what we think of when we talk about “snake oil salesmen.”  The yarb Doctor basically dealt in herbal formulas for treating common ailments.  Some of these formulas became fairly well-known.  When a particular yarb Doctor’s formula reached a particular level of renown (and often even if it didn’t and an unscrupulous “doctor” was simply chasing a dollar) these medicines would become a famous “patent medicine.”   This is not to say that the yarb Doctor (variously known as an “herb doctor,” “rubbing doctor,” or “nature doctor”) was simply a quack making money off of ignorant mountain folk.  In most cases, these were locals with a knack for making formulas and medicines from the indigenous flora of the area, including roots, barks, flowers, and leaves.  Some of the mixtures are still in use today, albeit changed much from their original purpose.  Root beer is a prime example of what happens when you make a patent medicine out of sarsaparilla and sassafras roots and mix it with a little sugar and soda water.  Appalachian yarb Doctors had good reason to make medicines:  they lived in the pharmaceutical breadbasket of the country.  According to Dave Tabler’s Appalachian History blog:

“Big Pharma had not yet perfected the widespread manufacture of synthetic drugs in 1932. Instead, the industry relied on ‘western North Carolina, southwestern Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and eastern Tennessee [to] furnish 75% of the crude botanical drugs which the continent of North America supplies to the drug markets of the world,’ according to an article in Economic Geography that summer”

The remedies proffered by yarb Doctors were not limited only to plants and their components, but often included a few more unusual ingredients.   For example, dealing with a toothache was a common enough problem in the mountains, where access to regular dental care was limited or non-existent:

“There were many treatments for a toothache.  Some of the more common ones were holding tobacco smoke, a sip of red oak bark decoction, or whiskey in the mouth; chewing ragweed leaves; applying cinnamon or clove oil, camphor, or persimmon juice to the tooth and gum; placing a ball of cotton soaked in paregoric, camphor, turpentine, or kerosene on top of the tooth; and holding a bag of warm ashes or salt against the cheek.  If a large cavity was present, it was stuffed with soda, salt, cow manure, spider webs, aspirin, burned alum, dried and pulverized buckeye skin, or crushed puff-balls” (FMSA, p.107)

There are a number of remedies used by these mountain medicine men which are still in common practice.  Clove oil, for example, is still used to numb the pain of a toothache.  Some methods, though, such as packing a cavity with cow dung, seem to have fallen by the wayside (I’ll not say whether I think that a good or bad thing, though I’m less than eager to put cow dung in my own mouth if I’m being entirely honest).

Other Aspects of Mountain Magic
There are, of course, many areas of mountain magic which don’t fall neatly into the three categories I’ve laid out here.  yarb Doctors and Granny women had much in common and there is a great deal of crossover in their particular lines of work.  Likewise, one who could dowse for water could usually also perform some other occult action, such as simple curing.  I have an in-law whose great-grandfather (the seventh son of a seventh son, no less) could dowse and “buy” warts off of people in order to effect a cure, for example.

Other aspects of mountain magic have already been touched on in this blog.  Some of the areas we’ve covered here which have a huge place in the folk magical practices of Appalachian peoples include:

One of the biggest areas I’ve not yet covered in detail is the Appalachian preoccupation with death, dying, corpses, and graveyards.  Edain McCoy’s In a Graveyard at Midnight includes a great deal of this lore in her chapter on “Death, Dying, and ‘Haints,’” which focuses mostly on the rituals surrounding death and burial as well as protection from the dead.  At some point, I’ll be doing a bit more on this topic, but for now I think the most important thing to note is that death and birth were—and are—the two most important events in a human life, and the mountain folk treated them with respect, awe, and not a little fear.

A final area of interest for mountain dwellers where the occult was concerned had to do with divining the future.  Rather than foreseeing events having to do with money or fame or anything like that, almost all Appalachian divinations performed in the home had to do with love.  This is, again, a topic I’ll be delving into with more depth at another time.  But often the “games” played by young girls in the mountains revolved almost entirely around divining the name, appearance, or attributes of a future husband.  And there are also plenty of tales which deal with the terrible consequences of treating these sorts of divinations lightly (such as the story of the “dumb supper” which eventually leads to a young girl’s brutal murder).  Suffice to say, Appalachian folk know that life has its dark side, and they aren’t afraid to talk about it.

That’s it for mountain magic this week.  I hope this has been a useful introduction.  This, like many of the other topics here, only scratches the surface, and I hope to return and look at Granny women, yarb Doctors, dowsers, power doctors, signs and omens, death lore, and just about everything in more depth at a later date.  But for now, I’ll wish you a happy weekend.
Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 59 – Appalachian Mountain Magic, Part II

Today, I’m continuing the look at Appalachian mountain magic by focusing on a few of the specific “jobs” performed by mountain magicians.

Grannys, Dowsers, and Yarb Doctors

In general, the current incarnation of Appalachian magic is broken into a few categories.  Mountain witches may do only one “magical” thing all their lives, or they may perform a broad array of tasks for their communities, some magical and some not.  Often, the word “witch” never enters the picture or has a negative connotation (with one very key exception, explained below).  But the basic functions of a mountain magician can be broken down into a set of roles, as follows.

Granny Women
This is probably the best known and most ambiguously defined magical “job” in the mountains.  Granny women filled several roles in the community:

  • They acted as healers in communities where trained doctors were scarce, nonexistent, or deeply distrusted.
  • They assisted doctors when professional medicine was required, and often during childbirth.
  • They acted as midwives and postpartum caretakers for new babies and mothers.
  • They might be called upon to perform blessings for livestock or land before planting, owing to their roles as birth-helpers (thus helping the earth and one’s livestock birth the food one would eat for the coming year).
  • In some cases, they might also perform basic divinations, like determining the sex of a baby by dangling a wedding ring over the woman’s palm or belly.

Often the work done by these women was broader in scope than mere medicine.  It took into account a patient’s whole state, including spiritual or psychological.  Sometimes the work done by Grannies baffled the doctors performing the births, though they obviously were a great comfort to the mothers:

“Granny-women might perform a number of rituals which doctors found silly and irrational. Some were designed to give the mother psychological, if not physical, relief from her pain. She might give the woman her husband’s hat to hold during the ordeal, thus bringing him symbolically into the delivery room. If the labor were particularly severe, she would place an axe or knife under the bed to “cut” the pain in two. Sometimes, weather permitting, she would throw open every door and window in the house, in a symbolic representation of opening the birth canal” (from “In Defense of Granny Women,” by Janet Allured)

The term “Granny women” isn’t exactly accurate, either.  Many women were not particularly old when they learned about midwifery from their own female relatives, and even some men were known to assist during childbirth.  While much of the training to become a Granny was on-the-job, there were surprisingly sophisticated teaching materials as well:

“To train them [potential midwives], we had a very large wooden box.  At the bottom and on the top, there was a simulated abdomen and perineum—just like the mother—so we could actually teach them the mechanism of labor, and so we could teach them what was going on inside” (Foxfire 2, p.277)

Payment for a Granny woman’s services varied, often depending on the economic state of those she helped (which was usually fairly poor).  A passage from Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia, by Anthony Cavender, illustrates the point:

“A typical fee charged by a physician in Kentucky for delivering a baby in the latter part of the nineteenth century was about $10, a substantial sum for an average farming family.  Physicians were often paid in commodities, such as corn, timber, pigs, cows, and corn mash whiskey, or labor in kind.  Some granny women charged a modest fee of a dollar or two or its equivalent in materials, but many did not” (FMSA, p.129)

These women served a vital role in their communities, and while some of them were labeled as “witches,” they seldom endured physical persecution as they were far too valuable.

Dowsers
The exception to the rule of bad “witches” were the dowsers, often called “water witches.”  These were people—most often men, though women were certainly known to perform water witching as well—who could locate underground streams through the use of various magical techniques.  The most common method was to use a forked branch cut from a witch hazel tree (some sources list other trees, like willow) and to walk slowly along a piece of property until the rod reacted by bobbing up and down or giving some other sign.  Despite being called “water witches,” there were seldom any negative connotations to the profession, as it was an absolutely necessary service in a time when digging wells was costly and difficult business.  Vance Randolph describes them thusly:

“Nearly all of the old settlers…believe that certain persons can locate underground streams by ‘cunjurin’ round’ with forked sticks. These characters are called water witches or witch wigglers, and the forked switches they carry are known as witch sticks. Despite this sinister terminology, the waterfinder has no dealings with the Devil, is not regarded as dangerous by his neighbors, and has  nothing to do with witchcraft proper…Nearly all of the really old wells…were located by witch wigglers. Even today there are many substantial farmers who would never think of drilling a well without getting one of these fellows to witch the land” (OM&F, p.82)

In addition to locating underground water currents, dowsers could also locate other materials, like oil or precious metals.  Some practiced what is called “map dowsing,” where a map would be laid out in front of the dowser and he or she would use a pendulum to figure out where to start the search for whatever material was being sought.  This practice is very well accepted in the mountains and throughout the rural parts of North America.  In Signs, Cures, & Witchery, Gerald C. Milnes  examines the widespread nature of dowsing, as well as some of its history:

“Water witching (rhabdomancy) is very common in West Virginia.  According to a study done about fifty years ago, at that time there were twenty-five thousand practicing water witches in this country.  The actual practice of divining with a forked stick, as we know it, began in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century in Germany.  Martin Luther believed the practice violated the first commandment.  Through the ages it has been roundly denounced as the devil’s work and praised as a remarkable aid to a basic necessity of rural life—finding water.  It is often categorized with such rural customs as planting by the signs” (SC&W, p.133)

There have been many efforts to scientifically prove or disprove dowsing, all with varying degrees of success and failure.  It seems that there is something to it, but that it may have a great deal more to do with the person doing the dowsing than the actual practice itself, at least as far as science is concerned.  However, from my personal point of view, the practice of water witching is akin to pendulum divination of any kind and something worth adding to a witch’s repertoire.  In one of Peter Paddon’s Crooked Path episodes, for example, he talks about ley lines and the currents of magical energy flowing through the world.  Dowsing is a great way to help detect those currents and to tap into and work with them to improve one’s witchcraft (again, in my opinion).

Whew!  This is already getting to be a long post, so I’m going to stop here for today and save the last little bit of this topic for tomorrow.  Please feel free to add any comments or questions, and if you have any family stories about Grannies or dowsers, I’d love to hear them!

As always, thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 58 – Appalachian Mountain Magic, Part I

Today, I thought I’d start to tackle in brief a subject which deserves its own book.  Or several books.  Perhaps even a library.  I’d like to do an overview of the loose collection of occult, healing, and divinatory practices practiced by the mountain folk found in the Appalachian range.  This is not going to be a comprehensive post, just a general snapshot of the different components of mountain magic, so if I don’t cover something in detail I will likely be coming back to it again eventually.  First, though, let’s start with a little bit about where this system comes from.

History
When European settlers moved into these mountains, they found that the lore and landscape they suddenly occupied was not entirely different than what they’d left behind in Europe.  Many of the Native American tribes like the Cherokee and Shawnee already associated these ancient mountains with magic and otherworldly power.  There were even beings which very much resembled fairies living in those ridges and valleys, as illustrated in the Cherokee tale of the “Forever Boy”:

“As he looked behind him, there they were, all the Little People. And they were smiling at him and laughing and running to hug him. And they said, ‘Forever Boy you do not have to grow up. You can stay with us forever. You can come and be one of us and you will never have to grow up… Forever Boy thought about it for a long time. But that is what he decided he needed to do, and he went with the Little People” (Native American Lore Index – Legends of the Cherokee).

The presence of fairies in the mountains would have been familiar to groups like the Germans and the Scots-Irish, the latter of whom had their own tradition of “fairy doctoring” which would eventually shape a portion of Appalachian magical practice.

Germans also brought in astrology, particularly astrology associated with things like planting, healing, and weather.  Despite a strongly Christian background (and strongly Protestant and Calvinist at that), most settlers accepted a certain amount of magical living in the mountains.  As George Milnes says in his Signs, Cures, & Witchery:

“Among the early German settlers in West Virginia, religion was thoroughly mixed with not only astrology but also esoteric curing practices tied to cosmic activity.  Folk curing bridged a gap between the religious and the secular mind-set.  And forms of white magic were not disdained; in fact, they were practiced by the early German clergy” (SC&W, p. 31).

The Scots and Scots-Irish who settled in the mountains were often displaced due to land struggles back home.  After long struggles with England for an independence which clearly would never be theirs, clan leaders traveled across the Atlantic and began building new territories.  The mountains running between Georgia and West Virginia were a perfect fit for them, according to Edain McCoy:

“The Scots found the southern Appalachians very remote, like their Highland home, a place where they could resume their former lifestyle and live by their ancient values without interference from the sassenach, or outsiders.  So isolated were they that many of the late medieval speech patterns and terms remained intact in the region until well into [the 20th] century” (In a Graveyard at Midnight, p. 6).

Once these various elements were situated in the mountains together, they began to merge and blend, mixing Native and European sources to create something else.  The introduction of hoodoo elements eventually changed the mixture again, though much later, and there are still old-timers in the hills practicing many of these techniques even now, though it is unlikely the entire system will remain intact for more than a generation or two as many mountain folk are being forced by poverty or circumstance to give up their highland homes.  Still, for the moment, there are lots of people trying to get Appalachian folkways recorded and preserved before they perish from the earth (this blog being one very infinitesimal drop in the bucket as far as that goes).   So for that, at least, we can be thankful.

Okay, I’ll stop here for today.  Tomorrow, I’ll be picking up with a little bit on each of the current components of Appalachian magical practice.  Until then…

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Podcast 9 – Relationships and Witchcraft

Summary

Today we’re looking at the various types of relationships we have in our lives, and how those relationships are affected by witchcraft.  Plus, we have our WitchCraft and Spelled Out segments!

Play:


Download:  New World Witchery – Episode 9

-Sources-

We mention separation powders, like the ones found at Lucky Mojo.

Laine also mentions the Book of Hours, by Galen Gillotte.

And here’s a video demonstration on how to make a friendship bracelet like the ones Laine mentions in her WitchCraft segment.

Promos & Music
Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.
Promo 1- Witches’ Brewhaha with Velma Nightshade
Promo 2- Pennies in the Well with Saturn Darkhope
Promo 3- Media Astra ac Terra with Oraia the Sphinx

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