Posted tagged ‘midwifery’

Podcast 62 – Pregnancy and Birth Lore

April 16, 2014

Shownotes for Podcast 62 – Pregnancy and Birth Lore

Summary:
In this episode we’re trying out the wedding ring test, asking about spicy foods, and trying not to scare any birthmarks onto Laine’s baby as we talk about the lore and folk customs surrounding pregnancy and childbirth.

Play:

Download: New World Witchery – Episode 62

-Sources-

We mostly mention various lore we remember without citing sources, but I do mention a few books:

Pagan Podkin Super Moot 5 is going to be in Chicago! Watch Fire Lyte’s page for more detail to come.

Cory is going to be moving to Pennsylvania in the Fall, which may impact the show and blog a bit (but probably for the better in the long run)

If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

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Promos & Music

Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.

Promos:

  1. Lamplighter Blues
  2. Welcome to Night Vale
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Blog Post 157 – Peaches

May 22, 2012

I love a good summer peach. Or peach cobbler. Or homemade peach ice cream. And I can’t tell you how much I miss my mother’s homemade brandied peaches (which were amazing over some hand-churned vanilla). If you live in North America, it’s likely you’ve encountered peaches everywhere from grocery stores to roadside stands to neighbors’ backyards. They’re ubiquitous, which also means they’ve been a major player in the foodways of America.

Today I’m going to briefly look at the peach from another folkloric perspective, focusing on its relevance in magical lore as opposed to its purely culinary uses (though I imagine the two are not ever to be completely disentangled from one another).

The flesh of the peach is frequently regarded as a nearly sacred food in its homeland of China, where it is thought to aid immortality. The lore of the peach is extensive there, with every part of the tree and fruit making an appearance. Peach pits are worn as amulets to ward off demons, while blossoms are used to enhance love, luck, & beauty. Peaches are left in family shrines, and feature prominently in the literature and art of China. You can read a good deal more about the role of the peach in Chinese lore here and here.

Peaches were highly valued in places like the Appalachian Mountains, too.  According to the third Foxfire book, one of the most common varieties was the Indian peach, a shrubby variety with small, firm peaches:

“Indian peaches are small trees, spreading with scraggly branches, said to be descendants of those trees planted by the Cherokees around their villages…The fruit of the Indian peach is white with a rosy cheek, white-meated with a red heart…All have a most delicious flavor, raw or cooked. Peaches are rich in iron, and peach leaf tea was a medicine for bladder troubles or used as a sedative” (Foxfire 3 303)

In North American folklore, all parts of the peach have their value as well. In Folk Medicine in Southern Appalachia, one of the author’s informants says this of the peach tree:  “The peach tree was justifiably described by herbalist Tommie Bass of northern Alabama as ‘a drugstore on its own’ in recognition of its many medicinal uses” (Cavender 64-5). Below you’ll see a sampling of the many different magical and/or medicinal uses of the peach and its parts:

Tree/Wood

  • “A baby that refuses to come can be brought at once and the labor pains will stop, if the woman drinks tea made from bark scraped downwards off a young peach tree.” (Hyatt #2972) Hyatt also states in several other places that peach branches were used to help bring a baby into the world by magical means.
  • “Peach tree root or bark was also commonly used [to treat diarrhea]” (Cavender 88)
  • Peach wood can be used in a magical cure for warts by cutting as many notches in a peach branch as one has warts (Thomas #1493) (see also “Leaves”)
  • Peach wood is one of the reputed choices for making dowsing forks, according to many sources (Thomas #105; Brunvand 432, Steiner 271, Randolph 83)
  • Ozark lore specifies that peach bark scraped upward prevents vomiting and/or diarrhea, but scraped downward it is a strong emetic (Randolph 95)
  • “A mess of peach roots, ground up and mixed with lard, is said to cure the seven-year itch” (Randolph 109)

Fruit

  • A piece of Kentucky lore states that twinned peaches found together indicate that you will be married soon (Thomas #593)
  • Eating a peach pecked by a bird is said to lead to poisoning (Steiner 267)

Pit

  • John George Hohman mentions the use of “peach-stones” as a cure for “gravel” (kidney stones). He attests to it especially because it cured him of his own gravel (Long-Lost Friend #84)
  • Hohman attests that peach pits can also be taken to remedy drunkenness (#185)
  • The seeds reputedly can help stimulate hair growth in some people (Todd 55)
  • Vance Randolph describes an Ozark love charm consisting of a carved peach stone filled with “some pinkish, soap-like material” which he could not identify (Randolph 166)
  • Both Randolph and Newbell Niles Puckett mention the peach-pit charm as a powerful one, akin to the lucky rabbit’s foot charm (Puckett 437)

Leaves

  • Peach leaves were thought to be a Colonial-era cure for worms (Black 199)
  • Cat Yronwode mentions using dried peach leaves in wisdom oil blends to help students focus on studies (HHRM 143)
  • Kentucky lore says that rubbing warts with peach-leaves, then burying them will remove warts (Thomas #1492)
  • The leaves were frequently made into a poultice, which could be used to treat headaches, bruises, and “pumpknots (bumps caused by a blow or knock to the head)” (Cavender 98, 109)
  • One of the Foxfire informants recommended a peach leave poultice mixed with salt and cornmeal to treat an abscessed tooth (Foxfire 9 70).
  • Herbalist Jude C. Todd recommends the use of peach leaves as a part of a dandruff treatment (Todd 53)

Flowers

  • Hohman says that “The flowers of the peach-tree, prepared like salad, opens the bowels, and is of use in the dropsy” (Long-Lost Friend #185)
  • Hohman also recommends the use of the flowers as a cure for worms and constipation (#185)
  • Girls in the Ozarks pierce their ears when peaches are in bloom, believing that piercing them any other time will lead to infection (Randolph 164)

Vance Randolph has a great bit of lore regarding the planting of peaches as well:

“In planting peach trees, it is always well to bury old shoes or boots near the roots. Not far from Little  Rock, Arkansas, I have known farmers to drive into town and search the refuse piles for old shoes to be buried in peach orchards. The older and more decayed the leather, the better it works as fertilizer” (Randolph 39)

From my own perspective, I really like the dowsing power of the peach, but I also have a great fondness for the carved peach pit charms. They seem like they would be beautiful and incognito ways of carrying natural amulets about on one’s person. I can also easily see using the flesh of a peach like the flesh of an apple, carving things into it before eating to absorb those qualities. The peachy pulp, which bears such a strong resemblance in so many ways to human flesh, also suggests a use as a makeshift dolly. When the “heart” of the peach, its stone, is considered, this is likely a very apt application of magic to the rosy-golden fruit.

I thought I’d finish up today with something non-magical, but which certainly has an enchanting power: brandied peaches like my mother used to make (I sadly do not have her exact recipe anymore, so the one I’m sharing is adapted from the excellent Putting Food By, by Greene, Herzberg, & Vaughan). We used to have a spoonful of these over ice cream after dinner sometimes, and they were simply otherworldly. They’re not as sweet as you might think, but that’s part of their charm. Plus, you can’t go wrong with a little booze in your dessert. I hope you enjoy!

Ingredients:
Peaches (1 lb.)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
Good brandy
Whole cloves (optional)
Whole cinnamon sticks (optional)

Clean & dry your one-pint canning jars. Score skin of peaches, then blanch them in boiling water and dunk them into an ice bath. Slip the skins off and slice the peaches into halves and quarters (removing stones).

Make a simple syrup by boiling the cup of sugar with the water. Cook the peaches in the sugar syrup for about 5 minutes, then transfer peaches into individual jars. To each jar add 1-3 cloves  (optional), 1 cinnamon stick (optional), and 2-3 tablespoons of brandy. Seal jars and process in a hot water bath for about 20-25 minutes, then carefully remove the jars and allow them to seal.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at peaches. If you have any other ideas about using peaches in magic, please leave them in here or drop us a line.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

Blog Post 59 – Appalachian Mountain Magic, Part II

May 13, 2010

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


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