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Last week I listed out some traditions and old folk practices that might seem familiar to some of y’all. I know even growing up in the 90s I experienced a few of them.
It seems like we’ve all run into these whispers of our old traditions as just some funny old things we do for good luck. Sometimes they’re practices where we know it isn’t exactly what our doctor would tell us to do, but our mama swears by them, and that’s good enough for us.
There’s a collection of terms for these beliefs. Appalachian Folk Magick, Granny Magick and Hillbilly Hoodoo. They’re all one in the same, and I find them absolutely fascinating. Outside of the politics, the discomforting history, the struggle we’ve all experienced… we are all still bound together by our common history and traditions. From my point of view, granny magick is one of the oldest of those traditions that bind us all together – well, that and barbecue.
Part of what makes granny magick such a fascinating amalgam of who we are is because it’s made up of folk practices rooted in everywhere we came from. Jake Richards, author of “Backwoods Witchcraft: Conjure & Folk Magic from Appalachia,” breaks down the ethnographic roots of granny magic succinctly in his article “Whispers From Watauga: What Appalachian Folk Magic Is Not” –
“Appalachia is a myriad land filled with fields and forest, cool streams and foggy lakes. Nighttime is often unpleasing: filled with dark, towering trees that could be harboring any kind of critter, hills and mountains that echo the laughter of coyotes and the growls of mama bears. This made Appalachia a breeding ground for superstition and tales, many of which began before the hills were ‘settled.’
“The Cherokee often speak of Raven Mockers flying through the night waiting for a soul to steal. They spoke of disease bringing spirits, taboos of eating animals of the water, land or air together in one meal, and the bad things come from a menstruating woman (not because of misogyny, but because if it’s ‘chaotic power.’ The Cherokee matriarchy didn’t end until Christians influenced their culture).
“The Irish, British and Scottish brought with them their own lore on witches and falling ill to enchantment. They brought tales of little people waiting to bring ill fortune, disease and spoiled food to those who offended them. Much like the Cherokee Yunwi Tsunsdi, they may steal children, place a spell over you to get lost and even take you to their house to live with them forever.
“The Africans brought with them their own superstitions, many regarding death and disease. They also brought teachings that reinforced the belief that a witch who has your blood, spit, urine, etc. could end you or do anything else their imagination would grant them. They also reinforced the importance of honoring our ancestors, a practice long held across the globe, but barely remembered today. They also reinforced the belief and connection to one’s land; a belief also shared across cultures, but one that quickly lost hold into the latest millenniums.
“The biggest portion that has survived down family lines are practices originating in the British Isles, Ireland, Scotland, etc. Not much African components remained as this location was highly Baptist so the option of merging their beliefs with the white man’s religion, like with the Deep South and Catholicism, just wasn’t possible. Tokens of wisdom were passed down and soon disregarded by the children who converted to Christianity and those who no longer honored their elders, which became a rampant act of society in the 70s to the 90s.
“All of these cultures merged and mixed, creating the unique social, religious and folk structure we have today. From food to music, magic to medicine and all in between, it is a stew of magic and mystery, of sin and salvation.”
…Well said, Jake. I think his words are a bit overly critical of organized religion, but to each their own. Part of what makes us who we are is the fact that unlike the rest of the country, we brought our roots with us. Even today we have strong connections to our mixed ancestries extending past the country in which we reside. Our sense of history transcends Christopher Columbus.
There is magic in our history, if you only just go looking for it.