Folklore or Forecast?: How Appalachian Culture Predicts and Conjures the Weather

The influence that weather has on human lives is large, yet largely unnoticed. Weather affects all our affairs be it economical, societal, religious, agricultural, etc. It can ruin our plans and make them go swell. Weather creates a setting, a back-drop of our memories without us realizing it: perfectly warm summer nights sitting outside chatting with the neighbors; or a fearful night in the middle of a hurricane or thunderstorm, the weather adds a “flavor” to those moments, especially emotional.

It affected everything the Ancestors did and they took good notes on it too. They predicted the weather by deer or skunk grease in a jar, even camphor in a bottle is still used to foretell coming rain or snow! They mapped out their gardens with the sun, East to West, not only to give the plants better ease at following the sun’s course but to also give better stability from storms: because if the storm is coming from the west to the east, the way the rows are set up, then the plants at the end block it off and move the rest of the wind down between the rows.

This also gave the wind less chance of snapping them because they leaned against each other for support. The furthest ones were sometimes sacrificed but nothing too major. Back in my grandmother’s day, everyone believed that storms always came from the West cause that’s what the Bible says. In my lifetime, I can’t say they were wrong.

Signs of the weather were seen everywhere. Nature is interconnected in more ways than one, so everything “odd” was taken note of as well as the weather following it.

In Appalachia, the effects of the weather depend highly on where you are. If you’re by a mountain, this could bring mudslides, uprooted trees, and even falling boulders onto mountain roads or homes. If you’re by the river or in a nook valley beneath the mountain, this could mean disastrous flooding over the banks or in the crop fields. Everything can be ruined in a matter of minutes.

There are indeed some weather charms that were used in Appalachia, much like the famous, “Rain, rain, go away, Come again some other day.” Of I’ve seen a couple work a few times but there’s never a 100% success rate. No matter what it’s still left up to God. That’s the thing with our people here: we never tried to tame these mountains for ourselves. We knew to even try would be a waste. But we also never let these mountains tame us: instead we grew together, no matter where our land of origin was or the circumstances that brought us to these hills and hollers.

In honor of the changing season, here are some of the old weather wives’ tales from East Tennessee, Western Virginia, Western North Carolina, and possibly more. Also note that each one of these have multiple variations based on region and family; these are the ones I grew up being told about.

    If the sunset is clear on Friday, it’ll come a rain before Monday.
    If the sun sets behind a wall of clouds on Wednesday, it’ll rain before the week is out.
    If it “rains before seven it’ll stop before eleven.
    As many foggy mornings there are in August, that many snows we will get in the winter.
    Count the days between the first snow and Christmas Day, and that’s the number of times it will snow before spring is out.
    You can predict the weather with the liver of a hog freshly killed: if the small end of the liver points towards the hogs head, winter will start out warm or wet and end cold. If the liver points to the head with the fat end, it’ll be a hard winter from the start but it’ll end warm.
    If the leaves show there backsides, a storm is coming. Another states if this happens on a Wednesday, it’ll storm before Sunday.
    An early Easter means an early spring; a late Easter brings a late spring.
    If March comes in like a lamb, it’ll go out like a lion. If it comes in like a lion, it’ll leave like a lamb. (Here the lion in this saying is bad storms, cold, frost, etc. while the lamb is warm fronts, sunshine, and dry weather)
    If it rains enough of Easter Sunday to wet a pocket hankie, there’ll be a good crop.
    If, while raining, there’s enough “blue in the sky to make a hankie” then rain will end before sunset.
    Any loud noise or music during a storm was believed to be dangerous.
    The safest place during a storm is sitting on a feather down pillow cause, “ain’t no chicken er duck ever been struck!” (by lightning)
    If rain drops cling to the twigs of trees, it’s waiting for more rain.
    If snow on the ground won’t melt, it’s waiting for more snow, or it’s calling it in.
    If snow sticks to the sides of trees, another snow will come in 48 hours.
    If the sun shines while it’s raining or snowing, it’ll come again the same time tomorrow.
    If smoke stays close to the ground, there’ll be high winds, deep mud, and bad rains.
    If, however the smoke rises up more than two hand-widths without dispersing, it’ll be clear weather the next day. Hand widths are the lengths compared to the sky when you hold your hand up, to the side, palm facing you; this is measured from one side of the hand to the other.
    If frogs begin calling early in the morning, rain will arrive later that day.
    If the leaves show their backs, a storm is coming.
    You can determine flood levels by the fog over the lake or river each morning. The height of the fog over the water would be the water level if it rained hard that same day.
    If you drop a dish towel and it lands twisted, expect a storm with high winds. If it lands laid out, it predicts fine weather for about four days.

Aside from predicting the weather, we manipulate it in certain ways attract or avert it.

  • To conjure lightning, burn lightning struck wood.
  • To bring rain, go out early in the morning with a white hankie filled with a handful of pine needles and corn kernels. Find a flat stone in the ground and recite 1 Kings 18:1. Then pour the contents of the bundle out slowly over the rock, so that the falling needles and kernels make a rain-like sound. This is one I did during the Gatlinburg fires and is one of the works I present in my book, Backwoods Witchcraft, available for pre-order here.
  • Remember that twisted dish towel you dropped? To avert said storm, go to the east side of the kitchen table and kneel (so you’re facing west), praying Psalms 23 to keep it away or take its power, while shaking the rag under the table before you, pinched with the fingers in the middle. Once done, go about your business.
  • To keep lighting from striking the home, keep a piece of flint heated in the fire place.
  • Burn black chicken feathers and fern fronds to conjure up rain.
  • Kill a black snake and hang it on a fence post or tree limb belly up to bring rain.
  • If a bad, approaching storm is threatening your land, take a kitchen knife outside to the south or west and plant the hilt in the ground so the blade is facing away from the home: this cuts the storm in half or at least moves it. We had a tornado coming one year (back in 2011, I think), heading right up E Market St, and for some reason it went out of its way to go around us! No damage for a block on our side of the road although we could hear trees being ripped up from the ground.
  • I hope you enjoyed this further peak into Appalachian life and Folk Magic. Good news! My book is now available for preorder, set to release on June 1st, 2019!!!
  • Preorder Backwoods Witchcraft
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