Spring is an elusive ghost that haunts these hills every year, constantly making you wonder if she’s really here or not. By the time you decide she is, summer has arrived!
Spring in Appalachia usually shows in March and April, with the first signs showing of March goes “out like a lamb.” Although the window for spring is small in Appalachia, a plethora of omens, signs, superstitions, and magic are observed now. I like to think of spring as the Appalachian New Year, with many signs and omens determining your fortune for the coming year.
One I heard a lot growing up was the first dove you hear cooing in the spring determines your luck: if you hear it above you, your luck will be good. But if you hear it below you (down in valley) you will have troubles. The first robin you see will determine your health that year: if it is high up or flying, you’ll be healthy; however, if it’s on the ground, you will be sick a lot that year. The first salamander you see of the year also predicts your health, if it’s still or somewhat lethargic, you’ll be ill a lot; far better if you see it swimming or scurrying off somewhere, then it predicts a good and upbeat body for the year.
If you see the geese returning in late March, see what direction they fly in: to the east, better things to come; to the west, your worries will lessen this year. To the south, be prepared for a bit of trouble and bumpy roads in the beginning of the season; and to the north it means your goals are being sown on rocky soil and they’re unlikely to grow.
Spring was also the time for medicine. Spring tonics were brought out and consumed to strengthen the immune system again and get “the blood flowing good.” This included tonic foods such as beets, dandelions, etc. Teas were made from sassafras leaves or roots to strengthen the body and kick off the crud of winter. Teas were made for the same from new willow leaves, white oak bark, and cherry bark whiskey. Now was the time that all sorts of things were collected from the spring herbs in the mountains, fishing was started, ants and pill bugs were collected and work in a little bag for colds and colic. The devil’s dung bags were also broke out to protect against cold in the changing of the seasons, because the smallest cold could be deadly back then and a death, especially early in the year could devastate a family’s livelihood for the whole year if there’s no one to tend the crops or care for the children.
Because of this, and it’s still apparent today, a lot of folk healing needed usually peaks in the spring and summer because those are the main times people are working on themselves and their life, striving for better in a time when the whole year is pregnant with possibility.
Growing up, if March went out like a lamb, mama got started right away with the spring cleaning: washing the walls, windows and doors with soapy water mixed with a bit of vinegar and ammonia to not only kill off left over germs from winter but to also cleanse the home and protect it from haints; every door and window in the was opened to get a “change of air” in the home, especially if we’d been sick recently (back in the day, children with asthma or some kind of other ailment was taken two counties over for the day to get them away from the air they got sick in and to breathe in some of that strange air. I still recommend this to my clients who have the flu, cold, or pneumonia); the floors were swept two times throughout the day, once in the morning and once in the evening, then she’d mop them with a mixture similar to the one she washed the walls with. The salt and cinnamon lines were remade on the window seals and under the front door with a little water sprinkled on so when it dried it’d be like a rock and the wind wouldn’t sweep it off. She’d do this all while singing old hymns she grew up with, and she knew a lot considering she was a preacher’s daughter.
Springtime in Appalachia today still focuses on purging the dead year away, whether it’s inside with medicines and tonics or outside with salt and hymns.
We’re getting closer to the publication date! So go ahead and make your preorders now for Backwoods Witchcraft: Conjure & Folk Magic from Appalachia!
In stores June 1st. Available for preorder through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.
Take a sneak peek of the book here.
Picture found on Pinterest.