Dirt Under My Nails: using dirts and dusts in Appalachian Hoodoo 

Mountain folks have always been close to the dirt beneath their feet. The myriad of soils and clays provided the Cherokee with cooling summer huts and warm winter homes, the mountaineers with fertile beds to grow their food, and it gave the children an occupied activity while the grown folks talked.

Growing up, when I’d stay with my grandmother on Mitchell mountain in North Carolina most of my time was spent rummaging through the toiled garden dirt, the dirt in the barn, and even playing with the mud by the creek. That creek was also a good spot for copperheads and cottonmouths. You’d think being two hours from the nearest hospital would’ve had the grown folk keening to get me outta there, but there was no need. If you didn’t bother them, they won’t bother you.

Most of my childhood was spent in the forests and fields while playing. The most fertile dirt is from the densest part of the forest, compared to the dry red clay found under the top soil in the fields. It seems many families here retained the Celtic knowledge that rocks carry memory, which is thought to be the origin behind placing headstones at graves in remembrance of the dead.

Below is a list of dirts and their uses in my practice. Some are borrowed from our cousin tradition down south, while others are of my own devices that I’ve found to be affective. I’m a mountain witch in a modern time. That should be expected.

Railroad dirt is used to get a working going. It’s also used in banishing something or bringing something in from far away, such as calling a lover home.

Gravel dust from the driveway can be used  for protection from unwanted visitors and those who mean harm. I was introduced to this by Byron Ballard in one of her books and have added it to my own arsenal with my own . She suggests a working to get rid of excessive worrying by placing gravel into a bowl of water each day and after a certain period throwing it out.

Church dirt is used in love work, especially for married couples, and protection. The traditional method is to collect dirt from 4-7 churches in order for it to be effective. Dirt from 4 churches is primarily used for cleansing; from 7 churches for protection. I’ve also heard of some people collecting the dirt from 77 churches!

Dirt from a snake’s den can be used in works of healing, divination, and sex. I usually collect this in the winter when they are asleep. Just gather the dirt from around the opening. DO NOT ACCIDENTALLY FILL THE HOLE WITH LOOSE DIRT. That’s just rude and could suffocate the animal!!!
Dirt from a bear’s den, if you’re brave enough, is used for strength and protection. Even better if you can get it from where the bear hibernated. This is of my own creation as the thought came once when one of my uncles spoke of a den he found and I asked for some dirt from there. I also use it in divination with the assistance of a bear spirit I’ve worked with for years. The spirit is of a bear that was hit by a truck. I harvested the claws with offerings. I now honor and work with this spirit. The Cherokee saw Yona the bear as the wisest and said he was the chief of the animals. The bear is a great council when it comes to plant medicine.

Grave dirt is soil from the actual grave of an ancestor or known spirit. Before gathering this or Graveyard dirt, please read my post on its use and proper gathering. Click Here. This is used primarily for protection and to ask a spirits aid in other works based on the owner of the grave, I.e. A soldier would be helpful in dealing with enemies and general protection, while a doctor could assist in healing work.
Graveyard dirt is only different in it is from the yard and not gathered from a grave. The general guide I use when gathering is: dirt from the west quarter would in useful in ending and sending away, the south would help in love works and to add power to a work, from the east to bring something and for healing, and from the north for binding and crossing and hiding. Again read the post through the link above first before gathering either.

Bank dirt is used in works of money, prosperity and abundance.

Dirt from a mine is helpful in job, money and prosperity works. This is understandable as the mines were a big employer in those days and usually brought a surplus into the economy. Better if the mine is still active, but it also depends on what is being mined.

River bank dirt, or from any bank where the soil is eroding, makes itself useful in eating away at something. In works to end addictions and codependency, I’ve found that this helps 98% of the time. It can also be used to rid oneself of anything harmful or negative. And if you’re into it, erode your enemies strength and protection.

Ruff dirt is soil from the place where two dogs fought. Most call it “dirt from where two dogs fought”, but damn that’s a mouth full. So I call it “Ruff dirt”. Ya know…. like a dog’s ruff. This is used to cause fighting and hostility between two or more parties. This is used mostly with male targets, while for female targets people use dirt from the place where two cats fought. I need a better name for that one too… Do not get this from a dog fighting ring. That’s just plain wrong.

Dirt from a fox’s den was taught to me by my great uncle. Well, he didn’t tell me directly, I over heard him talking to someone who just had something stolen. I was about ten years old, couple years before I got into paganism and witchcraft, but I knew it was another odd thing the elders did. He told ’em to get a bowl of water from the lake and sprinkle this dust in it while saying a verse, which sadly I don’t remember. He said the dirt would make the letter of the thief’s name. I remembered this a couple months ago when a friend told me about sprinkling a man’s pubic hair in a bowl of water to see if he’d been cheating. The bowl and the act of sprinkling is what helped me remember this. I gather this dirt during the winter as well. This also helps in works for self-esteem when one doesn’t want to be noticed as much as they think.

Construction site dirt is one I’ve found most helpful in building something between two people and building power on long term works. I gather this throughout the construction process, from the start to the completion, no matter what they’re  building.

Dirt collected at Noon is used for protection. The protection depends on where it is gathered. If taken from a hospital right at noon, then it can be used to protect from disease. Taken from a jail, courthouse or police station then it can be used to protect one from the law and from going to jail.

Courthouse dirt is used in justice and law work to help one either get charges taken off or to bring justice to the plaintiff or defendant.

Dirt from a police station or jail is used to ward off law enforcement or to bring the law down on someone, especially in justice work when the target is on the wrong side of the law.

Dirt from a Hospital is employed primarily in works of healing, but can also be used to “send someone to the hospital” if you catch my drift. When using this keep in mind that healing and surviving are different, so be specific. The healing in some situations may mean the patient needs to cross over so they no longer suffer.

Dirt from a corn field is used for wealth and prosperity. I also add this charming soil to my garden for fertility. Which may explain why my Iris flowers love to bloom in the winter. Weirdo plants… too much fertility.

Dirt from a tobacco field is used for protection from evil spirits and to bring in blessings. (Don’t go trampling onto other folk’s property without permission. It’s rude and illegal.)

Barren field dirt can be used to kill a man or woman’s sex drive or cause them to become infertile. Cast it against someone’s door to make them loose all their money. This one I learned from a friend up in West Virginia.

Abundant field dirt is only taken after the 7th bountiful harvest in a row. This is employed to bring fertility and wealth. Also learned this from that friend in WV.

You’ve heard of our deep connection to trees right? If not, click here. The dirt from beneath trees, right from the side of the root, can also be used in workings. I’ll end this post with a few of these. I harvest this dirt during the waning or dark of the moon.

Oak dirt can be used for strength, healing, leadership, and to keep one sturdy amidst life’s hurdles.

Holly dirt is used for protection from the restless dead and from tricks placed on your yard. It’s one of the only trees to retain its life in the middle of winter, so I add some to works for clients dealing with depression or anxiety. It seems to help bring some peace to them.

Walnut is useful in works of justice, binding, and protection. For his leaves and stuff he only asks for a small offering. However, he holds his soil bed with care and requires an offering of self. This means of blood, hair, etc. Spit does not suffice. This is all in his own deeper teachings.

Mimosa dirt is used in love works: to bring two people to common ground, reignite passion, and sooth emotional pains. I add this to clients sachets to help deal with breakups and aid in reconciliation. This is especially helpful with those who are grieving over a lovers passing.

Maple’s dirt can be used to sweeten situations, draw money and wealth. I also use it in love works when the client is a male wishes to attract a female lover.

*Remember to collect responsibility and leave offerings in return. The amount you take should be returned with an equal offering. Don’t trespass or commit other illegal acts while trying to get dirts.*

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Author: Jake Richards

Jake (Dr. Henny) follows family practice as a Yarb Doctor and Conjure man in the Appalachian Folk Magic tradition. He follows the legacy of his mother (a seventh daughter), that left behind by his grandfather, a baptist preacher who was a blood stopper, wort doctor, and thrush doctor; his grandmother, who was a knowledgeable woman in these works before Alzheimer’s set in; his great, great grandfather who witched for water in Washington County and his great grandmother who taught and worked from her roost at the foot of Devil’s Nest Mountain. Jake is the author of Backwoods Witchcraft: Conjure & Folk Magic from Appalachia, available for preorder on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound. When he's not writing, blogging, reading the bones or trying for clients: he is either traveling, gardening, sewing, book binding, reading, or sculpting. For questions, readings, recommendations for future posts, interviews and the like, you are welcome to email him below: Littlechicagoconjure@yahoo.com

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