Getting to the Root of things

Today was filled with foraging and harvesting. Corn stalks were cut down and the silk saved, bean vines uprooted, goldenrod gathered, and the tobacco sticks returned to their place in the corner of the shed. It reminded of how so few understand the work it takes to be a witch. It isn’t just circles and salt and incense. It’s literal blood, sweat, and tears (and maybe a few shots of whiskey in there somewhere). Many people of this new generation are getting semi-precious stones from shops and ordering herbs online.

Most folks who practice witchcraft and hoodoo today… seems they don’t get out much. Their magic is too sanitized by all the neat pre-made oils and pre-bagged herbs. It’s housed in apartments and centers, contained through online voices and books sold for way too much money. It’s done on neat altars and in big rooms, decked with clean glasses and fancy tools. Most of these same folks couldn’t tell you the last time they touched bark, nor what tree it was. They often scurry to natural sights and set up their “witchy” things and feel all peaceful. They also take photos to broadcast on social media. More often then not, they leave with the same knowledge they arrived with.

Today, I was reminded of how fortunate I am to have grown into my practice while being “poor”. My common sense and country-wit has been a valuable tool for my magic and my wallet: using what I got and working in situations most never encounter. Get your fingers oiled while making your own oils, draw blood while sewing sachet bags and dolls, acquire the patience of an oak in your magic.

True witchcraft is getting out in the fields and forests, for more than an hour, and truly experiencing it. I don’t mean by mediation or admiring it. I’m talking about getting scratched up and down your arms by black berry bushes and horse nettle, collecting those pesky briars on your jeans as you stumble through the brush, and really getting your hands dirty by digging roots and stones and earth. Have a physical and material experience.

Take your witch-mind outside of your own garden and meet those new spirits in the wild that aren’t thrilled with the small offerings your garden plants adore in return for harvest. Get out everyday. Go hiking. No need to pack. I go and return when I feel it’s time to. Stop looking through this lens you’ve been given by new age theology and see what the land, your land, has to say and teach. While most say they can’t make time to do all of this: do it anyway. You will see the rewards and fruits of your hard work and time spent on that wild soil.

There’s a root deep down there, ya know, deep out there where we no longer make fire for survival or fish for food. Find the Root that is witchcraft and spirit and your own power. De-sanitize and toxify yourself and your magic with the true dirt and grime of the natural world.

Quit admiring the wonders of nature from the park bench or window and get out there. Drag your nails in the dirt, reacquaint yourself truly with the land, and build a rapport with those that live in the wildwoods. Don’t think or talk. Just watch the turkeys and deer, be alert for the smell of the copperhead, and see how the minnow soars through the creek when you clear your throat. Make your own tools, store things in a messy way that only make sense to the witch, and feel the spirit that comes with it all.

Books and websites and mediation aren’t going to whisper the secrets of the natural world or of witchcraft. The dirt does that. Scrying and tarot cards won’t show you Spirit first, the air will. Seminars and classes won’t teach you about people, the forests and fields will.

This has been lost to so many folks who scramble for every book and mediate their ass off to no avail. They spend dollar upon dollar for titles and badges, but it doesn’t make them a witch. There’s too much talk of what “traditional” witchcraft is and frankly I think it’s bullshit. The true foundation of witchcraft isn’t a British coven, it was poverty and oppression. It was a mindset of survival, wit and wisdom.

Some folks have this true root still and know it. Others who have no root to speak of are those who follow those with it instead of finding it themselves. They’re too busy peering into the baskets of others to pay attention to what their’s actually contains. If you really want to know if a witch is true, find where their basket is.

As we descend into the dark of the year, aquatint yourself with the death of the land and sit with its bones in the winter. Come spring, be sure to watch all the births: plant, animal, and insect one by one. You’ll learn more than you think. Probably more than you ever have.

I always say: if at the end of the witchy day, if your nails aren’t dirty or your palms aren’t rough; if you’re not scratched up from head to toe by thorns and briars; if your body doesn’t ache from foraging and you don’t break a sweat while casting, then you haven’t found your power and your running on armchair-magic, the stuff you’ve read about. So go get that root, get some dirt under your nails, birth your own will, and keep your basket with you. Don’t loose it and don’t loose you.

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:

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