Oil lamps in Appalachian Folk Magic

As the oil lamp preceded the candle by millennia, it has become a favorite of the country witch and the yarb doctor. Candles and oil lamps were both affordable (mostly), but as you know, the grannies had too much work that needed done to watch out for a burning candle that children would definitely tip over.

With children running amuck, family in and out, chores to do, and laundry to hang, the oil lamp was much safer than the candle which was very likely to be knocked over. If you grew up in the south, you’d know that you learn at a very young age that anything glass better not be touched or you’re guaranteed an ass whopping. And Lord have mercy on your ass if it gets broken.

In Appalachian witchcraft, the oil lamp was used in folk magic for long works such as keeping family members safe, drawing in a steady flow of prosperity, and for on going prayers of different sorts.

Superstition says when a new lamp is brought into the house, it must be washed and lit to keep bad luck away. The base and chimney are washed in clean cold water while reciting Psalms 23. The wick is soaked in clean water or river water while reciting the same. Let it all dry in the sun before reassembling.

Once dry, I further bless the lamp with tobacco smoke and a blessing salve that I make which I rub on the inside of the basin. Before assembling and after the lamp has been blessed, one can also anoint the inner part of the basin with a corresponding conjure oil or condenser.

Oil lamps used to be fueled with animal fat, olive oil, or kerosene. Nowadays, we use paraffin oil since it doesn’t smoke or smell bad. Most fuel back then was colored somewhat so it was easy to hid the roots and work in the basin. Unless your home is frequent with visitors, I wouldn’t worry much. Less chance these days of being excommunicated or anything like that.

One note: make sure that the ingredients you put in the basin, will easily come back out as well. As each lamps power will need to be refreshed so too will the ingredients need replacing. I usually keep my lamps lit for about a month or so, or for as long as it is manifesting. I’ve had some lit for months on end without needing to be changed. It’s all about the actual work you put into it.

Once you have your lamp cleaned and blessed, you can begin your work. When working with lamps, remember to not cram loads of herbs into it. Some folks do that when loading their candles or making sachets and I hate it. I’ve seen some use up to 25 differ ingredients when there’s no need. I was always taught to never go above thirteen ingredients in your work, otherwise everything may get puzzled and twisted and the work will fizzle out. Plus bulky charm bags aren’t attractive nor comfortable in the least. Loading the lamp too much can also affect the wick and the flame as the oil try’s to be absorbed among the plethora of ingredients. So keep it simple.

Before loading the basin with herbs, have your petition ready and pin it to the part of the wick right under the screw top. Once that is done, load the base with the herbs just enough to cover the very bottom and fill it will the oil. Each herb should be blessed and charged for the intention beforehand.

Once everything is assembled, begin by holding the lamp and rubbing the basin while chanting, charging, and blessing. Do so for as long as you feel you need to and then light the lamp. Lamps can be kept going in a safe place for a long time, but make sure to practice safe fire measures. Don’t leave it on a high flame or unsupervised. I personally turn the flame down when I leave the house and it does just fine. If the flame stays too high for too long then it could break the chimney.

Traditionally the lamp is to never be turned off unless the working is complete. However none of us today have the time or resources to be home constantly. Turn the lamp off with a prayer to your divines and spirits that as the flame goes out, the working will be held in the basin until lit once again. This is one reason why I always include salt in my oil lamps, as salt preserves I pray that it preserves and protects the work until the job is done.

When you go to light the lamp again, repeat your chants and prayers while stroking the basin. I keep each work going until the oil is all gone and the job done, but if the working has not be completed by then I will divinate to see the status of the work or situation. If all is looking well for it still, then I refill the basin and go at it again.

If you are working with a particular spirit for a working, place the lamp in a sturdy bowl filled with a centimeter of water. This will further the communication with the spirits. It is in this bowl that you will place your offerings and flowers around the lamp, but make sure none of them touch to chimney so as not to cause a fire hazard. The lamp can also be placed in the center of a small offering wreath, which is made from grapevine and adorned with offerings of cigarettes, flowers, fruit, etc. The making of the wreath from scratch is also apart of the work if you’re able.

I may speak on that in a later post, but for now, the day is almost done and there’s herbs to be harvested and wild crafted… So ground and center, set those lights and let the conjure flow!

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Article © 2017 Jake Richards

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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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