The Appalachian Puck

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The Southern Highlands have always been filled with mystery. Odd findings in the woods, screams from the night with no soul around, and a blood chilling history that lays in the soil.

Haints and goblins frequent the trees and streets of Tennessee and the Blue Ridge Mountains are home to the old Hunter God Tsul ‘Kalu, “Slanting Eyes.” The Cherokee and Choctaw speak often of the Little Folk who live in the rocks of the river and the laurel thickets of the high moon tops. They speak also of spiritual warriors and protectors, the Nunnehi.

One forgotten spirit of the Appalachian Mountains is De’tsata (pronounced in Cherokee, eastern dialect, as Daaay-Jah-ta)*, who I spoke of previously. The Cherokee tell many stories of the Little People of these hills, of Thunder’s sons riding flying rattlesnakes and bringing rain and lightning. They speak of nymph like women with feet like wolves or deer, voices that speak from the forest with nobody in sight, and of Nunnehi warriors appearing from the brush to aid the Cherokee in bad times.

* the apostrophe after De entails an enlonged vowel sound.

But one who is unique among the named spirits of the mountains is De’tsata. The Cherokee elders left behind this as his origin story:

One day a young handsome boy got into trouble. In fear of a spanking from his mother or father, he ran into the woods to hide from them. Some say he got lost, while others say he did not. Either way he became invisible to further avoid being found. It’s unknown whether he encounter the other Little People and ate their food and so became one of them, or if he simply remained in the mountains, forever young and unseen.

He is a mischievous little sprite, often playing tricks on hunters by hiding their arrows or darts when they miss their target. The Cherokee often noted his activities and shenanigans whenever birds suddenly flew out of fields or trees and when deer are spooked by some unknown something. It was said it was De’tsata chasing them. He often hunts birds and small animals for meals.

The Cherokee use to have a practice to hush crying babes and children: they were told to hush up or the De’tsata would come get them. This did not stick for long as the Cherokee elders account that he became offended at being spoken of in this way. In retaliation he would bring sickness to the family, more so to the children. Why he chooses the children instead of the parents is still a mystery.

De’tsata is not alone though. Or rather he isn’t the only one. The Cherokee say he has had many sons since then, who look just like him/never age, who are also called the same name.

They are grouped in with the other Little people who play tricks on people for laughs. Tricks attributed to them include the hiding of arrows as mentioned above, tricking fishermen into thinking then saw a big fish as they reel in their line, only to find a gnarled piece of driftwood hung on it, rocks thrown at passerby’s, and playing with the attractions of men by appearing as beautiful women at dances, only to disappear at the water’s edge.

The Elders would often employ the assistance of the Little People, including De’tsata, in their works and healings. They always enjoy a good piece of venison or other native meat. They have also grown a craving for milk, candies, and other sweet things. A portion of the harvest was often set aside for them as thanks for not playing tricks with the tribe’s food.

Although the Little folk are mischievous, they loved the Cherokee and it’s said they will harvest the corn, protect them in their rites, heal them of incurable diseases etc. They are miracle workers and as such they are petitioned for dire situations.

Although his name has been forgotten, his humor long unseen by the present people, and his mentioning left in manuscripts and ceremonies of old, he/they still roam these hills, peering out from the underbrush watching and waiting to play their next trick and meet a new friend. Whether it’s chasing deer or scarring fish, the Southern Appalachias are still his playground and the Cherokee (and their children) his family and friends. Watch often for his shenanigans to arise when a bush giggles, there’s a splash in the water with no fish, and when the birds get frightened. He’ll remind you of your age and your spirit. Above all things, these are best to remain in people long after the graying of their hair and feebleness that set into their bones. They remind us of the youth in our hearts and the eternal play that is nature.


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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