Needle Magic in Appalachia

Sewing needles have been used for centuries in these hills. They have been made from wood and bone, steel and nickel. They fasten, patch, and bring together. From sewing hides and shoes to patching clothes and quilting.

They repair beloved teddy bears and worn worked sachet bags alike. While used often as a tool not only for everyday things but also magic, they were often employed as roots themselves or ingredients; and they were almost always specified to be gold eyed. While they’re supposed to make sewing easier, I see no difference. Some sources stated it is for those with steel or nickel allergies, but that still doesn’t hold here as only the eye is coated with these.

Most of you may remember your grandmother having these. I never saw her use them. Ever. I figure they were for exactly this purpose, to work roots.

Needles are widely known for focusing the mind, not just because you may stick yourself, but also the point acts much the same way as depth does in art: it leads you down, from a seemingly closer point to a farther point. While needles don’t span a large distance of looked at an angle, their form plays the mind the same way.

When sewing or stictching quilts, I always like to charm the things I create. So I’ll run the needle over my tongue, after it has spoken the needed prayer. I’ll run the twine through the eye, “Listen here.” I knot the end of the twine, “Let me tell ya.” I begin sewing, putting the needle into the cloth while stating my need, petition ,or prayer. I’ll bring it back up, “by the Most High.” Over and over, each stitch weaving into a multitude of prayers and whispers, of muttered words. Sometimes I repeat continuously verbatim what I started with, while other times I will speak from the heart freely, unbound by the first wrought prayers. The same I apply to crocheting. Although I mostly make granny squares for clients as they are easier to carry and more convenient, I have been trying my hand at blankets and plan on quilting some time.

Below are a few traditional Appalachian uses for needles; most often the golden eyed needles are employed.

  • Bury nine needles at the foot of the drive or by the front gate. Bury them about a 8” to a foot deep; five points up, four points down. Do this and it’s said nothing can come to your home to harm you.
  • For when money’s run short and rent can’t be paid just yet, take nine needles and a hammer. Tap them in the top of the door frames, on every door, just enough to keep them there. For example, if you have three doors, but three above each; two doors, divide them. So with two doors, you’d put four above one and five above another. This will keep you there, you can’t be thrown out.
  • To separate a couple, stick nine needles in a homespun cloth and bury it at their steps or where they will walk over it. The needles divide and pierce the cloth, which represents the home and their relationship.
  • To bring a lover home, write his name on a small white cloth, about 4”x4”, in the center. Take nine needles and pierce and lay them so that the needles are situated with the tips of the needles just inside the name. If you’re not familiar with sewing, go into the cloth and back up so the point is over the cloth. Then tuck the point back under, right through his name. Do this with the needles in a circle making one of the famous rimless wheels. Put this under his or her side of the bed, right under the mattress. It’s said they’ll come back in four days.
  • Needles are also used in the Irish potato curse which consists of sticking personal things into a potato and pinning it closed with nine needles and pins. This is then placed where they walk over it and it will bring them ill, so ill western medicine will only worsen its affects.
  • 9 Needles are used frequently for uncrossing, protection, cursing etc.
  • One working to cure illness in a patient consists of certain prayers being said over 7 gold eye needles, smoking them with tobacco, and pricking blood from the patient with each one 7 times, meaning each needle draws blood 7 times. A stone is then used to wipe the blood “to the left” to undo the illnesses power over the blood. The needles and stone are then disposed off in a specific manner which I cannot give here. Appalachian workers take pride in their works and when they are passed around a lot they lose their full power. The above though is a remnant of the bleeding rites done by the Cherokee healers.
  • Bury nine needles, points up, a foot into someone’s yard, near the walk ways. This will bring them Unnatural sickness.
  • Another formula to give sickness or even bring death entails taking nine needles, gold eyed, and place them into shallow space of a tree. As before, I won’t give more details, mostly because too many today will resort to this as their first option in dealing with folks. Don’t cast your pearls before the swine.
  • Tie 7 needles on to individual strings, knot the strings together at the opposite end of the needles. Hand this above the windows for protection. Recite psalms 23 over it for seven mornings, beginning on the first day of the month. Do this every month from the first to the seventh.
  • Hang three needles over the stove and you’ll never go hungry.
  • Young girls would often pin a needle into the sleeve of their gown to dream of their true love.
  • Place nine needles in a cobalt blue bottle with wine, cinnamon, and a dried peel of a red onion to bring a lover home. Cork it and stop it up. Shake it each morning for 9 days, speaking to your love, “Come home, darling.”
  • Witch bottles also utilize needles for protection. Click here to learn more.

This is but the tip of the iceberg of research I have found regarding needles in folk magic. When using needles please assume responsibility for their location and their disposal. Always bury them deep enough so they don’t rise, never dispose of them loosely, especially where children, dogs and other animals roam. Use your common sense and keep others’ safety in mind.

I may return later on and update the list above but for now I feel it is fine enough. Thank you for reading. Feel free to ask questions or request a topic in the comments! Don’t forget to follow the blog below.

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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