Whispers From Watauga: What Appalachian Folk Magic Is Not

With my extensive knowledge of American Folk Magic, I often forget that others do not know the distinctions and differences between traditions like I do. So I decided to write this post to outline where traditions meet and separate, how to tell authentic Appalachian Folk Magic from the new age and “dark, witchy” add ons that folks are proposing and selling as “traditional”.

Let’s remind ourselves of the culture and the region of Appalachia. Nestled in the Southern Highlands, Appalachia was isolated for most of recorded history. It was/is populated by people of different lands and faiths: the native tribes, Germans, Irish, Ulster Scots, Scotts-Irish, African Americans (mostly from West Africa), and the British.

Appalachia is a myriad land filled with fields and forest, cool streams and foggy lakes. Nighttime is often unpleasing: filled with dark, towering trees that could be harboring any kind of critter, hills and mountains that echo the laughter of coyotes and the growls of mama bears. This made Appalachia a breeding ground for superstition and tales, many of which began before the hills were “settled”.

The Cherokee often speak of Raven Mockers flying through the night waiting for a soul to steal. They spoke of disease bringing spirits, taboos of eating animals of the water, land or air together in one meal, and the bad things come from a menstruating woman (not because of misogyny, but because if it’s “chaotic power. The Cherokee matriarchy didn’t end until Christians influenced their culture).

The Irish, British, and Scottish brought with them their own lore on witches and falling ill to enchantment. They brought tales of Little people waiting to bring ill fortune, disease, and spoiled food to those who offended them. Much like the Cherokee Yunwi Tsunsdi, they may steal children, place a spell over you to get lost, and even take you to their house to live with them forever.

The Africans brought with them their own superstitions, many regarding death and disease. They also brought teachings that reinforced the belief that a witch who has your blood, spit, urine, etc. could end you or do anything else their imagination would grant them. They also reinforced the importance of honoring our Ancestors, a practice long held across the globe, but barely remembered today. They also reinforced the belief and connection to ones land; a belief also shared across cultures, but one that quickly lost hold into the latest millenniums.

The biggest portion that has survived down family lines are practices originating in the British Isles, Ireland, Scotland etc. Not much African components remained as this location was highly Baptist so the option of merging their beliefs with the white mans religion, like with the Deep South and Catholicism, just wasn’t possible. Tokens of wisdom were passed down and soon disregarded by the children who converted to Christianity and those who no longer honored their elders, which became a rampant act of society in the 70s to the 90s.

All of these cultures merged and mixed, creating the unique social, religious, and folk structure we have today. From food to music, magic to medicine and all in between, it is a stew of magic and mystery, of sin and salvation.

Today, many people feel the urge to honor their culture, especially the magic here, but they do not wish to go speak to and learn from elders. They google and google and bing and yahoo to their hearts fullest to no avail. These websites today are have-assed, putting off simple superstitions as Appalachian Folk Magic, when it is so much more than that. There’s also the problem with outsiders who take this work and pose around as Appalachians without a lick of an accent.

This woman, she owns this place in Vegas called Haven Craft. And yes I’m calling her out because she is a fraud and does nothing but appropriate other people’s cultures. In the year I have been keeping an eye on her, she has claimed in Youtube videos as being born and raised in Appalachia, then she was Native, and the most recent is she is a Romani who traveled around with her grandmother.

Bless her god-blessed heart.

One video she spoke on her granny slathering herself in lard or some shit, and going out to meditate and meet the fairies and something about collecting fairy stones to speak with them. She also talked about creatures in hell that rise up….

So I commented and called her out on it. Her response was “Every family practices differently.” They do, I agreed with that. So I asked where she grew up. She said Roan Mountain, East Tennessee. That’s when I knew she was bullshitting because I grew up there also. Her rebuttal was that her work if a mixture of what her granny taught her among other things she’s learned. That’s fine. My issue is her selling it out as Appalachia folk magic to its fullest.

There’s another who wrote a series of books, Barbara Diva I believe her name is. She mixes in new age philosophy with it, talks about using bind runes *eyeroll* and wands. *another eyeroll*. The bind runes is absolutely false. Wands on the other hand have only recently been adopted into it by a handful of workers here, again due to the new age movement and influence from mainstream witchcraft.

Orion Foxwood is another. The majority of his book is nothing but paths for self enlightenment, cultivating ones spirit, and growing your spirit, and that’s fine. If you’re practicing Wicca or Hinduism. Transformation of the self was not known to the old folk. The closest they would be able to compare it to is a good sermon on a Sunday morning where the preacher taught exactly “what they prayed to God about.”

Not only that, it is highly influenced by the Hoodoo of the Deep South and more new age influence. The title is extremely misleading. There were but a few tidbits that were accurately Appalachian in the whole manuscript.

All of these people have one thing in common: they are selling something that is fraudulently being called Appalachian Folk Magic. For money, title, I don’t give a shit what. Then you have the other people who barely do research (or fucking talk to people from the area) and water it down to simply odd superstitions categorized as Good Luck, Bad Luck, Witches, Death Omens, etc. as if we have no form to our magic but old sayings.

I have presented plenty on this blog on how we do authentic Appalachian Folk Magic. And now I’m going to give you tips on how to see the frauds.

They firstly try to convince you they are from the area and that they were born and raised here. Notice their accent. How often to they mention their family? Too much can also be a hint. (Overselling).

They’ll talk about using any kind of crystal other than mountain quartz. I don’t even know the actual name for it, it’s what everyone calls it here.

Notice the elements employed in their “craft.” We don’t use incense, if at all. All of the old folks hated the stuff. Hell most of em had or now have COPD as it is. Seems contradictory considering most old folks smoked, but the only things considered close to incense sticks were burning herbs. Even then they were done inside only when mamaw was out.

We don’t use athemes or wands (historically anyway). We don’t seek out the Little Folk at all, it’s believed to do so will have them put you under their power and get lost. We rarely petition them and when we do, it’s when a true and fast miracle is needed. They (especially their power) is continuously reckoned with and regular offerings are left. To do otherwise is to warrant their displeasure and bad luck to befall you.

We are superstitious folk. But when you’re coming to speak with Appalachian people, be sure to pull actual Appalachian superstitions out of your arse, cause we can tell. You may also have people who study folklore often present in the group. They may correct you. Be weary if you have a fragile ego.

The old time recipes never call for frankincense, dragons blood, bats blood ink, and anything else new to America through the Wiccan and new age movement. We use what’s in the yard, barn, at the grocery store, or in the woods. We use animal blood, needles and fabric; river rocks, baking twine and salt.

We don’t use pentacles. These continue to be regarded as satanic in the major Christian area. Feel free to use it. But don’t call it traditional. Many people today are also mixing in traditional European witchcraft. While it does contain those elements, pay attention to how much they’ve mixed in. And we definitely don’t cast circles.

We don’t use prayer sticks, medicine bundles, or anything else you wish to rip off from the West Native people. The only native influences that continue to live in this work are the uses of some waters and dirts, using certain plants for such and such, basket weaving, and pottery made from the river mud.

We don’t use specialty oils often, such as Adam and Eve oil, Road Opener Oil, etc. These are adapted from Deep South Hoodoo. I personally use them and sell them in my shop as a majority of my clients practice that tradition of folk magic. We primarily just use olive oil or vegetable oil that’s been prayed over and maybe infused with a particular herb.

They’re not voodoo dolls here. They’re dollies, doll babies, nannies, beanies etc.

We don’t “charge” things. The tools we use are prayed over or just used. Remember the old folks and lay people here didn’t have thoughts and cautions on magic that we have today that stem from modern occult philosophy. We have our own thoughts and ways about us, but nothing too special or as complex as that. Things just were and they worked just as they were, no blessing or cleansing needed.

We don’t use “intentions” to heal and shoot. We use prayer, faith, and common sense. The strongest form of magic exemplified in Appalachia is that of using images to affect others, or simple symbolism to affect cures. We don’t use affirmations or follow the law of attraction. You do get what’s coming to you but just setting there thinking positive about money ain’t gonna bring a buck into the house. Work for it.

The old folks rarely used jar works like most in Deep South Hoodoo do today. Jars were expensive and primarily used for canning food for the winter. Every once in a while they may be used though. But not as extensively as in the Deep South. The most common used here were tin cans and buckets.

We don’t use crystals. I don’t know how many times I have to say that. The only “crystal” used is quartzite which is found throughout these hills, fields and forests.

We don’t work with the Goddess and God. Works are done by the power of the Holy Trinity. This also can be adapted. But when I see you doing a working with rose quartz and amazonite, calling on Hecate, don’t call it traditional, let alone Appalachian.

We do not worship Demeter, Jack Frost, Father Winter, etc. as one website claims. Lord I hate that website.

Pay attention to their “products”. Mine are homemade and each component has its purpose. 90% of my materials are Home made or locally sourced. But today we have folks running around selling anything with a feather or holy stone glued to it as magic from Appalachia. Authentic Appalachian charms mostly consist of a simple sachet bag, a penny worn about the neck, a paper packet simply bound with yarn, etc. We don’t care much for those decorations when work needs done. I understand the want to appeal to customers for them to buy your products, but don’t go all out on it. You’ll look desperate for sells then.

Saying you lived on the Qualla Boundary to justify using native practices doesn’t give you credit in the magical community. Most natives today are Christian and no longer call on the Thunder, Tsul Kalu, etc. Neither do they believe in the power of their people’s medicine. 98% now turn to western medicine for their needs. And no, it’s not a reservation. Folks who do this will call it that. That should be your number one red flag.

The old folks didn’t use tarot cards. Maybe a handful, but not so much as to remain open about it. Many, if they read the cards at all, used playing cards.

Scrying with water in a bowl is not Appalachian. It is another add-on. We do scry or “watch” the water, but it has to be living water. Water that flows.

No body gives out full traditional workings. I even don’t. It’s a belief that stems from the Cherokee. Formulas loose power as they are passed around by more people. Maybe it’s true or maybe not, but I’d rather not take the chance on something that seemed important enough to remain intact over hundreds of years. The workings that I advise to people and clients are traditional with a twist. I’ll advise you to pray a particular verse or do it towards a certain way; still all tradional beliefs and practices that I simply attach perfectly to the work.

So there’s a good list for you to use to point out the frauds that continue to visit our doorways to take what they can and leave what they don’t like. This list will likely grow over the next week or so, although it is already extensive enough.

Enough outsiders have tried selling us our own culture, they’ve tried writing about us while “putting themselves in our shoes” and they still get it wrong. They want our culture, our music, our food and our magic; but they don’t want the poverty, the underfunded education, the drug addiction, etc. They take what benefits them. As I am passionate about these folk ways, I will not stand for it.

So brave yourself should you ever think to pose things falsely as Appalachian Folk Magic. Because I’ll know and I won’t be afraid to call you out on it.

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

3 thoughts on “Whispers From Watauga: What Appalachian Folk Magic Is Not”

  1. From TN Wildlife Resources Agency: “… Coyotes were not known in Tennessee prior to the 20th century. No wild
    (coyote-like) animals, other than occasional feral dogs and extremely isolated pockets of red wolves, occurred
    in southern states east of the Mississippi River from 1900 until about 1965. Coyotes moved eastward through
    Tennessee, Mississippi, and other eastern states during the 1960s and early 1970s. First occurrences in Tennessee
    were mainly in the western portion of the state. By the mid-1970s, frequent occurrences of this species were reported in counties west of the Tennessee River. Today, coyotes are well established in West Tennessee and populations in Middle and East Tennessee are increasing. …”


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