Tossing and Stuffing: Shoe Magic in Appalachia

(Yeah the title to this sounds sexual as hell but it was the best I could come up with!)

Shoes have been used in Appalachia magic for quite a while, stemming from the British Isles where these old magics have been found beneath doorways, up inside chimneys, on roof tops, and in the walls of old houses. Shoes have been found with photos, salt, beans, manure, etc. tucked down into the toes of them or planted under the soles.

The thinking behind this magic is fairly similar to that of foot track magic: old shoes retain the shape of the owners foot and, therefore, their essence. By this theory and thinking, shoes have been employed for a multitude of purposes.

The most famous is the practice of tossing shoes. Mainly stemming from the British Isles, shoe tossing and throwing has taken on a multitude of forms in America. Shoes are often tossed up into trees or on telephone lines to ward off evil spirits.

The old shoes of the recently deceased are tossed with the thought that when they return to visit their family, they can put on their favorite shoes and watch over them from that elevation. This is also done to make wishes: most often when one is reaching for a goal that seems out of reach, for some way to elevate themselves in life and to go far with their dreams.

While the practice was pristine at first with these reasons, it has since been taken up by gangs and drug dealers. Shoes hanging from telephone lines today, especially in largely populated cities such as Chicago or Los Angeles, often mark a gangs “territory” or as a sign that it’s a good place to find drugs. Many cities have since enacted programs to remove these hanging shoes based on the gang and drug activities attributed to them.

Beyond the new attributions by the drug and gang communities, they still hold a prominent position in American Folk Magic, particularly Appalachia. My grandmother would put old shoes filled with “new” salt, plantain, and gravel to keep thieves away, she’d put them under the porch (it was an elevated porch with the trellis boards on each side except for a little nook which lead underneath).

Another practice stemming from the British Isles and related to this magic, is the tradition of tying old shoes to the back of a newly weds car as it is considered good luck. At first they were thrown at the vehicle, but since that isn’t readily accepted today they are tied to the vehicle instead.

Now, since shoes contain the essence of the wearer, they can be used for a multitude of purposes: to keep that person with you or make them leave, draw or fix ones luck, protection from enchantment and snakebite, and for cursing.

To bring someone a long run of bad luck, get some new salt and put it in their shoes. New salt is of importance in these formulas; “new”meaning never used so you’d have to buy a new box of salt from the local White’s or other grocery store.

Now to bring yourself good luck and make you slicker “than water”, as nana said, you put new salt in your left shoe. If you’ve been running on bad luck and wish to turn it around, sprinkle a pinch of salt in each shoe and one under your bed each morning at sunrise. Do this for nine days. On the tenth day, gather as much of the salt as you can and throw it in a creek (or river) that runs westward.

Bits of moss can be tucked into the toes of the shoes along with some rose petals for luck in love.

Some folks would even put the things under the sole of the shoe. They’d pry it up with a pocket knife and tuck it right under there. If you’d like for someone to leave and never come back to your place, make a small mixture of salt and pepper and put a pinch in each shoe. I personally have never seen this fail.

Shoes can also be filled with the photo of a person, nine nails and new salt for protection. This was often done in the British Isles for traveling family and friends, especially during times of war. They would also fill an old shoe with new salt, coal, and rosemary for protection from cursing witches.

Shoes have also been hung on fence posts throughout the country to mark physical territory between folks and to guard against evil and sickness. The head of the post would be stuffed into the shoe, with the bottom of the shoe facing outwards. Before sachet packets were in popular use in the hills, many would simply load their shoes with the work, or have a secret bag tucked down into the toes of the shoes.

Paper and fabric then became readily available through trade and commerce in Appalachia, giving the Granny Witch and Yarb Doctor something new to work with. As such, paper and fabric sachets became the go-to for many of their clients’ problems. Not many workers use shoe magic any more. Folks are too worried about messing up their Jordans and Nikes that they don’t see the potential right below them.

Here’s a few more tricks and tidbits from my mountain traditions (Mitchell, Buffalo, and Roan):

  • Rub some lard inside your shoes, right at the back on the sole. This will help you through a cold.
  • To cure arthritis, sprinkle chives and black pepper in your shoes.
  • To keep from getting tricked, make a mixture of new salt, baking soda, and 9 chili pepper seeds. Sprinkle this in both shoes, under the sole of them. Divide the seeds between them: the lesser number on your “tough side” (dominant side), and the larger number on the recessive. So if you’re right handed it would be: four in the right shoe, five in the left.
  • Put a piece of cow manure (already dried in the sun), river mud, and new salt in the toe of your left shoe to guard against disease and illness. This is one time the concoction was wrapped first in a couple of layers of newspaper and tied. This is but one example of the practice of using bad smells to ward off illness. The Cherokee would set up entire buzzard carcasses over the door for just that purpose!
  • Place an old shoe outside the door when you leave for a long trip and you won’t come into any trouble.
  • If a woman wishes to conceive, she can put on the shoes of a new mother and she’ll be pregnant within the year.
  • To protect from witches and demons, fill two old shoes with new salt, holy water sprinkled in, red yarn, and pepper. These are filled half way and then sat, on a bible, at the most vulnerable point of the home, which was usually up in the chimney or in the north eastern corner of the house.
  • To put your shoes higher than your head, to put them on the bed or on a table all invites bad luck into the home.
  • To get rid of unwanted guests, or to make sure they do not return, make a mixture of baking soda and black pepper and sprinkle in by the front door then take your left shoe and put it under the bed, upside down.

This is by far only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential and tradition of using shoes in Appalachian and American Folk Magic, but more on this will be covered in my book. Speaking of which, Weiser publishing has emailed me to let me know that someone will be in touch with me in the next couple of weeks regarding the manuscript for Backwoods Witchcraft. 😉 Also my temporary website is finally up so go check it out Here!

So there’s some good news to end this with! Thank you for reading.

*Note: the below resources simply show the extent of the phenomenon of concealed shoes found around the world. The above information was gathered through years of work and encounters with many other workers here in Appalachia. This blog was written to shine a light on our local practices regarding shoes in folk magic and the exhuming of concealed shoes in old houses. The below resources show the roots of this Appalachian practice as it pertains to the living traditions today. The second website’s resource links no longer work, but it is a reputable source.



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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