Appalachian Superstitions and Wives-Tales

Whether religious or not, the majority of Appalachians are still superstitious to this day. Nana still won’t throw water out after sunset and everyone here still knocks on woods when someone speaks of possible ill.

There are so many wivestales for healing, protection, cures, and cursing that it could fill volumes. Now mind you, some of these are essentially charms that require more than what’s told. Often only the physical doings were shared knowledge but the prayers while doing so were never talked on. More often then not, Psalms 23 and other verses are used. In some formulas, hymns or folk songs are sung.

Our Ancestors were constantly unsure of fate, of God’s will, and of the harvest or hunt. Especially in Appalachia. A hard frost could kill off the entire harvest well before winter, or a certain animal’s activity may herald death for someone in the family. Because of this uncertainty, they somehow came up with precautions to take and omens to follow. Some of these have lived on for millennia.

So here are some of the omens and signs, sayings and doings of the Appalachian Hills that I grew up with. More will be given in my forthcoming book.


• Never cut a babies nails before they’re a year old, bite them off. If you cut them off, the baby will grow up to steal.

• Rub an apple on a newborns tongue and they’ll have a sweet singing voice.

• To cure fits in a child, take one of their shirts, turn it inside out, and burn it.

• To cure an illness, ride a donkey backwards and feed it some of your hair, taken from the crown of your head.

• If an unnamed baby gets sick, give it a name and it will get better.

• If you get a fishing hook caught in your hand, wash the hook with moonshine and stick the hook into a piece of wood three times in the name of the Trinity so the wound doesn’t fester.

• don’t turn a wheel backwards while greasing it or it’ll bring bad luck

• visit a loved one on the ninth day after their burial and you’ll be able to speak to them a last time.

• you’ll see ghost if you go to a graveyard at night. Mama always said they look like little lights floating around. A group of lights is the little children dancing and playing.

• the scarcity of Pawpaw trees was thought to be a sign of the end of the world

• a rabbits foot is lucky and will protect from evil spirits. But there’s no charm to it unless it’s dipped into moonshine poured into a tree stump in a graveyard. And it’s always gotta be the left hind foot.

• if a cold chill runs down your spine, a rabbit just ran over your future grave. (NC, TN, VA, etc)

• if a picture of someone falls by itself off the wall, it portends their death.

• to cure snake bite, kill the snake and hold its innards against the wound.

• to ease a toothache, drink water from a colbalt blue glass (Erwin, TN)

• carry a piece of coal in the right pocket to remove a curse or witchcraft. Once the coal has been crushed and turned to dust in the pocket, it has been removed and the dust is disposed of in the crotch of a willow or in a river crawling westward. (Richmond, VA)

• It’s luck to find a silver coin and put it in your left pocket.

• if a man wipes his hands on a woman’s apron, he will soon be compelled to fall in love with her.

• When fishing, always thank the fish you catch or your cabinets will be bare in the coming year or season. (Roan Mountain, TN)

• Couples who marry at Watauga (lake) in May will be blessed with brave sons and loyal daughters. (Watauga, TN)

• if a dog howls at midnight, it foretells death. If the dog is black, it means Old Scratch is near. (East Tennessee)

• My Mamaw always says “Dirty dishes and laughter make a warm home better than spotless dishes and a cold bed.” (TN)

• It’s bad luck to kill a cricket.

• My Mamaw Hopson once said if you step on a grasshopper while saying someone’s name, that person will die. (Mitchell Mt., NC)

• ask a Old Grey Daddy (daddylong legs) where someone or something is and he’ll point to it with one of his legs.

• If a woman keeps miscarrying children or they die young, she should name her next son Adam and he will live as will anymore thereafter.

• Carry a baby upstairs first before downstairs so it will get up good in life.

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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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