Butter in American Folk Magic

Now I keep my nose in my own business as all good folk should. But there’s recently been a “witch-war” on social media in regards to the use of butter in folk magic. It started with a post from Hoodoo Delish on using butter on a candle. Her practices are primarily in the Hoodoo of the Deep South so naturally POC practitioners were up in arms saying that “White people are doing whatever” in this work or just making stuff up.. Others said butter isn’t used at all, ever.

However, there were instances of it being used in Appalachia, not necessarily on candles every time, but it is used. Hell, I still use it. Many have said her post is stupid as butter is flammable. Not sure where y’all are getting your butter but I’ve never seen butter catch fire. I’ve even known some of my relatives to reach for a stick of butter during a power outage and use it as a candle if none were at hand!

One of my old neighbors, Patty, rest her soul, told my mama once about using butter in her husbands shoes. He had left her and she didn’t want him to go. He had left a pair of work boots at the house so she went out in the yard to a certain tree and broke off some of the bark. She didn’t specify which side. She said she brought it in, burned it to ash and then mixed it up with some soft butter into a paste. She rubbed this on the sole down in his boots and he came back the following day.

One of my grandfathers talked about it in regards to an old superstition that cats can conjure up a rainstorm when they wash their face. He said during droughts for his garden he’d smear a marble size clump on its face, to essentially get it to “conjure rain”. This must’ve been an occasional or even a rare occurrence as Appalachia didnt get many droughts back in the day.

It was also put on candles. Growing up, my mother did the same as her mother did when she rubbed a stick of butter over an off-white candle, roll it in a pinch of salt, said some prayers, and sat it in a candle holder to let it burn. I’d ask what she was doing, “we gotta pay rent, baby. Somehow.” Not sure what people had in mind with Hoodoo Delish’s post, but it was only a small layer of butter. Her’s was a variant in my eyes of what I knew. However, it has taken a backlash as has the glitter and the coconut cleansing ball she has taught about. I have my own opinions on those which I won’t share here.

The conjure of the Deep South is largely African derived and I see where it upset folks to see things being taught as conjure when they’re not. So I will leave that to them; this is simply on butter from my own tradition and what I’ve seen.

The above examples are the only USES of butter in American Folk Magic that I have found or ever heard of. In regards to the Deep South, I have looked hell, west and crooked for something but to no avail. However, I do speculate that some superstitions about butter and witches were soon learned by the African slaves who did the labor of churning the butter. If the butter spoiled or didn’t come, it was their asses getting the punishment so I assume they tried everything they could to make it work from old butter songs, horseshoe nails at the base of the churn, scalding a bit of the milk and more.

Superstitions and “tricks” were never kept solely in their own location. They shifted and changed as they went across the south and many variations of the same were born because of it. One example is in regards to curing bewitched cream and butter. If the butter wouldn’t come, the salt didn’t work, and the horseshoe nails around it had no effect then some of the same cream was poured from the churn into a pan on the stove and stabbed with a butchers knife, fork or butter knife. This is one variant that appears in different locations. Another was to scald the milk with a hot iron rod or a hot piece of silver was shot down into it, again different per location and community.

Another example of American Folk Magic blurring it’s own lines of tradition is the rabbits foot. Depending on location, the front right or hind left foot was specified to bring luck while in other parts of the south it protected from evil haints. Other times the rabbit had to be caught and killed in a graveyard at the full moon while other times the rabbits foot was taken and it was kept alive in a cage to foretell the luck for that day. If the rabbit was active, you were going to have good luck. If he wasn’t, none.

The purpose of this post was to show that American Folk Magic has no distinct lines separating traditions, only characteristics and methods that can identify their origins. So try your hand at the churn and candle, work the knife with the cream, and trust your own roots. Most importantly, do your research, come to a conclusion and go with that. There’s always going to be charlatans in every tradition who point out the worst in everyone else’s work, but can’t keep their own candles lit to save their life. What matters is that those traditions have authentic natives to represent that tradition and its practice. Which is what I am doing with my book on Appalachian Folk Magic.

Be safe and be kind, my friends, to the best of your ability anyway.

<<<<photo found on Pinterest, photographer unknown>>>>

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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

One thought on “Butter in American Folk Magic”

  1. Thank you for sharing this! Seeing information on this topic from several practitioner’s experiences and knowledge is of great interest for me- good to remember that our view of an idea is not the only one.

    Liked by 1 person

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