High Days in Appalachia

As I’m coming close to finishing the book, spring is on its way in the Uplands of East Tennessee. The creeks are warming up, the ground is acquiring its greened hue again, Walmart has set out the tacky Easter decorations, and our first thunder storm of the year came today. But there’s more lore on this time of year behind what’s given in the Good Book and the preaching breaths passing over the purple silk on Sunday mornings.

If you’ve been following my writings for a while on Appalachian Folk Magic, then it should already be evident to many of you that some formulas in Appalachian Folk Magic are heavily influenced by the Good Book and what it says, although formulas can often be congested with specifications that brink on impossibility, we find some detail in the range of possibility steeped with the religio-magical lore of Appalachia. A parent of this is the local lore that was created and given Christian origin to explain things. For example, the Dogwood sits short and twisted because it’s wood was used for Christ’s cross, which is said to be evident by the five petals of the flower (five wounds of Christ), the blood drops of each petals and the “crown of the thorns” in the center; others say it was the willow tree and that’s why she bows her limbs, crying in shame for eternity.

The robins breast is red because when Christ was being crucified, the Robin tried pulling a thorn from His brow and blood splattered his chest; and the dove, being the sole symbol of the Holy Spirit, is said to be the only animal that the Devil and his servants cannot change into. Because of this we find the use of twigs from the robin’s nest or the dove’s in making a decoction to cure many ailments, the power given to the Robin through Christ’s blood and the Spirit sanctified in the Dove at the Baptism of Christ and the end of the Great Flood.

Likewise, certain days are auspicious for certain things, primarily to guard against aches or illness in the coming year, for protection from evil, etc. Some of them have Christian influence while others have simple footing in superstition. Since Easter and it’s accompanying holy days are around the corner, here is what Appalachian superstition and stories tell us about them.

Maudy Thursday – the Thursday right before Easter in the Baptist Church. This is the time when congregants wash each other’s feet in honor of Christ’s teachings before the last supper. This event is usually filled with crying, praising, hugging, and joy. Some people even get caught up in the Spirit during the event. Local tales prescribe any tea brewed on this day, made to boil as the sun rises, will wash away any skin irritations, rashes, it will ease the pain of corns in the feet, and Nana said once it was even good for poison ivy.

Good Friday – A lot of the superstitions and stories in Appalachia today regarding Good Friday stem from European roots, primarily from Britain. One superstition I heard growing up warrants that no clothes should be washed or hung out to dry today as it will bring misfortune to the family and the drying clothes will have spots of blood appear on them that will never come out. This is due to the woman who supposedly threw dirty water on Christ on his way to Calvary. Likewise, any bread baked from scratch on this day will never mold. This is said to be because a woman offered Christ a fresh loaf of bread on the way to Calvary. It also provides protection from lightning, house fire, curses and evil spirits. Good Friday is also the best time to start your garden, especially those underground crops. As Christ was laid in the tomb and rose from it, so they plants will gloriously rise from their beds into a full harvest. Iron tools are not touched or used either, especially nails for obvious reasons. I’ll be planting may apple, ginseng, and sweet potatoes then.

Easter – any chicken eggs laid on this day are said to never go bad and they provide protection from evil and witchcraft. But the eggs must be brought into the house carried in an apron and they mustn’t cross over running water. The eggs can be cooked for all-around healing (having been laid on the day of Christ’s rising) and can also be tossed into a fire to douse it. Water collected from a creek on this day is great for healing. Remember to go with the current tide healing, but if you want to use it for protection go against the flow to stop the flow of enemies and evil spirits on their path. Any clothes sewn together or wool spun on this day is good for luck and protection from conjuring. But it is specified that it must be done by a girl seven years of age. This is likely due to the innocence of the children paired with the resurrection of Jesus Christ: we become like children again, washed anew by the Blood.

Ascension Day – 40 days after Easter Sunday, when Jesus rose into the heavens is a prophetic day. Pay attention to your dreams that night. Leaves taken from the roof or gutters of a church this day are carried from protection, good luck, and anything else you need help with. A tea can also be brewed today with seven leaves for good health in the coming year, but the leaves need to have a bug clinging to them when found and when brewed to help you cling to the good health you have now.

I was going to end this post with some nice thing about the Holy Days, but you’ve already got the jest of it I suppose.

It has been a journey putting these writings together into a blog to help educate about this tradition of magical practice; the same with delving deep into this work for the book. I had no idea how writing a book would change me, take me to my core, and show me things about myself I had never known. I’ve continuously re-evaluated what I was sharing, whether I should share it, or if I even wanted to bother including it. Some chapters I simply didn’t want to write, but needed to for you to better understand this work. I had to force myself to the edge and fall in love with that same thing over and over and over and over again in order to put it to paper.

In this Easter time, I’m mulling over the last two chapters and looking back to see how far I’ve come. I never planned to write a book. I use to hate reading and I failed every English class. But for some reason my Spirits have guided me to this work and I’m ever so grateful for your readership.

Appalachian folk magic may indeed be appropriated and changed once it’s public, but the record will show my book as the first academic and practical look at real Appalachian folk magic with nothing withheld. Even if it all goes to shit, I’ll still be here when needed, pocket knife in hand and bullet laid on my breast, servicing my client’s near and far with the toughest roots these hills have to offer.

Either way, I have four books planned, and the first will just be the tip of the iceberg. The contents for the next two are already planned. But this may also be the only one to be created. Time will tell when Passion comes next. I’m just testing the waters now.

This’ll always be the poor man’s magic. It can’t be bought or sold. It demands that you sacrifice your young legs to the hills, tearing them on burrs and thorns. The hills cry for blood taken from a slipped pocket knife to refresh the hue of its clay. It warrants you to put on your boots to work the dirt, fish, and hunt. It warrants you to have faith in yourself, your family, and God. It commands for communication and connection, orders given by the mountains themselves.

Though the book will be all over the world, the magic will remain here in these hollers, waiting for the next person to fall into the mists and come back with dreams of bronze snakes and hallelujahs, coal and lightning, and stories of laurel faces and bobcat screams echoing over from nowhere.

*photo found on Pinterest, depicting Shelby Creek Primitive Baptist Church located in Scott County, VA.*

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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