Measuring Ailments in Appalachia

There is a technique of healing and working still in use today in Appalachia and the Ozarks: measuring. This is one that I employ often in my own formulas for many things such as healing, protection from tricks, keeping animals from running away, and love works.

“The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass, and marketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house.” Isaiah 44:13

Measurements are a corner-stone of many occult practices, bringing in the special significance of numbers such as 3, 5, 7, 9, 13, 21, 41. In traditional witchcraft, the ritual circle is to be 9ft in diameter and at certain initiations in the coven, the cords one wears are the measurements of your body from head to toe and arm span, usually making the cord large enough to mark out the 9ft circle.

In Curanderismo, some practices call for the person to lay eagle spread on the ground, then the dirt under their hands, feet, and head are utilized; leaving a perfect measurement of their extremities.

The Bible tell us that man is God’s perfect temple, the measurements and symmetry of which are likewise perfect. Taking this into account, it gives new divine meaning to the pentacle, the fully symmetrical, five-pointed star encased in a circle. The pentacle represents the equal balance between the four elements of air, fire, water, and earth as well as the additional Spirit. All of these are found in the human body as well: air (lungs), fire (temperature), water (warm blood and other fluids), and earth (flesh and bone); all these are kept in balance by the fifth ingredient, the Spirit or the soul. This further shows the idea than man is God’s perfect temple, and anything in excess or lacking can kill your body. Too much heat (fever), the flow of water (bleeding out because of thinned blood, poisoned from other fluid leakage, blood clots), fragility of bones, not enough food or too much food, suffocation. You get the idea.

Measuring is done to mark something off for a particular reason, whether it was the measuring line for the destruction of Jerusalem (2 Kings 21:13 KJV) or the figurative measuring for Judgement (Isaiah 28:17). Whether biblical verses like these had any effect in the practice’s birth is not certain, but through close comparison of these among other verses that have sprung Folk practices in Europe and America, these verses can be seen in a different light.

In Appalachian Folk healing, measuring is done to mark the person off for something, usually a disease or other affliction. Whether it is measuring in a straight line on one of the limbs, measuring the diameter of a wound, tying it around the limb and leaving it, or measuring the “perfect” outline of the body by the ends of the extremities (as shown above with Curanderismo), it takes the essence of that disease of illness and prepares it for eradication, it marks it off for “judgement and destruction.”

An old Kentucky cure for nosebleed was to tie a red string around your big toe, as tight as you could stand it. In Ireland, an old cure for headache was to measure the person’s head three times over the course of three days (even it the effects had left, just for precaution) while reciting the Lord’s Prayer, Glory Be, Hail Mary or some other variation three times.

For fever, take a red string and wrap it around the head three times and knot it in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Do so as the sun goes down or while the big hand of the clock moves downward. Then place the string in a bowl of ice water and place it beneath the bed of the fevered until morning. Usually, the fever will break before the night is over, but don’t remove the bowl until they wake up. Dump the water out as the hand of the clock moves downward again.

These same practices are used in folk magic as well, to set a person up for a working or spell. This can be seen in the famous hoodoo work to tie up a man’s nature so he doesn’t run around on you: measure the length of his penis with a red cord, anoint it with his semen or tie it in a knot around a lock of his hair and bury it under the doorstep. “Feed” the work with your first-urine of the morning on the first day of every month while saying his name three times and ordering him to stay faithful.

If you want to know more, I speak about measuring rites in more detail in my book, Backwoods Witchcraft: Conjure & Folk Magic from Appalachia, coming Spring 2019.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this post.


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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