Jake (Dr. Buck) 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 melungeon woman in these works before Alzheimer’s set in; his great, great grandfather, also Melungeon, 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; Doctoring the Devil: Notebooks of an Appalachian Conjure Man; and the Conjure Cards deck, all available for order and 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:
I am a body of bones reading the bones of other, smaller bodies and calling out fates yet unnamed; twirling fingers through Secret’s hair; ears hearing ungodly tales of the folks in town, and feeling the hands of spirits upon my hands upon those bones.
These hands gather dirt from the courtyard, whispering tunes of love as bugs and critters find freedom from my hand. She loves him. She does.
I scatter the dust of graves on the wind, whispering my enemies names as they fall helpless into chance’s hands, wrapped with gift wrappings sewn from their trespasses. A gift, given unto themselves as Yahweh gave Israel unto herself.
These Conjuring hands have been pricked savagely by the needle and thread, sewing flesh upon flesh of the doll in my hands, speaking to the little soul all my secrets and wants.
These hands have made hands for tying a man up like a bitter black widow. These hands have made beds for the dolls of the ill-stricken.
I pull the root from the earth whispering sweet sayings to the one holding it, those same whispers echoed back at me from the root then wrapped in silken threads. They gonna love me. They do already, but they gonna say it out loud.
I dig at Justice’s feet at the courthouse steps for that which has been done to my peoples by a falsified Jerusalem. Screaming the names of the fallen in the cemetery, my trovel piercing the critters scattered beneath Mother Mountain’s skin. We protect our own. Even when we gone.
These hands lace the bundle of roots for a want-to-be-expecting woman. These hands have held other hands, the hands that hold the root for working them wishes for those left unattended by luck and privilege.
These Conjure hands have traced untranslatable sigils into my lovers skin, handed to me by imagination’s own yearnings.
And these same hands have held the hands of the Ancestors, their many names carved into my bones. The hands, their hands, our hands; they work with conviction, rarely not buried in the earth of some church or garden graves or lonesome road.
These hands have sealed bottles and jars, covered in wax, to seal the working up. There ain’t nothing these hands can’t put together; made by the Creator, these hands are loved. These hands are life.
When you see a Rootworker, watch they hands. Lord, all they’ve been through. They act by the mind and soul. They knot and untangle. Slimed from working roots and twine and bottles. Rough from the mortar and pestle, from breaking the bricks down and turning over rocks in the crick.
Next time you meet a Conjure person, watch their hands; that’s where the Root is grown.
The odd thing about Appalachian folk magic is that each family works differently. And these differences are close in region surprising. What one family does will be done in a different way compared to a family just across the Mountain or just down the holler. If you know a thing or two about Appalachian life out of the city, you’d know that rural communities were basically left to dry by the rest of the country. No good transportation, news would arrive weeks later if something somewhere else. People waited for weeks to get to a doctor or they simply couldn’t.
It was with the help of the natives and the imported knowledge from their homelands that the immigrants were able to utilize the native plants for medicine and magic. Byron Ballard, in her many writings and wonderings, has come to define folk magic and witchcraft as the practice of peasant medicine and psychology (see her book Staubs and Ditchwater).
These differences apply to the use of dolls in the mountains as well. But it’s generally thought they used anything on hand to make a doll when times were rough; which was always, as many of them, myself included, were always piss poor.
So keep in mind, as Ian Allan recently stated in his blog Appalachian Witchery (link will be provided at the end of this post) there ain’t no one tradition of working in the root in these mountains. After all this time, cultures have mixed and swirled, there ain’t no telling how many ways there are to make a dolly. So the ones here, and in the previous post, are the ones I’ve learned about and heard about in my life.
If your from these mountains (meaning your great grandady is from here too), I invite you to message me about the ones you’ve heard of and I’ll add em here.
So where were we? Ah, types of dolls. There’s plenty more. We’ve covered stick dolls and rag dolls already, so now let’s move to the most iconic of this region: Apple Head dolls.
Apple head dolls were generally done in love work, but as piss porn as most of Appalachia was and still is, we made due with this for just about anything. Apple head dolls are essentially made like a stick doll, with the head simply being an apple. Mostly though, they are rag dolls in with stick as the main core, upon with the apple is placed to make the head. Again, Google the instructions on how to dry the head.
Apple head dolls were used in varying ways, to stop gossip by sewing the mouth shut, loading the head with love and attraction herbs to bring a lover or have them dream of you. I’ve even seen an apple head doll once growing up, but the hands of the doll were seared. Still not sure what its purpose was. Maybe a thief? Hell who knows.
Next is probably the second most simple doll to make, Hankie dolls, also known as crow babies (final product somewhat resembles a scarecrow). Not sure what they’re called elsewhere, but they’re sorta like the little, ghost dolls people hang in trees around Halloween; except we don’t leave the “skirt”, that becomes the arms and body. Originally, they were used for protection of them home from haints (troublesome spirits) and bad luck. Since the making of the doll is so simple, the technique is widely used for a number of things. Originally it was simply made from a handkerchief, but you can just use a 7×7 peice of fabric.
Another type of doll made in the Appalachias was the corn doll. These are commonly made from just corn husks while others may use an empty, dried cob as the body and form the husks around the cob to make arms and legs, or simply left as a skirt of sorts. These were traditionally used for healing purposes. Mama Starr relates her encounter with one for a pregnancy issue, you can find this in her book Working the Root.
Lastly, dolls were made from mud, dough or meat, generally for cursing and hexing. For dough and meat dolls, they were worked for a few days and left out either on an ant hill or deep in the woods for the critters to eat away your enemy to either hex them or just get em outta town.
Mud dolls are usually made using the red clay which is common in these mountains or crawfish holes. You simply gather the moist mud, shape it into a person, adding personal concerns, herbs and other ingredients for your intent, and continue to work it from there. Afterwards the doll is disposed of either by smashing it at a crossroads or throwing it in the river/lake, after the spirit has been released.
Below are some possible doll works to get you started.
This working is used to heal a person of an illness or to help with pain. You can craft a doll from sticks, fabric or clay. Once the doll is made and awoken, lay it in a bed of healing herbs. Take four eggs and anoint them while reciting Matthew 7:7-8 or Psalm 30:11-12. Place the eggs at the head and feet, left and right of the doll. Continuously pray over the doll until the sickness is gone. Once the work is done, dispose of the eggs at the base of a willow, and disassemble the doll. Return any personal concerns back to the target and bury the remains of the doll on church or hospital grounds. To strengthen this and prevent the sickness from returning, wrap the doll in a silk or lace cloth before lying it in the bed; this will also be given to the person after the work to prevent the sickness from returning.
Caught in a web
This is for those bastards who just don’t know how to stop with the lies. Make a rag doll and fill it with beans (whatever you have on hand). Work the doll from full moon to new moon, work the doll while reciting Proverbs 14:5, 19:9. One the night of the full moon, cut the mouth of the doll open and walk to the lake or other body of water. While walking to the water, spill out 1/3 of the beans while reciting one of the above verses 13 times. On the 13th recitation, toss the doll into the water. They’ll be weighed down by there lies until they hit rock bottom and spill the beans.
Allot of people have shown interest but have requested videos on making these different kinds of doll babies. While there are much more, there may be a third posting. But that’ll be later on if the interest continues. Until then, be sure to subscribe below and comment if you’ve heard of any other kinds of dolls worked in these hills. Until next time, love one another and talk to your tribe.
This is by far my favorite type of work in Hoodoo. Dollies are made to represent a person, yourself or another, for many reasons. These fetishes are used to cross someone up, heal a person, get em gone, etc.
They can also be used to store things like worry and dreams. Back in high school, to my surprise, we made a stick-worry doll in English class. Utilizing tooth picks, string, and a large bead for the head, they were they god darn cutest, little things.
Dolls have been paramount in witchcraft for centuries, maybe even millennia. Worked in all the corners of the earth, these dolls were used for more than play. The belief behind them is “like affects like,” basically this doll looks like Bobby, has his real hair and finger nails, so there’s a strong connection for me to affect him in some manner. Stretching from the poppets in European witchcraft to the dolls made by the Kongo tribes in Africa, there’s allot of lore, stories with no start, and plenty of fear surrounding these dolls; as well as dolls in general.
One rule that seems to be universal is that, for the most effective work, the doll needs to look like the target, as similar as you can get it. This will help further the “like affects like theory”, and will have a better impact.
Dolls seem to take on a life of sorts, whether they are being used in work or for play by a child. The attention given to it by human consciousness seems to gather, and you know, give it that creepy feeling you get at night when your trying to sleep but there’s eyes on you. Toy or witchcraft, there’s always the question, “did I sit it in that position?”. There’s been many instances when a doll seems to move. We’ll touch on that later.
While there are many ways to make dolls, there’s a few that seem to work well than others. In this post, we will talk about the many types of dolls used in the Appalachias (Appa-LA-chus) and on the ones borrowed for our Hoodoo cousins further south. I will also give a few practical recipes for working dolls for love, health, protection and crossing.
The first thing you need to do, is get it right inside your skull that doll babies can be dangerous. For example, you always, always, ALWAYS need a direct link to the target. Either their hair, nail clippings, etc. This gives the focal point for who exactly the doll is for. A name paper will work should you not have this, but here’s where the potential danger come in.
Say I’m working on a co-worker who just can’t seem to get some sense and quit gossiping. Now it’s hard to get any personal concerns from co-workers (harassment laws and whatnot), so I decide to use a name paper instead to link the doll to them. Everything is going well, I’m focused, I’m centered on the work being done on her.
Then my husband comes in and we get into a fight (again this is just an example, don’t message me relationship advice), so then I’m pissed at him. I go back to working on the doll, mad as hell at him. You should see two big problems appearing here. #1: Never, EVER do work while you are mad, unless your anger is for the person you’re working on. #2: this energy is now seeping into the doll I am making. While there’s another persons name in there, my energy overpowers the little piece of paper.
This is why you should always try your best to have a strong link to the target when doing doll work. Because now I have a doll for Bob which will actually affect my husband. Believe me, it’s a mess to clean up. So always do you work focused fully on the target, of something like that happens, wait until your no longer upset. Wait until you can put your full attention to the job being done. Do this especially when you have no means to get any personal concerns from the intended person.
Naming the doll varies from region to region. European witchcraft sometimes calls for elaborate rituals to name and awaken the poppet. New Orleans Hoodoo and Voodou varies from elaborate to simple yet powerful. In the Appalachias and Ozarks, the process is usually a command for the doll to awaken to life, with a knod to the Maker Upstairs. Sometimes we throw in a baptism or three. What can I say? We’re the biggest notch of baptists’ in the Bible Belt. I’m not. But most are.
In these hills, we have a process most go by when bringing a doll to life. First, you name and baptize the doll. Say a prayer to the Creator and sprinkle the doll with holy water of some sort. Next you will name the doll. If the doll is you, you will give it a secret name that no one must know, and that is what you will address in as when not in the company of others. Afterwards, over the doll for 9 days in a secret spot where it won’t be disturbed. This is its “germinatin’ period”. Feed the doll baby afterwards with a small offering of food, water and a candle. Then introduce it to family and friends (not by its secret name of course). If the person is you, introduce it as you. If it’s another person, introduce it as a nickname of sorts. Instead of “meet Charles”, use “meet Charlie”. Talk with the doll as normal, telling it to bring you something or the job to be done.
While working with the doll there’s some things you need to know so you don’t get frightened, should the doll be made correctly. This especially happens when the doll is of yourself. So do not be too frightened when the dolls seems to talk back, smile, tilt its head, or twitches its arms and legs a bit. Some have reported they can also “go to bed when you do.”
Now, this part goes for all dolls, of others and yourself. Never, ever lose the doll or let it get stolen; and definitely do not leave it around those you don’t trust. Should you lose the doll, or the doll get stolen. There’s some old remedies for this. Not well know today, but a couple of my elders have sworn by it. This is also one of the reasons you never abandon the doll for long periods of time, because this make you more susceptible to lose it.
In the event that any of the above happens, you need to disassociate yourself as much as you can from the doll (should it be in your image). This includes cutting our hair or shaving your head, shaving all body hair, cutting your nails, changing perfumes or cologne for a while, rinsing your mouth with moonshine or whiskey, and adopting a nickname for a while. Anything you can think of to separate your connection to the doll. Just wanted to put that here, first and foremost. Now let’s move onto working the doll.
Should the doll be of someone else, with a specific intention, they will need to do the same. If they are unaware of the doll, pray your ass of that its okay. Unless of course the intent is for it to not be okay. This is the reason I never make and send a client a doll that is someone other than themselves.
There are many ways to work a doll. You can bind them with yarn to tie a person down, nail to a tree for much darker works, you can show the doll love for love work, the list goes on and on. There’s no set way of working the doll. Some people use pins and needles to “focus energy”, but that’s not done in the mountains unless you’re causing ruckus for a persons life. Sometimes when we’re really on budget we’ll use old nails or thorns (hawthorn and locust are the best; about 2-3in long and they hurt like hell).
I have found my own way of working a doll. If for love work, I’ll place the items in the heart area while crafting it and dress it with flowers and perfume/cologne.
For commanding work, I put my receipt (petition) into the head, wrapped in patchouli root. This kind of makes the “brain” of the doll, with the thought (petition) inside it. For those works I’ll squeeze the head while tellin em what to do. Even squeeze the hell out of it when they’re being stubborn. With healing dolls, I make a bed from the left over materials and care for the doll. You get the picture. Now let’s talk about the many times of dolls that are utilized, not only in these hills, but everywhere in American folk magic.
We’ll start with the different types of dollies worked within the Appalachian Mountains.
The first, and simplest, is the stick doll. For this you’ll need two sticks of either oak (power), willow (love and healing), or walnut (crossing). Make a cross with the stick, creating a notch in the middle of each before hand so they fit like a puzzle piece.
Next you will need to make the head. This can be made of fabric and stuffed with your herbs and moss, it can be sculpted from clay or mud, or made from a dried apple. Google instructions on drying an apple head if that is your choice. Mama Starr gives some good instructions in her book Working the Root. Depending on the size you plan for your doll baby, you can even use a large bead as the head.
Next you will need to make the body. This can be done many ways, depending on the workers preferences. You can wrap the stick frame with yarn or twine, glue moss or cotton to the stick which will then be covered with clothes matching closely to the fashion of the target. If you chose to go with yarn to make the body, you can wrap the personal concerns in with the yarn as you go. If you decide on putting padding on the frame and dressing the doll, you can mix the personal link in with the padding, by either gluing it directly or making a small pouch for it and then glueing the pouch in as well.
For doll baby clothes, we hill folk like to keep them clean from dirt and grime once the doll is made. There’s not enough room here to give instructions on making clothes for the dolls so just Google and or find someYouTube videos. Once you have the clothes for the doll, soak it in sugar water and dress the doll while it’s still wet. The sugar water makes the clothing stiff, so position your clothing while it’s still wet and leave it to dry and harden.
This next one will be the last for this post, as it is getting extensive. Plus I like the suspense 😉. The next simple way to make a doll, is a rag doll. Up in the mountains, these were made with old fabric they had on hand. I still do it this way from fabric scrapes if I have them. This is the most common doll, made simply from two fabric cuttings shaped like a person and sewn together with an opening left for the stuffing and ingredients.
Clothes can also be added and sewn into these dolls. If the personal concerns you have of the target is hair, you can sew this into the head. If it’s fingernail clippings sew the ones you have onto the hands, assuming your doll baby has fingers. If not just sew them on in the like-placement of fingers. If the intention is love, place the items and personal concerns in the heart area. If your tryin to get a pesky bastard to leave you be, put the concerns in the feet with some hotfoot powder or hot peppers.
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