Appalachian Granny Magic

topic posted Sun, March 4, 2007 - 12:40 PM by  Joseph
I am heavy into Old Time & Bluegrass music and support embracing this music as a American Bardic tradition that I like to see more Pagans take up. Obviously I can't study Old Time without studying the Scots Irish folks of the Appalachian mountains. Interesting thing and she mentions it in the article below is that the witchcraft as practice by these folks was pretty much untouched by Wicca until recent years. So what you get from these folks is a clearer picture of witchcraft as it was practiced in the British Isle & what it looked like before Gardner came along & threw a bunch of the Hermetic stuff in there. Doreen tried to remove as much of Crowley's garbage as she could but its still there. Calling a Circle comes from Hermetic magick and you learn quickly that the witches prior to old Gardner didn't do it. Wicca is a valid modern traditions so don't get me wrong. I just thought folks would be interested in witchcraft as it was practice before Gardner and still exist in the Appalachian mountains.

Also I run a tribe call; Pagan Bluegrass if anyone is interested at:

Appalachian Granny Magic

Author: Ginger Strivelli
Posted: January 8th. 2001
Times Viewed: 45,121

The Appalachian Granny Magic Tradition of Witchcraft is one that is only recently being heard of. Though the tradition is a very old one, dating all the way back to the first settlers of the magical Appalachian Mountains who came over from Scotland and Ireland in the 1700's. They brought along their even older Irish and Scottish Magical Traditions with them. Those two 'old world' Traditions were then blended with a dash of the local tradition of the Tsalagi (Now, called the Cherokee Indians.) The recipe for the Appalachian Granny Magic Tradition was then complete, though this potion simmered on a low boil for many generations before anyone dubbed it with the name, 'Appalachian Granny Magic.'

The Witches of the Appalachian Mountains called themselves 'Water Witches' and/or 'Witch Doctors' depending upon whether they were personally more gifted in healing, midwifery and such realms of magic, or if they were more in tune with dowsing for water, ley lines, energy vortexes and the making of charms and potions. Often a Practitioner called themselves by both titles if they were so diverse in their Magical practices.

The Appalachian Granny Magic Tradition, like many of the older ones, was passed on from parents to their children for many generations, and generally was not 'taught' outside of the individual family structures. Because of the rural and secluded nature of the Appalachian community, the old customs, wisdom, and practices were not as often lost, forgotten, or 'modernized' as the 'old world' traditions that came over to other, more urban areas of the 'new world.' Therefore, one will often find that ancient Irish or Scottish songs, rhymes, dances, recipes, crafts, and 'The Craft,' are more accurately preserved in Appalachia than even in Ireland or Scotland.

Many of these old Scot/Irish traditions, as well as the Tsalagi traditions, both magical and mundane, were carried on in Appalachia until modern times. Some songs, spells, and such have been passed down for many years that way, though sadly, sometimes only by rote, with the original meanings beings lost in the shifting sands of time.

In the secluded mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, the Virginians and the Carolinas, this denomination of the ancient religion of Witchcraft continued right on through the decades of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and the early twentieth centuries; a time when Witchcraft elsewhere was being nearly forgotten and abandoned by the increasingly modern and monotheistic world. The people of the mountains still relied upon Mother Nature in a way, that 'city folk' did not anymore. The fertility of the crops, the livestock, and of the people themselves was as paramount to the Appalachians of 1900 as it was to the early American colonists in the 1600's. Therefore, fertility, and the worship of Mother Nature, Jack frost, Father Winter, Chloe, Spider Grandmother, Demeter, and such varied deities continued in the Appalachian region, staying a current part of the people's faith, rather than becoming a mythic memory as such 'nature worship' did elsewhere. In fact, we still see "Lady Plenty and Lady Liberty" Goddess of the harvest, with cornucopia in hand, and Goddess of freedom, on the official North Carolina State seal.

Amazingly, even the terms "Witch"", "Witchcraft", "spells", "charms" and such never became taboo in the modern Appalachian culture. Nearly every mountain top and 'holler' community had their local 'Witch' who was openly called such, as a title of honor, not as a insult or a charge of crime, as the term came to be used in other more urban American cultures of the seventeen, eighteen and nineteen hundreds.

The "Witch Doctors" were still called upon to heal a sick child, or deliver a baby, or tend to the dying, as Witches had been so charged with doing in Europe during ancient times. Since often a mountain community had no medical doctor to call upon, the local Witches continued to work as the only healers, well up until the early twentieth century.

The local 'Witch' was also called upon to dowse for water, ley lines, and energy vortexes when one was digging a well, planting a new garden, burying a loved one, or doing any other work with the Earth. Thereby, the term 'Water Witch' arose, though, it is misleading, as these Witches dowsed for more than just water, and one did not have to be a Witch to dowse, though most dowsers of that era and location were, indeed, Witches.

The fairy folk, leprechauns, and other 'wee people,' followed the Scots and Irishmen to Appalachia, it seems, as the Witches of this tradition continue to work closely with these beings. Of course, the Tsalagi people had their own such beings, here when the Scots and Irishmen arrived. The Tsalagi called their magical being neighbors; 'Yunwi Tsunsdi,' which translates to 'The Little People.' Offerings are still commonly given to the wee people daily in Appalachia. To this day, you will find a granny woman leaving a bowl of cream on her back door step, or throwing a bite of her cornbread cake out a window, before placing it upon her families' table.

The spirits of the dead are often worked with as well, a lot of ancestral spirit guide workings are passed down through our Tradition, those practices trace back to not only Scotland and Ireland, but the Tsalagi Nation as well. 'Haints' are widely feared as 'angry' ancestral spirits, and many spells, charms, and rituals are practiced to keep these troublemakers at bay. One of the most interesting and common haint related spells requires that the doors of a home be painted 'haint blue.' Haint Blue is a bright baby blue with a periwinkle tinge, very close to but about one shade darker than the Carolina Tarheels' Blue color. This color is believed to repel the spirits and keep them out of the home.

Music is a large part of the Appalachian Granny Magic Tradition. Many of the oldest spells are sung and danced. Clogging, as Irish Step-dancing came to be called in Appalachia, as well as reels, gigs, lullabies, and chants sung in rounds are all very common magical ingredients in Appalachian spells. For example, a traditional Earth Blessing to be sung while planting and harvesting goes; (Broken into syllables for easier pronunciation of the ancient Tsalagi language, English translation follows)

A da we hi a ne he ne ha
Do hi u a iu ni
O lo hi a li ga lu lo hi u nah ta
Ga li e li ga O sa da du

Wise Protectors, they are so giving
Serenity, it resounds
Mother Earth and Father Sky are so giving
I am thankful, it is good

Another example of the old world musical roots of Appalachian musical magic is the locally common use of the song 'Auld Lang Syne' for Samhain and Funerals, as well as the secular new year.

Divination is popular among Appalachian Granny Witches. Many read Tarot, and regular playing cards, tea leaves, and clouds. Scrying in bowls of water, dirt, or sand is also common. Spider webs are scrutinized for messages from the Cherokee Spider Grandmother Goddess, a Goddess of fate, magic, weaving, art and storytelling, who is said to weave magical messages into the webs of her creatures. (In Tsalagi, She was called; 'Kanene Ski Amai Yehi.')

"The Weaver" Painting By Ginger Strivelli The tools of the Appalachian Granny Witch vary a bit from the modern 'Wiccan' tools we all are so familiar with. The Wand, often instead called the 'rod', as it is in fact a dowsing rod, is the most important tool. This is usually a long straight rod, rather than the 'forked stick' type dowsing rod used by mundane dowsers. It is generally made of wood from a flowering tree such as dogwood, apple or peach, (For Water dowsing) or made from a metal, (For ley line or energy dowsing) copper conducts energy best, I personally feel. A ritual blade, such as a Athame, is only occasionally used and more often a agricultural blade like a thresher, ax or such will be used in its stead. Cauldrons are used more widely than chalices, in fact, a cauldron placed in ones front yard was a 'open-for-business' type Witches' sign in times gone by, much like a barber's pole is used today. However, that practice has become a popular decoration in the South in recent decades, and one is likely to find a person has a cauldron decorating their front yard, because they saw it in 'Southern Homes Magazine' and thought it was quaintly attractive, rather than it being used to advertise that the 'Witch is in,' so to speak. Mirrors, candles, brooms, pottery, and baskets are other common tools of the Tradition, and all of those items are still commonly made at home, by hand in the mountains of Appalachia.

As most of the Magic of the Tradition is of a healing, practical or sympathetic nature rather than "High" or Ritualistic in form, and there are some differences related to that. Ritual clothing is generally not used, and circles are not cast for every spell, only the more formal rites. An Appalachian Witch, like myself, might do a dozen or more spells in any given day, often with two or three generations of practitioners taking part, so running in to change clothes, or stopping to cast a full circle in the 'strict' form would be rather impractical, and in fact, neither was commonly done in the past, in our Tradition. Although some modern Appalachian Witches, being eclectic already with our Scottish, Irish, and Tsalagi roots, have started to use some other Traditions' practices (such as wearing ritual clothing, casting a formal circle, etc.) at times, as well.

We, as a Magical Tradition, are very practical, and 'down-to-earth.' We are very eclectic, and informal in our approach to Witchcraft. It is our way of life, as well as our religion. And we are working to preserve both, for the future generations of Appalachian Granny Magic Tradition Witches.

Mountain Magick by Edain McCoy
Voices of Our Ancestors by Dhyani Ywahoo
Scottish Witchcraft by Raymond Buckland
Celtic Myth and Magic by McCoy
Myths of the Cherokee James Mooney
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    Re: Appalachian Granny Magic

    Mon, March 5, 2007 - 6:00 AM
    That's a great article. I live 5 minutes from the trail near the MD /PA border. From locals you hear some stories about dowsers - who still help search for wells when people build houses - and how grandparents were doing the "black witchcraft". The guy who lived in my ouse growing up told me abut his grandfather removing a wart in a magickal way and it was gone within the week he did the spell. I didn't grow up in the area but love to hear the little stories here and there when people talk...:)

    Thanks for posting this.

    Blessings and light!
  • Re: Appalachian Granny Magic

    Mon, March 5, 2007 - 10:11 AM
    Wow- thanks for posting this! I and this author am actually both part of the same general Pagan community here in the mountains.

    I would add to keep in mind that- as far as I can tell and have heard- this is pretty much from her family tradition and may have similarities- or not, with other people in a similar situation in these here parts- which may be a lot more rare then her optamistic aritcle implies. She gives a good general representation of the addition of Appalachia folklore to the mix of all the forms of Earth-based religion and spirituality you find in this geographic region and a lot of what she says about folk remedies and treatments being used is very true- especially for a generation or more ago. But I would add that in this day and age and especially in Asheville which is the major 'metro' site in the area and has a long history of interest and friendliness to culture then some of her neighbors (yeah, Asheville must be a She)... we are actually not as secluded and untouched by the rest of the world then oh say, what the book and movie Deliverance portray us as.

    Yes, I too have been interested in this and seek out the elder natives around me for information, but I would hesitate to say that the word witch is commonly used (in rural-positive context) and there seems to be a generation gap between <Great> Grandmothers/fathers use of folk remedies, charms, etc. to rather conservative/intellectual and close-minded parents, then coming back around to the children who learn about Paganism and THEN recall their elders doing things like charm warts and keen over sick children and such when they were kids, but sometimes noone living will talk to them about it- and, could offer little if they do. The few continuous exceptions are like this woman who wrote the article.

    And it can certainly be an important piece to add to the puzzle, but for instance this author and her and her family's particular version of this includes addition of Cherokee ancestor's traditions. Others might be more influenced by Christianity, such as another Dianic preistess from here whose Grandmother had 'the sight' and did interesting things, but who was wholly Methodist. It seems her mother neither had the sight, nor was interested in it. (if I recall correctly from converstations...)

    My own great Grandmother had a mama Goddess magic of her own that could not be exactly traced to any specific spells or charms- she went to church all her life but never proselytized of judged anyone else and she referred to the preacher as a story-teller. My Grandparents (her daughter) have come back to the mountains for retirement but are quite generically Christian with a modest intellectual streak of interest in Celtic lore- but that's it. They are a little embarrassed of me and my Dad's and other family's interest or involvement in 'alternative religions'.

    There is the Appalachian dowsing society that is wholly unconnected to anything spiritual/religious about it, but also wholly convinced of it's validity.

    You might very well find some extra-ordinary practices in little old mountain churches here, but I wonder how many people can give an explanation for it beyond relating it to Jesus?

    I've just moved from Asheville to a small commuter town further out in 'the hills' and have been warned in no uncertain tems not to drop the "W" word around locals- especially since I live beside a graveyard! Even when I lived in the 'city' my window was broken once by an angry suspicious neighbor pounding on the door on Halloween night- and I know other Pagans have experienced worse- But also please realize that these too are from a handful of bad representations- it is just enough to warrant caution and the statistics are probably not much different from other geographical areas.

    Anyway, keep in mind that the author(ess) is lucky to have some continuity, awareness and recognition of the witchy side of things in her own family, but it is not so untouched, recognized, open, or explored in general here- in my experience so far.

    If anyone is interested in fiction that attempts to capture the (sometimes bubbling up from under the suppressed surface) mystical spirit of the Appalachian mountains ~ the spiritual and ancient along with the rough or indifferent ~I recommend Sharon McCrumb.

    One's experiences in seeking out the witchy/folkloric here may differ greatly from person to person or family to family, but I do firmly acknowledge that there is an ancient powerful energy here that is calling out to a new aware generation and makes it worth the while to carve out a living here and deal cautiously and respectfully with locals and elders when it comes to seeking out their knowledge and acceptance.

  • Re: Appalachian Granny Magic

    Mon, March 5, 2007 - 12:58 PM

    I grew up in Appalachia in the 50s and 60s. An area that was still very isolated from the mainstream of the United States, even that recently. We didn't call people witches, they were "granny women." I got badly burned as a child, and my grandmother called a local granny woman to come "take the fire out" after I'd been seen at the emergency room. She passed her hands over me and recited a particular bible verse. I have very few visible scars from that experience, and I don't know if it was my grandmother's devoted nursing, the medications prescribed by the doctor, or the granny woman's prayers. I just know I'm lucky. I was burned pretty badly.

    Everyone planted by the signs. Everyone did charms. And of course, there were "water witches" and granny women for the stuff you couldn't handle "en famille" as it were.

    And I was kind of surprised when I first was told that it was necessary to cast a circle for protection before doing any kind of magick. I'd never heard of it before I was grown up.

    I do it now mostly because the people I have done ritual with in the past insisted on it, and I'm in my fifties now, so I have been doing it for a long time. But yeah, when I was young, the spellworkers I knew didn't bother with that.

  • Re: Appalachian Granny Magic

    Thu, December 10, 2009 - 6:00 AM
    Responding to what Ginger Strivelli posted:

    I was surprised to read that Granny Magick to some is considered "new" information. The practice has been known for many centuries throughout Europe and the US.

    My family have been living the Appalachian "Granny" Magick path for centuries. I was able to trace my familys bloodline of witches/practitioners all the way back to the 13th Century in Germany.

    My family and Ancestors are from Bamberg & Vilseck Bavaria, Germany in the Appalachian Mountains where they were healers in the small community and practiced what we call " German Pow Wow" Magick also known as "Hex Doctor Healing".

    Pow Wow Magick/Granny Magick was taught to the Pennsylvania Dutch, Mennonites & the Amish when they came to Pennsylvania from Germany by the American Indians.

    My Grandmother continued this tradition of magick/healing and it was handed down to me. She belonged to a Coven in Germany were she was a practitioner High Magick Ceremonies/Rituals and her Coven did their Appalachian "Granny" Magick in the Black Forest of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany.

    My Grandmother came to the US after the War in 1948. I myself am a 6th Generation Practitioner of Appalachian "Granny" Magick.

    Definition: German Pow-wow is a system of American folk religion and magick associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch. Its name comes from the book Pow-wows, or, The Long Lost Friend, written by John George Hohman and first published in German as Der Lange Verborgene Freund in 1820. Native name was taken from an Algonquian word for "a gathering of medicine men/women". It is actually a traditional collection of European magick spells, recipes, and folk remedies. They mix prayers, magick words, and simple rituals to cure simple domestic ailments and rural troubles.

    The tradition is also called "hex or hex work", or Speilwerk in Pennsylvania Dutch; its adepts are hexenmeisters. The tradition of Hex signs painted on Pennsylvania barns in some areas originally relates to this tradition, as the symbols were pentagrams thought to have talismanic properties; though many current hex signs are made simply for decoration.

    I have continued my teachings of herbal appalachian granny magick at my historic farm in Southeastern Ohio with the Pagan Community.

    I am also on (where i tell more about myself and my heritage)

    Peace, Gypsi~Moon
    • Re: Appalachian Granny Magic

      Thu, July 1, 2010 - 4:37 PM
      The further up north you go, you also find haudenosaunee (Iroquois) , Germanic, and Slavic influences. They were sometimes called Pow-Wows or herb women as well as 'grannies'. The traditions vary from family to family. My mothers family is from West VA, and my fathers is from upstate NY, and though the basics are the same each family had there own charms and ways of doing things.
  • Re: Appalachian Granny Magic

    Thu, October 28, 2010 - 2:27 PM
    I was born and raised in appalachia. I have lived there nearly my whole life (I now reside in England) but my great-grandmother that raised me was a granny woman. She was the local midwife and taught me the superstitions and old medicines and practices. I keep them written down to pass to my daughter. Also my other great-grandmother was Cherokee and she passed some of her remedies down. And I am carrying on there traditions. I am very lucky to have had the up bringing I had and to have been interested enough in what I was being taught to remeber and record it.
  • Re: Appalachian Granny Magic

    Thu, December 23, 2010 - 12:07 PM
    When I was a child I had a huge seed wart that covered the entire top and side of my left Big toe. It was very embarrassing for me to wear sandals or go barefoot. We tried all the usual remedies but it kept coming back.

    When I was 10, my father took me to see an old man who lived in our neighborhood. The old man told me to take off my shoe, examined my wart, then went inside the house for a few minutes. When he came back out, he took my foot into his lap, "Spit" into his palm, placed his hand around my toe and said something I couldn't understand. I didn't "feel" any magic at the time and thought my father was playing a silly joke on me.

    Two or three days later, I was putting on my socks in the morning and realized the wart was completely gone. It has never come back. This was my first experience with "granny magic" and magic has fascinated me ever since. I tried asking the old man what he did the next time I saw him, but he just smiled and said that his "granny" had taught him a lot of things. This wasn't the Appalachia, but Richmond, Virginia. He died a year later and I was never able to learn how he did it.

    I would give anything now to learn "granny magic" but the secrets only seem to be passed down through families. However, it's good to know that others are still keeping the traditions alive and well. Thank you for a wonderful article!