>Because I have an ethical obligation by law, I'm including a disclaimer that any of the material in this post which alludes to folk magic/medicine should not be used as a substitute for medical care or in the treatment of any type of illness, and make no claims as to its effectiveness.The reader bares sole responsibility as to the use any material contained in this post at will.<
I was excited to make the move to Southwestern Virginia last year because I knew I would be living in Appalachia, and I grew up reading the Foxfire Series of books. Foxfire, if you're not familiar, originated as a project for English teacher Eliott Wiggington's high school English class in Raburn Gap, Georgia in the 1970s. The project sent students out into the community to interview their elders about life in Southern Appalachia, and what resulted was a wonderful collection of personal recollections about the culture,crafts, skills and lifestyle; the information also included narratives about religion, faith healing,planting by the signs (moon cycles), ghost stories, folk lore, folk medicine and subjects covering a wide variety of 'cunning folk' knowledge woven through the pages. While I can wax poetic about the beauty and natural wonder of these mountains, the hard reality is that there is a lot of poverty here, and has been for decades. For every verdant valley and rolling hill crest, there are dozens of dilapidated and decaying buildings leftover from the period when coal was king and the next boom town was just over the ridge. Around every curve of the two lane highway into the next largest town there are the bones of ancient houses and trailers, and some pretty creative architecture which include lean-tos, and old buildings nailed together with sheets of plywood. There is beauty where Nature has taken over the dying man made structures of a bygone era, but a lingering sadness, too.
In these places, the 'cunning folk' and 'granny women' still reside; they tend their gardens and guard their secrets with an admirable tenacity from outsiders like you and me. They don't trust us, and with good reason. For the most part, outsiders mean trouble: there is always someone from Social Services or the County Government on the doorstep telling these gentle folk that their way of life-the only one they've known for the most part-is unacceptable by today's standard. Either their yard is overgrown and unkempt or the house considered uninhabitable by current standards: conform or loose your land, your roots and your family history. There are instances where generations of a particular family has lived and died in the same place for generations, and the land has become saturated with their living essence, along with the spirit of those who came before. Appalachia may be financially poor, but it is historically rich beyond our wildest dreams for those who seek out "the old ways". The Craft is threaded through the fabric woven by the Scots, Irish, English, Italians, Hungarians, Polish and other Eastern Europeans who made their way her to work in the coal fields in the mid 1800's. If you look even deeper, you can glimpse a bit of Native American and African influence. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appalachian_Granny_Magic]
Low Magic is very practical. Unlike Ceremonial or High Magic ( The spelling of magick is rumored to be first used by Aliester Crowley to differentiate between slight of hand and occult ritual. It's a tradition that I occasionally use out of habit because it was used by my teachers. Auto correct hates it. Popular author and Witch Elder Laurie Cabot spells it majick. I use both of the well-know spellings interchangeably because I think the intention is more important than the window dressing.) The specifically prescribed tools of Ceremonial Magick are not found in Low Magic: whatever is available is used by the practitioner. It is not uncommon for these people to be practicing Christians as they see their magic as a spiritual gift and to them "gifts of the spirit" are all the same. There are particular methods employed by these healers, such as "stopping blood"," blowing thrash", which are in effect forms of faith healing. These methods are not exclusive to Appalachia,and are often taught across generations to those who have the gift. (The first Foxfire book explored these phenomena extensively, and you can read more about it here:[http://www.illinoishistory.com/bloodstopping.html ] The practitioner's gifts are used to benefit themselves and others to survive in the common life. Spells are cast for healing and prosperity, to put food on the table and as an expression of spirituality. Folk magic/ medicine is highly individualized and adaptable. Some practitioners work by invoking the name of Jesus or Christian saints such as St. Michael, and some do not. The single constant in their practice is that they are all herbalists who use whatever is available in their area. They have a deep connection and faith in the healing vibration of what is grown locally.
It has taken nearly a year for me to gain the trust of some of these workers, and I am not only honored to have earned that trust, but am humbled by their collective storehouse of knowledge. I now have several journals filled with what I have learned from them just through casual conversation. The majority of them are not prone to the affectations of the current Pagan/Witch community and do not claim any title for their Craft. Likewise, their wisdom is simply referred to as a spiritual gift, or " Just what I learned". I use the terms 'granny women' and 'cunning folk' for the sake of identification and folk magic/folk medicine for clarification of actions. The fact is that anyone who has lived for a period of time in these mountains has become privy to more than a few 'home remedies'. Some of them work because they are common sense or have a legitimate chemical application, some by the power of suggestion, or through trust and faith. And some...are just historically interesting in an off beat way.
*One of the most popular remedies is a bit of rock candy in whiskey or moonshine, which is used to tame a cough, body aches or anything else you can think of. Take a bit of the mixture several times a day. (My grandfather swore on the effectiveness of this one and drank it in hot tea. Personally, I think it's a great way to indulge in Rock and Rye.)
*Baking soda mixed with water is a well known (and medically proved) digestive aid. Mint or wintergreen tea, or blackberry juice are also used.
*Arcacia steeped in water or, marigold blossoms steeped in cider vinegar and applied to a compress are used to treat bruises. Cider vinegar alone can be massaged on sore muscles.
*Chapped lips can be treated by applying olive oil, or making an ointment of clarified lard and the strained water from white willow bark. Add a bit of mint for flavor.
*Rub a half a lemon over a clean face to help with oiliness or acne. Lemon juice or cider vinegar vinegar can be rubbed on the scalp to help with dandruff. Add a drop or two of olive oil for dryness.
* Soak a dozen clove buds in vegetable oil, or ground cloves in oil for several days and strain. Use the oil to rub on sore gums or for a toothache. A warm compress held against the face will speed the action of the oil by increasing circulation to the area.
*Soak a cup of steel cut oats in two cups of water and strain to make a soothing wash for sunburn or a rash. Using a cup of crushed almonds instead of the oatmeal and adding a few drops of olive oil will do the same. A poultice of baking soda applied liberally to a sunburn will
"cut the fire". Leave on until it dries, then rinse off and reapply if necessary.
*If you have arthritis, place a sharp knife under your bed to "cut the pain". You can also tie the pain up in a knot of sweetgrass (bury it afterward).
*During a thunderstorm, tie knots in twine to harness the energy. Tie nine knots in a row and store for use later to add strength to any spell. Snip off a knot to add to a liquid, or untie a knot to release the energy.
I'm also including this wonderful interview from Mother Earth News that I think you"ll enjoy: