Thank you to everyone who made the workshop last weekend so amazing and fun! It really helps talking to a group of people who are actually interested in the subject. You might think that an odd thought, but experience has shown me that people aren't always on their best behavior, even in a workshop they paid good money to attend! Having wonderful groups of people really helps me stay motivated and want to continue this work.
Thanks also to the wonderful Melissa and the Four of Wands for providing a comfortable space in their shop for workshops like this. They are truly a gem in our community!
If you weren't able to attend on Sunday, don't worry! I'll be doing more of these talks in the future, so keep an eye out here, on my Facebook page, or on the Four of Wands website.
I is for Ink, pokeberry is swell –
A common ink in the old Ozarks was made from the berries of pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), which makes a deep purple ink that fades brown over time. It’s said that Power Doctors and witches alike use pokeberry ink to write their charms and amulets, believing the plant imparts its own power of healing or harming to the work.
J is for Jaybird, servant of hell –
The Ozarks has many folk beliefs surrounding certain animals. One in particular says that the common Blue Jay, or jaybird, is a known servant of the Devil himself. It’s said that if you see a jaybird gathering sticks on a Friday, he’s helping to stoke the fires of Hell.
K is for Knife, to shave off a hex –
Folk healing in the Ozarks often repurposes common household objects to perform magical acts. A knife, for example, can be used to magical cut or shave off an illness or curse off the body of an afflicted individual. Axes are sometimes used in the same way, as are brooms, used not to cut but to sweep off sickness and evil.
L is for Luck, two nails in an X –
A simple good luck amulet can be made by tying two new nails into an X or a cross then wearing it on a string or carrying it in your pocket. Some claim a used coffin nail (that is, a nail that’s been used to seal a coffin shut, often very difficult to obtain) works better than a new nail.
E is for Egg, to suck out the sick –
Common across folk traditions from several cultures, eggs are often used as a magical container for illness or evil. In the Ozarks, the idea is that as the egg is passed along a person’s body it will suck out anything that might be troubling the patient. The egg is then destroyed, usually by throwing it in a river or smashing it against a tree, thereby nullifying the evil forces contained inside. On rare occasions, as with curanderismo, the healer might crack the egg into a glass of water after passing it over their patient’s body. They will then look for certain signs about how serious the sickness might be or what witch might have sent it.
F is for Fever, cured with a stick –
An Ozark method for magically curing a fever involves a healer taking three sticks, usually from the spicebush (Lindera benzoin), common elm, or witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) and passing each stick across the forehead of the one with the fever with the words, “Spirit of the sick, pass into this stick!” After each stick has touched the forehead they are brought together and broken then sometimes tossed into a river so as to carry the fever away or put into a jug of cold spring water to sympathetically chill the fever.
G is for Granny, for praying and birth –
The Granny Woman was an important subclass of healer in the Ozarks. She was responsible for all things to do with “female complaints” as there was at one time a strict taboo against men healing women. Even today amongst old folks there’s still an uneasiness about a male healer doing any work for a woman, even if they’re family. The Granny Woman was a combination of herbalist, midwife, and magical healer. She not only knew what plants to use when a birthing is going wrong, but also the specialized prayers and rituals to help calm her patient down. The Granny Woman is almost always an older woman who has had children herself. Often it’s a widow who is guided toward the work.
H is for Haint, a ghost from the earth –
The word “haint” has its origins with “haunt” and is another word for a ghost. Haints are almost always trickster spirits or poltergeists, who use their afterlife to annoy or harm the living. While kindly spirits are often the subject of Ozark folktales, they’re never called haints. This seems to only be used with those wandering or lingering sorts who are bent on causing trouble.
A is for Asafetida, hung in a sack –
Asafetida (Ferula assa-foetida) is a pungent plant known for its noxious odor that has been described as a mix of rotten garlic and onions. It’s used frequently in recipes throughout Southeast Asia where the aroma is nullified through cooking and leaves behind a very pleasant, savory taste. Because of it’s strong smell, asafetida, or asafetidy as it is sometimes called in the Ozarks, is said to be able to magically ward off evil by choking it. The same theory is used for other strong odors like onion and sulfur, both of which are also used in warding off illness and evil. In the Ozarks, asafetida root is hung in bags to ward of illness, especially with children. It’s also burned in a hot skillet then wafted through the house to drive away malign witchcraft and hexes.
B is for Booger, don't turn your back –
The word booger comes from the same root as bogey, as in the bogeyman. A booger is a particular kind of Ozark cryptid. Generally speaking, a booger is described as an all-black animal with red eyes and unusually long life. They are also known for their violence towards the innocent. There are many types of boogers, depending on which animal is seen. For instance, there are commonly booger dogs, cats, owls, rabbits, wolves, coyotes, possums, and even turkeys, but in theory, a booger can take the form of any natural animal. There are several theories about where boogers come from. Some say they are a monstrosity of their own, others that they are really the animal form of a witch skilled in shapeshifting. Either way, the booger is terrifying to behold and nearly impossible to kill save for a silver bullet to the heart.
C is for Cross, sewn on a bag –
The cross is an important symbol of protection and healing in the Ozarks. Stemming from the hillfolk connection to Christianity, it’s still used amongst folk magicians and healers today, even those not affiliated with the religion. A quick protection bag can be made from a buckeye nut dropped into a white cloth bag tied closed with three knots, then a cross is sewn on the bag in blue thread and the whole thing is carried in the pocket.
D is for Dishtowel, milked by a hag –
There’s an old folk belief in the Ozarks, traced back to European sources, that when a witch needs milk they need only say a certain curse over their neighbor’s cow then go home, toss a dishtowel over a hook on the wall, and milk it like an udder. In no time milk will start to flow into a bowl or bucket. Most of the folktales relate that the neighbor will get wise to the witch’s curse when they see their cow’s udders shrinking fast but no milk is produced. It’s said you can break the witch’s connection by dropping a red-hot horseshoe into some of the milk, or taking a cupful into the house, heating it to boiling on the stove, then whipping it with a bundle of elm or witch hazel sticks. These days few people have cows anymore. I wonder if with the same technique you could drain the milk bottled in someone’s fridge? Or, more importantly, does the curse work on milk alternatives? An endless supply of almond milk is indeed a tempting thought.
Like, for instance, the use of Ezekiel 16:6 to stop a wound from bleeding, or the famous burn charm: "Two angels came out of the East, one brought fire, the other frost. In fire! Out frost!" Others might seem familiar but have a different imagery or wording. Because these charms are almost always passed down orally, many have changed over the centuries of use. Think about the telephone game, and what might result through such a way of passing down information.
Generally speaking, in the Ozarks, healing charms and prayers are almost never written down, but are instead passed orally from healer to student. There are many taboos amongst hillfolk about passing charms, as many as there are healers, I reckon. Some will say you can only pass a charm from an older person to a younger, or from male to female, female to male, or that you can only pass a charm a certain number of times before the power is lost for the original holder altogether. I took all of these rules into consideration when writing this booklet. The charms and prayers contained here are examples that were passed to me in a written form to begin with, by healers who didn't abide by the injunction against writing. Or, there are several examples of charms that have been in print for generations, such as the SATOR AREPO square, a talisman that has been traced as far back as ancient Rome.
While now widely distributed, these charms still hold their effectiveness! The charms inside the pages of this booklet still have work they want to accomplish. I myself still use them in my practice as Power Doctor and healer. With a heart that believes, and firm intentions, I'm certain they will work for you as well.
I'm still working out some of the minor edits of the text, but I'm hoping to have a good number of these printed and ready for purchase on my website in the upcoming weeks. Keep an eye out!
Learn your Ozark folklore and magic with this simple Alphabet!
A is for Asafetida, hung in a sack
B is for Booger, don't turn your back
C is for Cross, sewn on a bag
D is for Dishtowel, milked by a hag
E is for Egg, to suck out the sick
F is for Fever, cured with a stick
G is for Granny, for praying and birth
H is for Haint, a ghost from the earth
I is for Ink, pokeberry is swell
J is for Jaybird, servant of hell
K is for Knife, to shave off a hex
L is for Luck, two nails in an X
M is for Moon, track it at night
N is for Needle, a doll for your spite
O is for Oak, protected from thunder
P is for Pawpaw, a witch-tree and wonder
Q is for Quilting, magic that's sewn
R is for Rattlesnake, a king on his own
S is for String, tie your ills to a tree
T is for Tobacco, for a lock it's a key
U is for Urine, bottled then buried
V is for Vetch, lucky when carried
W is for Wraith, a ghost with your form
X is for X, to ward off a storm
Y is for Yarb, a cure from the wood
Z is for Zodiac, for planting and good