The Granny Witches of Appalachia

The Appalachian mountains are teeming with stories of paranormal activity, but when it comes to witchcraft, there are deeply rooted traditions and practices that have been passed down for generations. Our impressions of witchcraft have largely been tainted by mainstream influences, but in the Appalachian regions, there are some lesser known witches who are referred to as granny witches

When you think of witchcraft in the United States today, most people think of the Salem Witch Trials. As a result, it’s often associated with the darker, more sinister times in history, but if you dig further into the labyrinth of uncommon stories, you’ll come across tales of miracle healing, herbal medicine and fortune telling, that continue to shape many modern day family customs and traditions in the Appalachian regions today. 

Stories of granny witches are common in the folklore of West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky. These healers turned to the pages of old religious texts and traditional herbal medicines, in order to bring healing to those who were unable to seek professional medical help. 

## Appalachian Granny Witchcraft

When settlers from England, Ireland and Scotland began arriving in the Appalachian regions during the 18th century, they brought with them their customs and traditions. Though the use of witchcraft was strictly forbidden, some women would actively find new ways to treat illness, or use the methods that had been passed down ancestrally. These methods often involved a concoction of folk magic, faith healing, and superstition.

The first settlers lived in a time where villages were plagued by disease and poor living conditions. They endured huge suffering. Learning to start a new life, live off the land and find new remedies to deal with the most common types of illness, was no easy task.  

Once established in the colonies, the settlers would often consult with the local native American tribes, who would share with them their knowledge of the natural world, indicating which plants, roots, and leaves were used in their traditional herbal medicines. While some relationships with the natives were hostile, other tribes welcomed the settlers, and worked to create harmony.

Each of the tribes would have healers, who would study the advantages of nature to promote the health and wellbeing of the rest of the population.  That same smoke that rose from the fires of the native Indians healers, also rose from the chimneys of the first colonial healers. The mountains of Appalachia have been doused by the smoke of healing remedies for centuries. 

Author John C. Campbell travelled to Appalachia in 1908, in order to learn more about the living conditions of those who lived an isolated lifestyle deep in the mountains. After he concluded his research, he went on to write a book which he entitled The Southern Highlander and His Homeland. In this book, he wrote the following: 

One may become a grandmother young in the mountains—if she has survived the labor and tribulation of her younger days, has gained a freedom and a place of irresponsible authority in the home hardly rivaled by the men of the family… In sickness she is the first to be consulted, for she is generally something of an herb doctor, and her advice is sought by the young people of half the countryside in all things from a love affair to putting a new web in the loom.”

## The Introduction of Hoodoo

The first European settlers had grown in their knowledge and understanding of traditional medicine, and when some African slaves could finally exchange their shackles for freedom, they too began to mix in their own cultural teachings and traditions, and the practice of Hoodoo was born. 

Hoodoo isn’t to be mistaken for Voodoo. In Voodoo there are deities to be worshipped, and hierarchies to look up to, whereas in Hoodoo, there is no hierarchy, and any personal deities can still be worshipped. 

Hoodoo became a popular method of healing in Appalachia, with granny witches using the practice to heal those located in the remote areas of West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia. It’s because of the localisation of the practice, that it’s also become known as Appalachian Conjure, or Appalachian Folk Magic.

Though the mainstream media tends to taint the reputation of Hoodoo as a dark, and sinister kind of magic, that couldn’t be further from the truth, as its primary focus is set firmly on healing and protection. There’s also an emphasis on Ancestor veneration, which is a key aspect of the practice. Showing gratitude for the struggles and suffering that our ancestors endured is of high importance. 

## The Bible and Appalachian Folk Magic 

Though the traditions of granny magic differ slightly from state to state, it’s foundations are firmly set upon the Bible. The early settlers of the Appalachian regions were largely devout Christians, and so in contrast to other forms of witchcraft, those who practised folk magic continued in their perseverance and prayer with Jesus. 

Those who practised folk magic would often recite psalms, prayers, and verses from the Bible. As an example, those working to cure arthritis would recite relevant psalms, like: 

Psalm 6:2 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled. Or Proverbs 16:42 Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

The knowledge of healing and herbal medicines was often acknowledged to be a gift from God. While granny witches were practising folk magic through the week, they would also be attending church on Sunday. 

## The Practice of Granny Witchcraft Today

Granny magic today is going through a resurgence, as those who live in the deep south, or within West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia and Appalachia, have grown curious to the history and traditions of their ancestors. 

Although it’s becoming more popular, it’s highly unlikely that it will become mainstream, as it’s primarily practised by those who have ancestry within the Appalachian regions.

Psychic Phenomena and Secret Government Research

“It is recommended that future experiments focus on understanding how this phenomena works, and how to make it as useful as possible.”

— Professor Jessica Utts, University of California Davis | The CIA’s Assessment of Psychic Functioning

Throughout recorded history, kings and queens have sought the consultation of oracles and seers, eager to gain insight into their futures – whether they should be victorious or defeated in battle, bare children, or uncover plots to overthrow them – the humans who once claimed to possess these extraordinary abilities have managed to heavily influence, and even turn the tides of world history.

Mystical abilities were of high importance in historical societies, and even today, there are people that claim to possess those same abilities. These people have often been met with ridicule and disbelief, but equally, there are those of us which are open to the possibilities of the supernatural – unwilling to disregard what the laws of science are unable to explain. 

While we struggle to prove for certain that these abilities, such as psychic phenomena exist, seers such as Mother Shipton, Nostradamus, Baba Vanga and Edgar Cayce, have managed to successfully challenge our perception of what may be possible. 

More recently, the US government released files on the study of Psychic phenomena, and declared it to be real. The CIA has even released documentation relating to the secret government programs that were designed to research and utilize these enhanced abilities as a means of covert warfare.  

Project Stargate 

One of those secretive programs was endorsed by the CIA, under the name Project Stargate. 

During the cold war, the US government was actively looking at new ways in which they could infiltrate the Soviet Union, and some of the more outlandish theories were through mind-reading, and remote-viewing. 

In the 1970s, scientists took to a research lab in California, intending to carry out extensive research and testing on paranormal phenomena, before moving to a more classified location – a military base in Maryland in order to continue their studies. 

People who claimed to have powers of extrasensory perception were recruited to undergo testing by the CIA, the military and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Those recruited became known as “remote viewers”, who would help in gathering intelligence on remote enemy activities, such as finding the locations of hostages, and tracking down America’s most wanted. 

Over a 22 year period, the US government had funded psi research to the sum of around $19.933 million. The program ran all the way up until 1995, when it was eventually shut down. 

You can view the CIA’s findings on Psychic Functioning here*SPOILER ALERT* They concede it exists, and all humans are capable of it to some extent or another.

You can view the CIA’s recommended remote viewing training guide here, check it out!

A Nazi Obsession 

As the German army found itself defeated in 1945, the race was on to retrieve as much Intel as possible, in regards to the secretive experiments that had been undertaken by Nazi scientists. 

Though often linked with brutal experiments, Nazi scientists had worked on some of the most ambitious projects of the war, and proven themselves to be among the best in the world. 

Under the guise of Operation Alsos, U.S officials made their way to Berlin in the hopes of retrieving as much information as possible, and they were highly successful in discovering a trove of documents which belonged to Himmler’s science organization, the Ahnenerbe. This would lead the US government to take Nazi scientists to the U.S, to continue their studies under what became known as Operation Paperclip

Heinrich Himmler and other high-ranking Nazi officials were obsessed with the occult and black magic, even creating a branch of scientists to work on the “Survey of the So-called Occult Sciences”.  

Himmler gave the orders for SS officers to launch raids on occupied territories, desperately looking for ancient artefacts relating to the occult, even raiding Museums to try and find significant pieces. They set out to try and locate mysterious objects such as the Lance of Destiny (the spear thought to have pierced the side of Christ), as well as the Holy Grail. 

Their obsession with magic and occult lead them away from physical artefacts, and into the study of the practices themselves. 

Himmler had his own personal astrologist, Wilhelm Wulff, and in 1943 there were around 3,000 tarot readers in Berlin. The paranormal obsession in Nazi Germany was deeply rooted. 

The Nazi’s became obsessed with psychic and paranormal phenomena, and heavily funded research into the use of these paranormal abilities against their enemies. Though their research was never completely published or even found, it’s entirely possible that they continued their studies elsewhere. 

The Soviet Union Funds Experiments 

The CIA’s initial program into remote viewing and psychic phenomena can be traced back to a similar program in the Soviet Union. Reports had reached the US in 1972 that the Soviet Union was funnelling large amounts of funding into similar research, involving the use of psychokinesis and extrasensory perception. 

US officials were deeply concerned as to how advanced the studies were, and if they would soon be able to locate facilities, military vehicles, and even control the minds of the most high ranking US officials. 

This report from 1975 claims that Soviet and Czechoslovakian scientists were attempting to challenge skeptics, by researching and developing new theories in regards to extrasensory perception, telepathy and psychokinesis – all under strict laboratory conditions. 

The most famous psychic of the Soviet Union was World War II hero Ninel “Nina” Kulagina. She is said to have been able to stop an animal’s heart beating using psychokinesis. 

A Discovery In Africa 

The chief of Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio employed a secretary, Rosemary Smith, who claimed she had psychic abilities. 

In her book, Phenomena, Annie Jacobsen writes about the secret remote-viewing team: 

“It was a very small-budgeted program, because most people thought it was bananas,” Jacobsen says, but in 1976, the remote viewing team were given a colossal task. 

“A Soviet bomber had gone down in the jungles of Africa, and the CIA and military intelligence had used every intelligence collection means available to them, from satellite technology, to sig-int, to human intelligence, and they had absolutely nothing.

The military then contracted Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and “put the secretary, Rosemary Smith, on the job, and she was able to draw maps that pinpointed where this aircraft was, within a few miles,” Jacobsen says. “The cable was sent to the CIA, and they sent a paramilitary team out to the jungle, and near the area where Rosemary Smith said it would be, they saw a villager carrying a piece of aircraft out of the jungle”. 


While scientific evidence may be sparse when it comes to proving psychic abilities, there’s no shortage of scientific professionals that side favourably with the existence of the phenomena. 

Mystique in Appalachia

The forest covered ridges and the crop abounding lowlands of the Appalachian mountains are a sight worthy of any bucket list. Thousands of hikers each year take to the trails to discover some of the most beautiful sights anywhere in North America. While the beauty of the snow capped mountains or the far-reaching horizon appeals to hikers by day, there’s also innumerable stories of paranormal activity that attracts visitors at night. 

Tales of cryptids, the otherworldly, and of supernatural origin have the Appalachian mountains inundated with sightings of Bigfoot, the Flatwoods Monster, UFO’s, the Mothman and a deluge of ghostly hauntings. 

Hauntings at Harpers Ferry 

In the surrounding area, you’ll come across the small historic town of Harpers Ferry, situated in West Virginia. The well restored 19th century buildings pull in tens of thousands of tourists each year. The historical and cosy appeal of the town makes Harpers Ferry a perfect retreat for city folk, but to locals, it’s also the most haunted town in the state. 

Harpers Ferry might only be a small town, but it played a big role in history. The area is littered with battlegrounds and the memories of previous struggles. 

The abolitionist John Brown launched an unsuccessful anti-slavery raid on the town’s arsenal in 1859. He was caught, and executed on 2nd December 1859. 

The town was also heavily fought over in the civil war, with the confederate forces led by Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson being victorious in 1862. The town had suffered heavily in the siege however, with over 12,000 estimated casualties. 

The tumultuous events of the town’s history have made it a hotbed of ghostly sightings. From phantom armies, the ghosts of Dangerfield Newby and Screaming Jenny, to the ghost of the famed abolitionist John Brown himself, who is seen walking the streets of Harpers Ferry at night. If you’re a fan of the paranormal, a visit to Harpers Ferry is a must. 

The Origins of the Mothman 

In 1966, residents living in the small town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, witnessed a terrifying eight-foot tall humanoid-looking figure, with large “demon” wings and penetrating red eyes. 

The book researched and composed by John A Keel entitled “The Mothman Prophecies”, brought more international attention to the story, and also inspired the Richard Gere movie by the same name. 

Since the original sightings of the so-called Mothman, hundreds of new eyewitness reports have flooded the internet, with sightings even further afield than Point Pleasant. 

The Mothman Museum and statue in the town attract thousands of visitors each year. 

The Brown Mountain Lights

While the Appalachian regions are home to countless stories of ghosts and cryptids, there’s also other stories that have baffled and intrigued locals over the years, such as the Brown Mountain Lights of Burke County, North Carolina.

Throughout the years the story of these mysterious lights has changed slightly. The more prominent however, was told by the native Cherokee people, who claim the lights are the souls of women searching for their husbands, which were killed in a battle that took place on the Brown Mountain. 

One main comparison in each telling of the story however, is that the lights represent the souls of those who went out into the Pisgah National Forest searching for missing people – themselves never to return. 

The Bell Witch 

No region so abundant with paranormal activity would be complete without witchcraft. The Bell Witch is one of the most famous stories of witchcraft in North America. 

A successful farmer – John Bell and his family decided to move from their home in North Carolina to start anew in Tennessee. Excited by the prospects of their new life, the Bells soon settled into their new home and began to operate as before. 

The excitement was short lived. The Bell family became the subjects of numerous mysterious happenings that occurred over a several year period. Firstly, in 1817 John Bell claimed to have seen a strange creature out in the fields. Shortly after, the family reported experiencing poltergeist-like activity in the house. They were being pinched by some unseen force, hearing disembodied voices and family members were falling ill. This unseen force which later became known as the Bell Witch, seemed to primarily focus their attacks on John and his daughter Betsy. 

The witch’s attacks became so prominent that Betsy decided to call off her engagement, and John Bell is said to have died from poisoning that was actually carried out by the Bell Witch. 

The Flatwoods Monster 

One of the more alluring attributes of small-town living is the stories that are handed down by locals. 

The story of the Flatwoods Monster takes us back to West Virginia, to a small village which at the time had a population of just 300 people. Though largely unknown to many, the small village of Flatwoods now hosts thousands of tourists each year. 

Tourists arrive with the intentions of gaining a glimpse into the Appalachian origins of the now world-famous Flatwoods Monster. 

Brothers Ed and Freddie May were out playing in the school-yard, when together with their friend Tommy Hyer, they witnessed a red light dart across the sky, only to crash land in a nearby farm. Terrified, Ed and his brother Freddie ran home to get their mother. The three of them made their way up to the farm to investigate the site of the crash. 

A few other local boys also arrived to investigate. To their horror, they recounted seeing a “10-foot Frankenstein-like monster” in the Flatwoods hills. The protruding creature with its blood-red body and glowing green face engulfed in a thick mist was a sight unlike any other. Witnesses also claimed that it looked as though the Flatwoods Monster had claw-like hands. 


The Appalachian regions are plentiful with stories of paranormal activity. Some of the most interesting and famous cases anywhere in the world originate here, from the small towns, villages, and vast mountainous regions.