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.

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