So when exactly did witches get such a bad reputation? In the mid-19th century, nearly every mountain top and “holler” in the mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina had their local witch. Known as the “Granny Witch,” she was an honored person, revered as a magical healer. They were considered a rare gem who had brought their craft from Europe to the New World. These states are filled with folklore about their “Granny Witches.”
In the days of old, “Granny Witches” were sought out for all kinds of ailments and for solutions to other kinds of problems as well. Some who were also known as "Water Witches" were consulted when someone in the community needed to add a well to their property. With the use of special divining rods, “Granny Witches” would pinpoint water on the spot. They were also called upon when someone was planting a new garden or burying a loved one. “Granny Witches” typically used a long straight rod, rather than the ‘forked stick’ type. It was made of wood from a flowering tree such as dogwood, apple or peach.
Granny witchcraft has its roots in ancient Scots-Irish traditions that were brought over to Appalachia as early as the 16th century. As these immigrants built their new lives, these old ways quickly developed into something uniquely Appalachian. Over time Native American traditions were blended with the old-world beliefs to create a concoction of spiritual and medicinal cures. These were quite popular in the mid-19th century.
Hospitals were often too far away and a little suspicious to mountain folks. When accidents and illnesses happened, the locals relied on “Granny Witches.” These traditional folk healers were aptly skilled in herbalism, home remedies, spells and energy work. Granny magic healed sickness, birthed babies, removed curses and predicted the weather. In the far reaches of Appalachia, “Granny Witches” were often the only source of medical care. Their practices were simple, inventive and always grounded in the natural world.
Divination was popular among Appalachian “Granny Witches.” Many read cards, tea leaves and clouds. Scrying in bowls of water, dirt, or sand was also common. Spider webs were also scrutinized for messages from the Cherokee Spider Grandmother Goddess, a Goddess of fate, magic, weaving, art and storytelling. She was said to weave magical messages into her webs.
Much of the power and influence that these grannies wielded drew their strength from the unwavering beliefs of those under her “spell.” Although folk healers have mostly disappeared from the hills of Appalachia, their focus on pragmatism, ingenuity and self-reliance continues to have significant appeal. Modern herbalism, midwifery, foraging, and homesteading carry on the spirit of the Appalachian “Granny Witches” today.
Sarah Wilson, of Bull Gap, TN. (Public Domain)
Have you, or someone you know, had an experience with a Granny Witch? If so, please share. I well remember my grandparents calling upon a local woman to use her divining rod to help them locate where they should dig their well. Sadly, the well performed very poorly, but she did use the ‘forked stick’ type.
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