I am an Appalachian Witch. It is said the people who once lived here came from an island on the back of a giant turtle. That their shamans and sorcery were believed to be the most powerful around. That the nature spirits, or Little People, live within rocks and trees, waiting to play their mischievious pranks. Like Laurel tying the fishermen’s lines.
I am an Appalachian Witch. To the north, I climb for a mountain of food. To the south, I swim in the rivers of a valley of medicine. Where the water is radiant and springs fill the woods, bubbling with forgotten lithia waters once famous for their healing. Here Bloodroot decorates the forest floor, and great vines hang from the trees. Remnants of a ghost town scattered among them, where old bottles can be found as easily as the ingredients one may put inside.
I am an Appalachian Witch. Accustomed both to the silence and the howling of the night. The winds and falling trees, owls, toads, and coyotes. Where walking at night, in a ghost town void of light, you never know what rustles in the woods around you, what beast’s nocturnal sounds resonate through you. Here you may find the calls of nature, or eerie music of the past.
I am an Appalachian Witch. Where moonlight shines through window bright. The shadows of leaves dancing across your naked flesh, as darker shadows dance across the internal dreamscape where the Grandmother of the land’s cottage may be found, her table full as her Grandson and dog wonder about. Many lessons she does offer in her guarded cabin in the woods, but only if you can prove your will strong enough to unlock them.
A Child of the Wild
I was raised outside of a town of just six hundred people in Northern Appalachia. My home was in a valley in the woods, on a street in a very underpopulated area, where most of the houses were either vacation homes or elderly folk. For the majority of my childhood, there were no other children on my street and those who did come never stayed long. No street lights, only one street with houses on both sides, and then woods and mountain everywhere beyond that.
As a young child, I spent much of my time hiking alone, running up and down the very steep wooded mountains. Other times, running up the river, jumping from stone to stone with an agile grace. In the bottom of the nearby lake was a ghost town, accessible only come fall when the water went down. It was a place that often left one with an odd feeling, though I still enjoyed exploring the foundations at the bottom of it and collecting broken bits of old dishes and vases. At times elsewhere in the woods, I would hear old music, before happening upon an old foundation or fallen down house. The clearings and many secret points of interest with sudden shifts in plant life were places of magic. Everything was alive and everywhere was a new potential mystery for me to discover. The hollow trees were surely doorways to somewhere else if I only knew how to use them, I would think to myself. Spirits were everywhere, though unseen. Talking to them was normal for me, though I wasn’t raised that way in a very Christian home and knew to keep it to myself.
There was no distance in the woods considered too far or no age where I was told I was too young to explore the mountains alone. I can remember hiking for miles around seven or eight. We owned a good bit of land and the woods were treated very much as just kinda a part of our home growing up. I knew that if I were ever to get lost, I just followed the valley and rivers home. While I was taught to respect the animals, I was never taught to fear them. Bear crossings were a totally normal thing while walking up the road we lived on trying to get back in shape in the summer. My mother would even keep walking, within reasonable distance, and admire the sight, much to the horrors of the neighbor lady who briefly walked with her. As an adult who’s seen more movies, I now have a greater fear of bears probably. Growing up here, I was taught respect for poisonous plants at a young age as well. Again, not fear, one of my favorite seasonal foods when I was eight was young boiled Pokeweed that I would hunt out on my hikes, a plant many in the area fear for its fame of poisoning children who are lured by its berries.
In my upbringing, I learned a lot about plants and the earth, the ways of Appalachia. There were no kids, I would visit the elderly neighbors and sit and learn about the plants, the water springs, and the mills that used to exist in the woods, so long ago that not even the foundations can be found anymore. At times I wished there were more people my own age, but because there was not, I learned a great deal about the area. The ways of Appalachia are greatly forgotten by most of the people living in this area these days, the plants, history, culture, even how to survive in ones own home land. Looking back, that I was raised to remember this forgotten land, I don’t remotely regret missing out on people. This land is still sacred to far too few.
Around twelve, I accidentally found my first book on witchcraft, though I would not connect my craft to the land around me until later, in my early twenties. Instead for the time, I focused entirely on the popular plants and classical gods, rather than the plants and spirits of my childhood and local land.
Embracing the Witch of the Wood
I moved to Pennsylvania with my partner around six years ago, about fifteen miles from my childhood home in Maryland. Since then, I have spent a great deal of time trying to get to know the land and find those places of magic all over again, searching mostly for a place to practice. This time the ghost town is right around my home, and again I live in a similar mountain valley area, but much more removed from other people. After I bought a field guide at college, I began finding and wildcrafting plants, expanding my childhood knowledge of the local flora and beginning to rely mostly on local plants for my practice.
A year or so after I moved here, I experienced a series of extremely vivid and real trance experiences involving the land around me, my career path at the time, and my craft. From them, I have come to work more with the local land and spirits once again. Plant work specifically has become much more important to my craft.
I began researching native beliefs in the area after the experience as well, mostly just to get a better idea of the land and the ways it had been connected with in the past, as well as what sort of spirits were recognized and might have a greater connection to the land. I was surprised to find familiar faces and stories from those trances. As was I surprised to find tale of mischievous “Little People”, making foreign folklore suddenly seem a bit less foreign to me.
With the changes that came to my craft after the lessons in that trance, my craft became a lot more tied to the land around me and the seasons. I am very much reminded of how I used to interact with the land and spirits instinctively as a child. I am also again reminded of the ways of Appalachia. And now that these mountains have slowly become a part of my craft over the years, I can finally say that I am proud to be a witch from the Appalachians, a place I once sought to escape for civilization. Now I again find Bliss in living in these woods
Spring Returning to the Mountains
Today I took a small walk through the woods intent on seeing what all plants were returning so far. I found Celandine, Coltsfoot, and random clumps of Daffodils that had escaped from the ghost town that once existed in the woods here long ago, before it was just us. During my walk, I pondered what being a witch in the Appalachians has come to mean to me over the years. I could have no doubt found more plants, like Bloodroot (one of my favorite native plants), had I ventured closer to the remnants of the old town, but it was getting ready to rain and I was in the mood to get home.
Life returns to these mountains, and I am long ready for it!