Question (submitted by Tumblr user @green-earth-witch):
“I’m moving from Washington to Alabama in a couple months and I’m really hoping to learn about the Southern folk practices, and maybe incorporate some parts of it into my own. Do you have any recommendations on how to go about doing that? Or are a lot of practices kept within families?”
Not South-specific, but I love Satan in America by W. Scott Poole for American devil lore. A lot of Southern folklore does involve the Devil, and this book addresses that.
I’m not gonna lie, a lot of this stuff is oral tradition, which means that only way to learn it is to be told about it by someone else. A lot of it is background knowledge that you just kind of absorb from growing up here, and I’m not sure how an outsider would go about getting that kind of immersion.
Southern Cunning by Aaron Oberon has some good stuff in it, but Oberon’s system is more structured than a lot of other Southern folk magic and if I remember correctly is entirely based on one collection of folk tales? He’s also from Florida, which is culturally very different from the rest of the Southeast. While it may not be super helpful for learning about Alabama traditions, it’s a good example of how you can build a complete practice based on folklore.
A lot of people really love Backwoods Witchcraft by Jake Richards, and I actually own a copy, but I’ve never gotten around to finishing it so I can’t give my complete thoughts. What I have read is similar to what I’ve heard from people around me, but that’s probably because Richards and I both live in Southern Appalachia. That may or may not be relevant to you depending on which part of Alabama you’re moving to — even within one state, mountain people and valley people have very different traditions.
Sticks, Stones, Root & Bones by Stephanie Rose Bird is about hoodoo, which is African-American folk magic. However, Bird’s practice is actually the closest to my own brand of folk magic of any book I’ve read, probably because there’s a lot of overlap between hoodoo and Southern folk magic. Bird also incorporates elements of African Traditional Religions, but a lot of the theory and practice of magic is the same across both traditions.
The New World Witchery podcast is an excellent resource for American folk magic in general, and they have some episodes that are Southern-specific. One of the hosts recently published a book, also called New World Witchery, but I haven’t read it and have no idea if it contains info on Southern folk magic.
Those are the only resources I personally feel comfortable recommending. I’m sure there are other good ones out there, but I’ve encountered A LOT of bad resources for American folk magic. Here’s some red flags to avoid:
- “Hoodoo” is specifically African-American folk magic. It is NOT an umbrella term for all American folk magic, which is a popular misconception for some reason. A book that says so is not a good resource.
- The South is not a unified culture, and Southern folk magic is not a unified tradition. Folk magic in Alabama will be very different from Tennessee or Louisiana. Authors who have done their research will acknowledge this and will clarify which region they’re talking about.
- Southern folk magic (and American folk magic more generally) is very different from Wiccan-style magic. There’s no circle casting, no calling quarters, and no God/Goddess or divine masculine/divine feminine. I’ve come across some resources that are essentially Wicca with some Southern folk elements sprinkled in for flavor, but are claiming to be authentic Southern magic. Don’t read those.
- Likewise, there’s little to no overlap between folk magic and New Age beliefs. No Southern tradition I’m familiar with uses crystals, meditation, or chakras.
- (There’s nothing wrong with mixing traditions. I do that in my own practice. But authors should be honest about which traditions they’re pulling from.)
- Southern folk magic is very, very Christian. It is possible to practice without using Christian elements (I do), but doing so is not traditional. An honest attempt to teach these traditions as they were historically practiced will include Christian elements like Psalms, holy water, and sometimes saints. A resource that doesn’t include those elements probably isn’t reliable.
This is all good for general knowledge about folk magic in the Southern US, but if you really want to connect to folk magic in YOUR area, you’ll need to do some legwork.
Learn about your local folklore and urban legends. What creepy ghost stories do people tell in your area? How can you incorporate that into a magical practice?
Get familiar with the plants in your backyard. Learn about their culinary, medicinal, and magical uses. See how that aligns with the local lore.
And most importantly, talk to people! Especially people who grew up there!
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