Folk magic plays an important role in everyday life. While it may seem as though folk magic is a superstitious thing of the past, rest assured, it is not. Around the globe, humans practice folk magic on a daily basis without ever realizing what they are doing.
Tired and fuzzy in the morning? Drink a brew made from beans to feel better. Find a penny on the ground? Pick it up while chanting a spell about good luck. How about knocking on wood to prevent jinxing oneself? Human ritual and routine is deeply steeped in old-world folk magic.
Folk magic goes hand in hand with conjurors and granny witches. Granny witches or granny women are most commonly known in Appalachia, that wonderful mountainous area stretching from the Southern Tier of New York State to northern Alabama and Georgia. In the grand scheme of things, it is reasonable that a conjuror would be considered the male counterpart of granny witches. And both are adept at the rituals of folk magic.
Folk magic is as old as it gets. Humans have been practicing this type of magic for a millennia. It arrived in America with old-world immigrants. Simply put, folk magic is the magic of the common folk. This is in direct contrast to ceremonial magic which is practiced by the select elite, such as shamans and other holy persons.
Traditionally, folk magic works in sync with nature. Modern witchcraft practices would be considered a form of folk magic. The purpose of folk magic has always been to address the problems of the community. Such issues may include healing illness, bringing luck, or driving away evil forces.
In the old world, villages were often small and isolated without appropriate medical or legal avenues available. As such, wise folk were consulted for these services. As the practices of folk magic came to the American colonies it served the same purpose. It is widely spread through the Appalachian mountain geographical area. As many communities sprang up in the rural mountains of this region, the need for folk magic was great.
Folk magic combines herbalism, magic, and medicine. Sometimes it combined Christianity as well. Prayers were said over the sick in conjunction with more traditional methods. However, regardless of the words uttered. A traditional recipe for curing boils called for a paste of crushed egg shells, sulfur, and the utterance of a prayer, rhyme, or song while rubbing the mixture into the sore. The egg shells would puncture the boil and cause it to drain. The sulfur acted as a healing agent. The words were a timekeeper to determine how long the medicine was being applied and when to rinse the area.
Both men and women practiced folk magic. Men were traditionally called conjurors and the women were called white witches. Do not confuse this term with the derogatory witch of the horrendous witch trial days. White witches used their powers for the benefit of society and were also considered healers. In the mountains of Appalachia, they were and are still known as Granny Witches or Granny Women.
Although my family is not from the mountains, but from rural Florida, I suppose my grandfather was a conjuror. He had the uncanny ability to talk a wart off of the body. A person could come to him with a wart on their finger and he would cup his hands around the area and whisper something to wart. Overnight the wart would disappear! No one ever knew how he did it or what he said. He took that secret to the grave with him.
Conjuror was a term for male practitioners of folk magic in the old world. In some cultures, he would also be called a wise man. WEB DuBois defined a conjuror as “the healer of the sick, the interpreter of the Unknown, the comforter of the sorrowing, the supernatural avenger of wrong . . .”
In Elizabethan England, John Dee was the court astronomer, consult to the Queen and the court conjuror. He was adept in alchemy, science, and magic. Within the natural world, it makes sense that all of these disciplines worked in conjunction with one another. After all, nature is full of magic.
Granny witches or granny women are not in fact old grannies. Traditionally, granny witches are midwives. While many are in fact older women, they spent their lives training and honing their craft. They are the American equivalent of white witches. Granny women, like white witches, are respected within society and regarded as pillars within their community.
Granny wisdom is passed down from generation to generation through the females of the family. What we call grimoires today were once called recipe books. The collective knowledge of the women of the family was passed down through these books. Recipes, cures for common ills, cleaning tips, and the like were recorded by women for generations. Pages were earmarked, written in different hands, and contained notes and additions building on the previous woman’s knowledge.
Most of the teaching of granny women consisted of herbal remedies and midwifery. Often these women never charged for their services, instead serving their community with compassion and skill. So trusted were these women that expectant mothers typically preferred them to medical doctors. These women learned to heal in the same manner that they learned to cook. In the kitchen!
Cunning Folk Today
It may be surprising to some that the practice of cunning or folk healing is still quite popular today. With the rise in pharmaceutical dependence and the mounting cost of medical services, more people are returning to nature-based medicine. Cunning folk never disappeared from the landscape of society. Traditional healing has continued to be passed down from generation to generation and today, numerous social media sites and websites exist to share this wisdom with the masses and all those who are interested.