Appalachian Granny Magic

Appalachian Granny Magic is a form of witchcraft that dates back to the first European settlers of the Appalachian Mountains, who arrived in the late 1700s from Ireland and Scotland.


The Appalachian Mountain Witches were also known as “Water Witches” [1] or “Witch Doctors.” If the witch was more skilled in healing and midwifery she might be referred to as a Witch Doctor. However, if she dowsed for water or energy vortexes she would be referred to as a Water Witch. Often Appalachian Witches held both titles if they were skilled in both fields of magic. These witches did not often practice their traditions with outsiders. The Appalachian Granny Magic traditions were often passed down from one generation to another. Parents would teach their children these traditions. Due to living in a secluded area these customs and practices were less likely to be lost or altered, like most other traditions that were brought over to the new world. The location of the Appalachian Mountains was able to preserve the ancient Irish and Scottish songs, dances, and recipes better than that of Ireland and Scotland. The ancient Appalachian Witchcraft was able to survive in the secluded mountains of Georgia, Tennessee, the Carolinas, the Virginias and Kentucky during a time when witchcraft was being abandoned by the new modern world. These people who remained in the mountains had to continue to rely on the earth in order to survive, even though people who lived in the city no longer needed to. The crops and the livestock were of great importance to those who lived in the Appalachians of the 1900 just as much as it was to the early colonist of the 1600’s. Therefore the deities they worshiped remained part of their faith and did not fade into a mythic memory.Twenty year old Thomas Pasmere Carpenter came to Jamestown, Virginia from England in 1627, living in a cave near the Shawnee. Thomas was called "Cornplanter" by the Shawnee, derived from their sign language that matched as near as possible to the work of a carpenter. He married a Shawnee woman named "Pride" and bore a son around 1635 named Trader Carpenter.

Trader was taught to “witch” for water with a willow stick by the Shawnee. He married a Shawnee named Locha in 1658 and the clan grew quickly. In 1660, they were driven south by the Iroquois. They moved along the Tennessee River, starting the villages of Running Water (where Thomas died in 1675), Nickajack, Lookout Mountain, Crowtown and Chota. He was Chief of Chota, which was created as a merging place of refuge for people of all tribes, history or color. It became similar to a capital for the Cherokee nation. These villages grew to about 2000 people by 1670 when the Carpenter clan moved to Talikwa (Great Tellico) where the Tellico River emerges from the Appalachian Mountains. Here Trader married a Cherokee, Quatsy of the Wolf Clan in 1680. He had become so adept at water witching that the Cherokee called him "water conjurer" or Ama Matai (Ama is Cherokee for water). Ama Matai eventually became pronounced as Amatoya. It was later shortened to “Moytoy”, so he is known as Moytoy I.

In 1730, his son, Trader-Tom (Moytoy II) took over as Chief, receiving what was described as the “Crown of Tannassy”. Tanasi was where the previous Chief resided and the traditional headdress was passed on to him. The fur trading Carpenter family owned many ships. Though he served as Cherokee Chief, Thomas made several trips to Barbados over the years where the Carpenters did banking, and even to Scotland and Ireland. On occasion he took Trader, and Trader Tom with him. They traded furs and healing herbs brought from America.

Cherokee traded furs for cloth. The cloth was not only used for clothing, but also to pay the Shamans for treatment. Though the medicine men did not charge for medical practice, they required a form of payment for performing love charms, hunting ceremonials, and other conjures. Beads were used in many instances, which the patient was required not only to furnish the beads, but also a certain quantity of new cloth upon which to place them. At the close of the ceremony the medicine man would roll up the cloth, beads and all, and take it with him. Custom required that he not use the cloth, but had to be sold. The practice was sometimes repeated over a period of days, each time requiring new cloth. Some Shamans would sell the required cloth to the patient himself, then take the used cloth with him.

The Cherokee, Shawnee and other Shamans (medicine men) traded secrets when they met. These were passed on orally before the Sequoya method of writing was developed. According to archeologist James Mooney “It was the practice when one shaman met another whom he thought might give him some valuable information, would say to him, "Let us sit down together." This was understood by the other to mean, "Let us tell each other our secrets." It was necessary to cultivate a long memory, as none were repeated more than once for his benefit. It was considered that one who failed to remember after the first hearing was not worthy to be accounted a shaman.” [cite web | title =Sacred Forumulas of the Cherokee Shamans by James Mooney| publisher = Cherokee Heritage Documentation Center|year = 2008 | url =| accessdate = 2008-06-22] When illness struck the white settlers and traditional methods of healing failed, they sometimes turned to friendly Cherokee nearby. This also provided the medicine men with new opportunities to obtain cloth and other goods from them in return. These methods were soon incorporated into the beliefs the settlers brought with them from Europe.

The Cherokee believed in at least two types of witches. The “Night Goer” or “sûnnâ'yï edâ'hï “ came at night to bring to the home. Alternatively, what might be called a good witch, “u'ya igawa'stï “ saturated the medicine given by the medicine man and by counteracting the spell, killed the Night Goer. [cite web | title =Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees by James Mooney| publisher = Cherokee Heritage Documentation Center|year = 2008 | url =| accessdate = 2008-06-22] The settlers absorbed these ideas into their lives to the point that even milk that soured could be caused by the “evil eye” or the look of a witch. Soured milk came to be called “blinked milk”.

The settlers combined elements of their own witchcraft traditions with those of the native Cherokee. Some witches in this tradition specialized in dowsing, or healing and midwifery.

The isolation of mountain communities protected the traditions of Appalachian Granny Magic from alteration or persecution from outside. The people of the Appalachians lived a farming life that changed little from the 1700s to the 1900s, and their close connection to the earth kept Appalachian Granny Magic relevant throughout this time.

Beliefs and Traditions

The Scottish and Irish settlers believed that their fairy folk and leprechauns followed them to the new country. In addition, the Cherokee had little neighbors of their own who were called "Yunwi Tsunsdi," meaning "The Little People." The Appalachian Mountain Witches give offerings to the wee people daily. A granny woman will make offerings by leaving a bowl of cream at the back door. She will throw a bit of cornbread cake out of her window before serving the rest to her family. The Appalachian Witches also believe in spirits of the dead and seek out the guidance of ancestral spirits. One type of ancestral spirit that is feared are the angry "Haints". One spell that protects a home against haints requires that its doors be painted Haint Blue, which is a baby blue color with a slight tint of periwinkle.

Many of the older Granny Magic spells are sung and danced; clogging is one of the forms of dance. Appalachian spells are also known to have chants, gigs, and lullabies. During Samhain and funerals the song "Auld Lang Syne" is sung. It is also sung during the secular new year.


Divination is popular with Granny Witches. Appalachian Granny Witches read tea leaves, tarot cards and regular playing cards, and clouds. They will also use bowls of dirt, sand, or water for scrying. Rods made from dogwood or other types of flowering tree such as an apple or peach tree are used for water dowsing, and metal rods are used for energy dowsing. A cauldron is usually preferred over a chalice by an Appalachian Witch. A cauldron displayed in a granny witch's front yard lets people know that her services are available. Brooms, pottery, candles, mirrors and baskets, all made by hand in the home, are other tools used in this tradition. Appalachian witches have usually considered ritual clothing to be impractical, but some modern Appalachian Witches have begun to use ritual clothing in order to preserve their way of life and religion for future Appalachian Granny Witches.


ee Also

*Folk Medicine
*Folk religion
*Pow-wow (folk magic)

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