Tag Archives: Witchcraft

Herbal Lore and the Blackthorn Tree


From The Scots Herbal by Tess Darwin:

Blackthorn grows wild throughout Scotland. Sloe or blackthorn berry, might be classified as a food rather than a medicine, but has a bitter, acrid taste (perhaps more familiar to us today in sloe gin than in the fruit) and was eaten from prehistoric times for its vitamin and mineral content. It has occasionally been found in ancient graves.

blackthorn branch

Long associated with dark forces and sometimes used in rites of black witches. The hard, strong wood and shape of blackthorn made it ideal for walking sticks and weapons and may have led to the belief that, like other prickly plants (which would catch and hold malevolent spirits), the tree had protective powers against evil. It was planted around fields as much for this as for the thorns, and the protection more pleasantly absorbed through drinking sloe gin, also a remedy for diarrhea. A slightly purgative tea made from the leaves, flowers, and bark was used to reduce fever. The berries and bark were also used for dye.

From: http://www.merciangathering.com/blackthorn.htm

The blackthorn is a widely distributed native tree of Britain, Europe and parts of Asia. It grows abundantly in hedgerows, thickets and on waste ground. It is unpopular with farmers because of its suckers and vicious black thorns which make it impenetrable. It is a small tree which grows to a height of around 13 ft. The black, thorn studded twigs carry alternate winter buds that are oval and purplish- black or reddish in colour. In April the blackthorn produces clouds of white blossom which are followed by the leaves, the first of the hedgerow trees to flower. They are small, pale green and oval shaped on opening but later become longer, narrower and dull green. The small, round fruits, known as sloes, ripen slowly throughout the year and only sweeten after the first frosts. It is the ancestor of the cultivated damson and plum. The bark is black and on old trees it becomes broken to form small square plates.

The white flowers can be collected during April and the sloes in autumn. They should not be collected until after the first frosts. It is considered unlucky to bring Blackthorn indoors while in blossom.

November 11th is recognized in Ireland as the day of the blackthorn sprites, the lunantishees, Otherworldly beings who guard the sacred blackthorn from any human foolhardy enough to profane the sacred tree by cutting the wood now. The blackthorn has an ominous image. The thorns of the blackthorn were used for pricking wax images for cursing. Witches were thought to carry black rods of blackthorn which could cause miscarriages. When witches were burned blackthorn sticks were thrown onto the fire. The sorcerer Major Weir was burned at the stake in 1670 with a blackthorn rod, which was described as the chief agent of his magic. Some traditions say that Christ’s crown of thorns was made from blackthorn. The shillelagh, or Irish club is made from the dense, heavy blackthorn. The usher of the house of lords and the Order of the Garter is called Blackrod because he knocks on the doors of the house of parliament with a blackthorn rod to demand its opening.

On the other hand, the sloe could sometimes be an instrument of blessing. In the north of England people would make a blackthorn globe and gather round a bonfire to chant “Auld cider” to bless the apple trees on January 1st. On New Year’s morning a crown of blackthorn and mistletoe was hung up for luck. Also at New Year in Worcestershire a baked crown of blackthorn was scattered on the fields to bless them.

The blossoming of the blackthorn marks the time for sowing barley. In Scotland it is said:

‘When the slae tree is white as a sheet

Sow your barley, wither it be drey or wet.’

Which, roughly translated into Gloucestershire, meant:

‘When the blackthorn blossom’s white

Sow your barley day and night.’

For more on the medicinal uses of Blackthorn visit: http://www.herbs2000.com/herbs/herbs_blackthorn.htm

Historical Romance Kira, Daughter of the Moon Re-Released by Amazon Encore!


Can a beautiful Scots-Irish healer suspected of witchcraft and a renegade white warrior find love together and avoid the hangman’s noose in the colonial frontier?

47e0552b-2612-4663-8b23-a4529a4ce9bf_zpssfu8rraeSet among the superstitious Scots in the rugged Alleghenies, Kira, Daughter of the Moon is an adventurous romance with a blend of Celtic and Native American flavors. Although written to stand alone, Kira, Daughter of the Moon is the sequel to my award-winning historical romance novel, Through the Fire, and book 4  in my Native American Warrior series.

The series loosely ties together based more on time and place and strong Native American characters than as a traditional series that follows the storyline, except for Kira, Daughter of the Moon and Through the Fire. In addition to Native Americans, hardy Scots-Irish frontiersmen and women, colonial Englishmen and ladies, and even a few Frenchmen also play an important role in this series. So far, it spans the gamut from the dramatic era of the French and Indian War, through Pontiac’s War, The American Revolution and shortly thereafter.

Foothills of the Alleghenies

Foothills of the Alleghenies

Kira, Daughter of the Moon  opens in the spring of 1765, about six months after the close of Red Bird’s Song in the fall of 1764. Through the Fire takes place the summer of 1758 at the height of the French and Indian War. For those of you interested in this obscure but vital era of American history, a second war led by Chief Pontiac (who united a number of the tribes) followed on the heels of the French and Indian, a sort of part two. That’s the war wrapping up in Red Bird’s Song, but to  anxious settlers, the Indian Wars just flowed together with times when attacks were more prevalent than others. These harried folk trying to survive didn’t keep track of the names of the wars. They didn’t always even know which tribe was attacking them, and some war parties were a mix of allied warriors. But the Shawnee gained the distinction of being the most feared tribe in the Shenandoah Valley and the Virginia frontier—the ultimate badass. The French officers who lead some of these attacks were particularly hated, to this day in some mountainous regions of Virginia and now West Virginia. Memories run deep. Bear in mind that Virginia used to be vast and encompassed states.

Dread of Indian attacks, of being killed or captured, of what happened to captive loved ones, and mistrust of white men who turned renegade and ran with war parties was on the minds of these mistrustful and superstitious Scots-Irish. Not that all settlers were Scots. Some were German/Swiss and English, but the clannish Scots tended to band together. And they were ever on their guard for witches.  This is the volatile background for Kira, Daughter of the Moon.

LOGAN FROM KIRA, DAUGHTER OF THE MOON

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blurb: Logan McCutcheon returns to colonial Virginia after seven years in the hands of Shawnee Indians. But was he really a captive, as everybody thinks? He looks and fights like a warrior, and seems eager to return to those he calls friends and family.

Kira McClure has waited for Logan all those years, passing herself off as odd to keep suitors at bay––and anyone else from getting too close.  Now that he’s back, he seems to be the only person capable of protecting her from the advances of Josiah Campbell and accusations of witchcraft.  And to defend the settlers against a well-organized band of murderous thieves.~

Kira, Daughter of the Moon is available for pre-order now and officially out on 9-22-2015 in kindle at Amazon through their Encore Publishing Division. Red Bird’s Song was re-released by Amazon in August. Both novels are also available in print. Amazon has all  my books.. For more visit my Amazon Author Page.

Old-Time Cures and the ‘Granny Women’


Old Home in the Blue Ridge Mountains (Old home in the Blue Ridge Mountains—image by my husband, Dennis)

About the Granny Women: Historically, they were elderly women from ‘back in the holler’ reputed for their healing and midwifery abilities. The term is often associated with ‘Appalachia.’  However, I don’t know anyone who actually lives in Appalachia. We refer to the specific mountain ranges, the Alleghenies, the Blue Ridge, or the Smokies…but I digress. In a time and place when doctors were few or nonexistent and no one had the money to pay them anyway,  the Granny Women were relied on for the wisdom and practices passed down to them by the hardy females who’d gone before them. Sure, a generous dollop of superstition and white magic was mixed in with their practical herbal remedies, but they did a lot of good. In the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding mountains, these women were invaluable. Some of my friends with deep ties in the holler (or gap) remember their family calling in the Granny Woman when they didn’t know what to do for an ailment or injury. One of them had a grandmother who was the Granny woman. Officially, these women are no longer with us. Unofficially, they are.

I recently learned more about the Granny Women after reading The Red Flannel Rag, by Peggy Ann Shifflett, a fascinating book about life in the Alleghenies. Hopkins Gap, where Ms. Shifflett grew up, is just a hop, skip, and a jump from our farm in the Shenandoah Valley, and yet, how different is the world she brings to life. Some of these customs and practices were known in the valley–still are with the real country folk–but many are unique to this more isolated mountain community. The little elementary school Ms. Shifflett describes being bussed to from Hopkins Gap is the same school my children attended, and their father before them, now replaced by a far larger modern structure. Much is gained, and lost, in our modern era. The author also happens to be the aunt of my friend, Sandy, who grew up with many of the old ways. Sandy’s widowed grandmother made moonshine to keep the family afloat, but that’s another story.

Log Cabin, Cabin, Hillbilly, Forest, Log, Appalachian Mountains, Rustic, Tennessee

(Mountain cabin, royalty free image)

Before taking a closer look at the Granny Women, I’d assumed they mostly used herbs and other old-time remedies to cure, but they were also very into white magic. In a section of The Red Flannel Rag entitled Witches and Granny Women, Ms. Shifflett explains the widespread belief in and dread of witches among the mountain people (parts of the valley too, I add). The bad witches, she says, were just called witches and the good witches were referred to as Granny Women or Healers. These women used their powers not only to cure illness but to remove an evil spell cast by a witch. The lengths Granny women, and other fearful souls, went to in order to avoid being cursed or rid oneself of an evil spell boggles the mind. For example, when brushing your hair, or trimming a baby’s fingernails, care must be taken to collect and burn every remnant or a witch might come into your home and take these personal leavings to cast a spell on you or your infant. And if a bird were to snatch your hair and use it to build a nest, you will have a headache until you find and destroy that nest. It’s a whole other mindset.

old log cabinMs. Shifflett describes incantations and instructions given for everything from ridding oneself of freckles on May Day to detecting and thwarting a witch. Here’s one: Make a three-pronged pitchfork red-hot and poke it through the bottom of a chair then pull it out.  If at any time in the future a suspected witch sits on that chair and can’t get up, then he or she is definitely a witch. Another ploy is to lay a broom across the doorway, as though its fallen. A witch will not step across a broom to enter a house. However, it was believed they could change themselves into a snake and sliver in through the keyhole, or transform into a cat and enter through the rafters, so then you have another problem. The lore, beliefs, and superstitions among mountain people is a class in itself. Some of the treatments have practical herbal applications, but much falls into the realm of magic or faith healing. If you believed the ritual employed by a Granny woman would cure your ills or break an evil curse, then maybe it could, that whole mind/body connection thing.

(Image of cabin in the Smokies)

Shenandoah VoicesFor a more in-depth exploration of the subject, read the book. I also recommend late Shenandoah Valley author and historian John Heatwole’s wonderful collection of Folklore, Tradition and Legends of the Valley entitled Shenandoah Voices. Mr. Heatwole interviewed older mountain and valley people to record this valuable resource before his death. I often refer to his collection both for the herbal lore and superstitions. Again, some are quite useful practices, others fall into the realm of fancy, unless you believe a witch can change herself into an egg and float across the stream and this worries you. Then I refer you to the time-honored ways and herbs for protection against spells. Which brings me to our next topic:

Acifidity bags: Small cloth bags worn on a string around the neck containing a mixture of chopped roots and/or spices having a strong disagreeable odor. The purpose of these bags is to ward off illness or evil. I asked my friend (mentioned above) what she remembered about acifidity bags. Sandy said her grandma (the moonshiner) made up these bags when she worried a witch had put a curse on the farm and hung them around the kids necks and put them in the hog pen to protect the pigs. Her grandma was dirt poor (likely used feed sacks to make the bags as they came in printed cotton cloth) and Sandy didn’t think she bought anything special to go in them, that she’d have filled the bags with whatever herbs she could gather, and they stunk like rotted wild onions or garlic. Children, and even pigs, wore these bags around their necks to protect them.

IMG_5998

(Image of the Alleghenies  by my husband)

Another friend, Jana, whose husband, Jerry, grew up back in Nelson County, Virginia, an extremely isolated region where they experienced a terrible flood in 1968, also had to wear these bags around his neck. Neither Jana nor Jerry remember what went into the bags, only that they stunk to high heaven to ward off anything and anyone who might cause harm to the children. There’s a pungent spice called Asafoetida, but it’s not native to the United States and has to be imported. If mountain or country women had access to a drugstore and could get asafetida, then likely that’s what they used in these bags, if not, they improvised. But I suspect the term acifidity is a corruption of asafetida, and before its introduction into America, these bags would have been called something else. Maybe just medicine or charm bags. Putting herbs, spices, or amulets into bags worn around the neck is an ancient practice.

From an article entitled: What’s in your Acifidity Bag by Bev Walker

“According to the book “Healing Spices,” asafoetida was endorsed by the US Pharmacopedia as a remedy for the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic that killed almost 100,000,000 people globally and claimed tens of thousands of American lives per week for two years. The putrid smelling spice was stocked by pharmacies to be draped around the neck inside acifidity bags in an attempt to deflect the deadly strain of influenza. Naturally, the word “flu” struck terror in the minds of generations to follow, and the smelly cure-all medicine bags appear repeatedly throughout history whenever an outbreak of potential epidemic illness or disease occurs. Babies and school-aged children were forced to wear acifidity bags during outbreaks of polio, measles, and during the winter to stave off influenza.”

***An interesting article on Appalachian Healing Traditions

Sleepy Hollow and the Persecution of Witches in America


Sleepy Hollow (TV Series)With all the TV shows featuring witches, like Sleepy Hollow, which is a fun show but its historical ‘facts’ are a hoot, (great costumes and dude, though) I want to clarify. No accused witches were ever burned in America. Hanging, dunking, drowning, pressing with stones, dying while imprisoned, lashing, banishment, and shunning were inflicted, but no burning. Also, some arrested for witchcraft were later freed and the charges dropped. And none of the poor souls hung or otherwise killed during the Salem Witch trials were practicing witches, but victims of an insane mania that overtook the people of that time and place whose madness is still begin explored today.

I did a post on My Ancestor and the Salem Witch Trials 

For historical records on the punishment and execution (or release) of various individuals accused of witchcraft visit:

http://www.personal.utulsa.edu/~marc-carlson/witchtrial/na.html

historicalromancenovelkiradaughterofthemoonMy fascination with the supernatural, whether real or imagined, played an important role in my historical romance novel, Kira, Daughter of the Moon. Murmurings against the unusual, young Scots-Irishwoman, Kira McClure, grow into accusations of witchcraft. Never a good thing, but especially not in the colonial Virginia frontier. Acceptance in a close-knit community could mean the difference between life and death. The highly superstitious Scots settled in the rugged Alleghenies on the heels of The French and Indian War were already wary. The dangers these dark woods held heightened their fear of the supernatural. Sick livestock, children struck down with illness, and other misfortunes might be blamed on witchcraft. Settlers were alert to anyone in their midst they could point to as the culprit. The farther people ventured from more civilized society, the deeper their superstitions ran. And taking the law, such as it was, into their own hands was often how they dealt with miscreants in the frontier .

veiled mountains

Late Shenandoah Valley author/historian, John Heatwole, put together a wonderful collection of accounts from valley and mountain people regarding their experiences with and feelings toward so-called witches. His book deals with beliefs lingering into the 20th century, but they’re still present among some rural Virginians today. Fear best sums up their sentiments. In his book, Shenandoah Voices, Mr. Heatwole says, “Witches have not been tried, jailed or executed in America since the early 18th century, but tales of their activities persist. During that period in our history, superstitious practices invoked for self-protection were considered prudent dabbling in the occult and virtually harmless. Powers or practices called upon for mean-spirited or evil purposes were attributed to malevolent people in the community who wielded demonic powers. Despite the perception of evil, people suspected of being witches, who were mostly women, were often tolerated in society because of their family ties or from fear of retribution—no one wanted to get on the wrong side of a witch.”

True. However, ‘often tolerated,’ doesn’t mean those perceived as witches were popular. He shares accounts, and I’ve read others, of outspoken or in some way unique females, perhaps even deformed, thought to be in league with the devil who were ostracized. Not being accepted and possibly even tormented by your neighbors was harsh, particularly for the poor and elderly. On the one hand, a woman might gain power over others, even men, in a historically male dominated society, through the fear she intentionally or unintentionally provoked, but the danger that people would shun her was always present–unless she was well-to-do. The rich were always better tolerated.

Spells and hexes were countered by witch doctors, usually men, although ‘Granny women’ were also known for battling the dark arts with magical incantations. I have friends who grew up ‘back in the holler’ and remember bringing in the Granny woman when home remedies failed. One common protection prudent mothers undertook for children was to sew little ‘acifidity’ bags filled with pungent herbs, garlic and asafetida,  to hang around their necks. “Oh my, did these kids stink,’ one friend told me. The stench was to drive away illness and evil. These stinky bags may be out of favor now, but the fear that lay behind them is still quite real among some folk.

Owl, Barn Owl, Tree, Hole, Bird, Animal, Bark, WildlifeYou may ask if any of the women, and occasionally men, thought to be witches actually were? Yes. And some of them sound pretty darn scary.

For my recent post on that visit:

One of the Scariest Ghost/Witch Stories Ever

Fear of Witches in Colonial America and Today–Beth Trissel


My fascination with the supernatural, whether real or imagined, played an important role in my new historical romance novel, Kira, Daughter of the Moon. Murmurings against the unusual, young Scots-Irishwoman, Kira McClure, grow into accusations of witchcraft. Never a good thing, but especially not in the colonial Virginia frontier. Acceptance in a close-knit community could mean the difference between life and death. The highly superstitious Scots settled in the rugged Alleghenies on the heels of The French and Indian War were already wary. The dangers these dark woods held heightened their fear of the supernatural. Sick livestock, children struck down with illness, and other misfortunes might be blamed on witchcraft. Settlers were alert to anyone in their midst they could point to as the culprit. The farther people ventured from more civilized society, the deeper their superstitions ran. And taking the law, such as it was, into their own hands was often how they dealt with miscreants in the frontier .

Late Shenandoah Valley historian, John Heatwole, much respected and a family friend, put together a wonderful collection of accounts from valley and mountain people regarding their experiences with and feelings toward so-called witches. His book deals with beliefs lingering into the 20th century, but they’re still present among some rural Virginians today. Fear best sums up their sentiments. In his book, Shenandoah Voices, Mr. Heatwole says, “Witches have not been tried, jailed or executed in America since the early 18th century, but tales of their activities persist. During that period in our history, superstitious practices invoked for self-protection were considered prudent dabbling in the occult and virtually harmless. Powers or practices called upon for mean-spirited or evil purposes were attributed to malevolent people in the community who wielded demonic powers. Despite the perception of evil, people suspected of being witches, who were mostly women, were often tolerated in society because of their family ties or from fear of retribution—no one wanted to get on the wrong side of a witch.”

True. However, ‘often tolerated,’ doesn’t mean those perceived as witches were popular. He shares accounts and I’ve read others, of outspoken or in some way unique females, perhaps even deformed, thought to be in league with the devil who were ostracized. Not being accepted and possibly even tormented by your neighbors was harsh, particularly for the poor and elderly. On the one hand, a woman might gain power over others, even men, in a historically male dominated society, through the fear she intentionally or unintentionally provoked, but the danger that people would shun her was always present–unless she was well-to-do. The rich were always better tolerated.

Spells and hexes were countered by witch doctors, usually men, although ‘Granny women’ were also known for battling the dark arts with magical incantations. I have friends who grew up ‘back in the holler’ and remember bringing in the Granny woman when home remedies failed. One common protection prudent mothers undertook for children was to sew little ‘acifidity’ bags filled with pungent herbs, garlic and asafetida,  to hang around their necks. “Oh my, did these kids stink,’ one friend told me. The stench was to drive away illness and evil. These stinky bags may be out of favor now, but the fear that lay behind them is still quite real among some folk.

You may ask if any of the women, and occasionally men, thought to be witches actually were? Yes. And some of them sound pretty darn scary.

For my recent post on that visit:

One of the Scariest Ghost/Witch Stories Ever

***Royalty free images