“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”
I came across author Jake Richards’s book, “Backwoods Witchcraft,” by chance while I was browsing for information about the spiritual practice of the early Appalachian settlers. My mother’s side of the family has resided in the Appalachian mountains of NC since migrating to America from parts of Scotland, Ireland, and the England. As someone who has a profound interest in and respect for different spiritualities and religions, I wanted to do a bit of research into my ancestor’s practices. When I bought this book, I had hoped that I would get to learn a bit about the history of the Appalachian people while also learning more about folk magic and conjure. I am happy to report that Richards’s book provided all of this and more.
Though Richards’s family hails from the Tennessee sector of the Appalachia’s, he also has family in the NC region. He made sure to note that the practices shared in his book came from what he learned from his own family, and that these practices may vary based on region. Through sharing heartfelt stories of what life was like for him growing up in a family of conjures, Richard’s presents an authentic depiction of folk magic in the Appalachian region throughout both the past and present. So many of the superstitions, stories, and traditions shared in this book reminded me of my granny (greatgranda). The stories and practices shared by Richard’s in this book were delightfully personal. I truly appreciated that Richard’s shared so much of his history and practice for the sake of reviving a dying tradition. I feel like this book definitely accomplished it’s goal, as it seems to remind those who read it of all the things that they grew up hearing from their elders but neglected to take to heart.
I appreciated that Richard’s provided an overview of the landscape of the Appalachian region, emphasizing the area’s seclusion and the tightknit communities that live there. Before even getting into the witchy side of thing, Richard’s made sure that the reader was informed about how location, community, seclusion, the Bible, and stories/superstitions influenced and effected the people of the Appalachian mountains. Before reading this book, I didn’t realize just how important these things were to the development of folk magic and conjure in the Appalachian region. I think that it was a good call for him to go into these topics first, as they truly did create the foundation, heart, and soul of the spiritual work that was done by these people/s.
Unlike most spiritual books that provide a brief introduction followed by cut and dry how-to explanations, Richards sprinkles in magical instruction throughout extensive story telling and dialogue. Some may not enjoy this approach, as you actually have to read the entire book to withdrawal all of the information that it has to share rather than simply turning to a quick how-to spell list. However, I found that Richard’s approach was very personable. It made me feel like I was actually sitting with him as he told me about his life and practice. I valued this approach because I don’t often feel safe following magic tips and advice from people who’s practice and character I know nothing about. Even though most of the spells were sprinkled throughout the dialogue, the author did provide several quick resource pages towards the end of the book that were a bit more to the point. I fully intend to go back through this book a second time and write everything down in a more quick reference way for my personal book of shadows.
My last point is a bit controversial. In reading other reviews of this book online, I have read that some people feel that Richards was somehow incorrect in his references to the Cherokee tribe and their contribution to Appalachian folk magic. However, I didn’t personally pick up on this at all while reading this book. I personally felt that Richards’s did a great job of crediting both the Cherokee people and the African people who were forced into the area through the slave trade. In fact, when I was reading this book I thought to myself, “Yes! Thank God he credited these cultures/people for their contributions to this practice.” I personally didn’t pick up on any blatant disrespect or misrepresentation. I think that for some readers, certain parts of of Richards’s depiction of how the Cherokee and Appalachian settlers shared space and resources was a bit triggering. However, I think that this is where the landscape and isolation of the Appalachians becomes highly significant. I am not an expert, but I think that these people may be triggered because they are thinking about the overall treatment of Native Americans rather than understanding that the author of this book focused on the contributions of ONE tribe in a small and secluded area of the country. If any of you are part of the Cherokee tribe and have a deeper insight on this, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Overall, I was really impressed with this book. If you are a magic practitioner, a metaphysical enthusiast, or have an interest in or ties to the Appalachian region, I highly recommend that you give this book a read. If you would like a taste of what Jake Richard’s has to offer, check out his blog here on wordpress!!
Next Up: Doctoring the Devil Notebooks of an Appalachian Conjure Man, by Jake Richards
Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Would you like to recommend a book for me to read? Let me know in the comments below.
Love Always, AnxiouslyM