The Morning Hours…and later


a table full of show-and-tell

“No fancy bottles or charmed symbols, just grandma’s grandma’s herbs in left-over jars, ways whispered back when. But they googled her, “witch”, and lost.”  Granny Kate, on Facebook


a quilt at the Smith-McDowell House, Asheville

“The days of young and old came together in a room we all gather. Tales were told, knowledge was shared. We were all amazed at each other. Gossip was shared and fools did follow. But the wise ones did gather and shared the matter. Times were fun with lots of laughs, makes your mind wonder how it was lost.” Robin, also on Facebook

Saturday was a learning day for me–even though I was teaching.  Funny old life.  The group that braved the weather sat on comfy couches and listened very seriously to what I had to say.  I spoke a bit about the roots of Appalachian healing–and healing was my focus for the whole talk.  Then I passed around all the jars and bundles and we talked about what I used each thing for. They were curious, inquisitive, interested.  I encouraged people to get up and help themselves to the luscious potluck feast but most stayed put, their eyes shining.

Here’s the thing–we get told, we mountain folk–that all this old stuff is something to forget, that it doesn’t really work or it’s against our religion/of the Devil or that it’s literally old wives tales.  To see these women (all but one were) hear me talk about the stuff they mostly knew as if it is precious and important–I think that was important to them.  All that old country stuff–it has real value.  We all know that our grandmothers were precious to us and so we remember some of the things they did out of love and loyalty. And to be in a room of people who were sharing information and stories gave us all a kind of validity that isn’t often afforded to country women, except maybe by their families.

I took so much away with me–so much–but this stuck with me and you will hear it again–I am honoring my heritage and sharing the knowledge.  This is our heritage and some of us choose to honor it. If you think this is some Devil stuff from “lost souls,”  you are sadly mistaken and missing out–as my host Granny Kate pointed out in the quote above.  And if you are choosing to give in to what you’ve heard and your fear of it, then you are also choosing to not honor part of your heritage, and your Ancestors.

herb  con 2014 and black walnuts 021

asfidity–you may hate this, actually

Robin said it in the beautifully poetic quote at the top of this post. Old ones, young ones, passing on what is needful and sometimes lovely. Our oral history fades a bit with each death, each new Ancestor.

I choose heritage, not hate. How about you?

I Hear Her Voice


Last night was filled with tales, with good food, with hot tea and a nip of something else. Today began with snow on the ground and more snow to come–though I didn’t know that when I woke at 6:30.

I had planned to sleep until 8 then get ready for this day that has been planned for so long.  I went to check the weather and there was a little skim of snow on the walk, and a bit of snow falling still.  I went back to bed and planned to sleep for another hour but the crows were speaking outside and I always like to listen to what they have to say, even if I don’t always understand it.

The room was warm and the bed soft, so I did a deep meditation and asked the land to show me what I needed to see. Sounds odd, doesn’t it? But I am a person with a strong connection to place and it has served me well over my long life.  West Virginia scenes popped into my head–green mountains, water falls, fields of wildflowers, tall trees. Like a PowerPoint presentation from the chamber of commerce.

No, I gently chided, show me what I need to see.  Again with the PowerPoint and so I asked a third time (since the third time is the charm isn’t it?). What do I need to see?

Now the PowerPoint was interrupted with brief sharp flashes of the road into and out of Matewan, with Oceana, with Pie, with the ripped-out hearts of the hills around the interstates, with clear-cuts, with stripmines, with blasted mountains.  Mostly the beautiful, soul-stirring scenes, interspersed with this Something Else, this Other Thing.

The day began in snow and slick roads.  On the way to Debbie’s bountiful breakfast, we were stopped from continuing by a sideways cruiser and a young officer telling us the road was closed for the time being because there was a tractor-and-trailer wreck and then the wrecker that came to help also wrecked.  We came back to our little room and had a light and good breakfast and enjoyed the company of this dear band of West Virginians.

About noon we headed back the way we’d gone in the morning but this time it was sunny and clearing and we went over Orient Hill to get ready for our potluck event.

Painted on the Sky

Came into Rainelle from Beckley about noon and have settled into a pretty b&b. We went into Lewisburg with our hosts and had a good lunch and a walk around town. We settled in for the evening with a livingroomful of people, with a good pie and tales.

If you are ever so lucky as to sit in a comfortable room surrounded by good West Virginia storytellers, you will be lucky indeed. I did my best to keep my ears open wide and my mouth shut–but I did turn on the little digital recorder. Tales of haints and healings, of relatives who still visit though they have passed on. There was laughter and tears and nods of agreement and encouragement as people told their own histories.

There is snow here now, covering the walk, beautifying the world.

What can we do, as people with gifts that should be polished and used, when the culture tells us what we do is “dark” and wrong, and evil? We can ponder our gifts in secret. We can talk amongst the few who share the gifts and understand. We can read books and dream a different life.

Or we can hunker down, dig deeply into the bones of our Ancestors–that are also our own bones. We can touch the heart of the mountains and give them our own hearts.  We can rise up in the face of danger and disbelief.

We can prevail. We who are strong and free, we who are tired and worn. We can bring our love to the places most forsaken.

Let Appalachia rise.


(with thanks to Trish Ciaffone)

A Land of Creek-rock and Sorrow

This trip to West Virginia is opening up all sorts of thoughts in my head.  I posted this over on Facebook a few minutes ago–

Such dreams. I woke feeling I’d worked the night shift. Preparing for this trip and doing all the usual lists. But there’s     something else here that I can’t quite name. A low-grade fear, a creeping dread. Lord, lord, West Virginia–she may be holding the key to all our grief in these old mountains.

NY Friday 004

Wonder what that even means?  But as I read and think and pray about what should be a little trip with a friend to visit friends, a kind of discomfort settles in.  Not the kind that feels like an omen–I do ken the difference in those two. The discomfort, I believe, is wrapped around the actual seeing of the land in West Virginia. Different when you read about it, different when you do ritual around the waters, different from pictures in the newspaper.

Coal country holds some fascination for some of us who aren’t from there. The work itself seems impossible and yet generations of folks have done it with pride and satisfaction. So much pride that the thought of Big Coal isn’t as oppressive as one might think but is near-paternal. And it holds some oddly Southern sense of obligation.  The company gives us jobs, we are loyal.

I understand that. Truly. Loyalty is a heavy part of my own Scots-Irish make-up and for me it needs to be reciprocated. Once loyalty is betrayed, it is a hard road back for me to be in real relationship again. Sometimes that hard road is worth it and sometimes not.

So I am packing up some copies of Staubs and Ditchwater (that little old book) and some snacks for the road, and bringing the two bags of workshop show-and-tell. But I think I’m bringing something else, too. A wonderment, a frisson of fear, a gleam of…possibility.

Let Appalachia rise.


Blair Mountain

I have it in my head to go there, to see where the last great Appalachian uprising (until the water debacle last year) happened.  It didn’t end well, not really. It may be the only place in the US where the government dropped bombs on its own (white) people. I’m researching that and it seems to be so.  I don’t know if the government has dropped bombs on any other folks but here it did, on behalf of mineowners, of corporations.

That was before Citizens United Not Timid and their sleazy Hillary movie that became a case for the Supremes and brought  to light all that we all knew was happening anyway. It was House of Cards America circa 1921 when well-connected bosses talked their “elected officials” into doing the “right thing.”  .

Here’s the Wikipedia entry–

So, Blair Mountain was declared a protected area under the National Register of Historic Places but several groups–including Massey Energy, imagine that, and the state–contested it because there’s too much coal to be extracted there. And with the efficiency of mountain-top removal, the entire landscape can be forever changed. Erased.  As so much of our history is erased and so often we don’t really care.

History schmistory. This also harkens back to my own West End neighborhood that was screwed out of its approved historic designation by local AVL pols who wanted to make sure they could destroy the place when time comes for the I-26 connector.  The remnants of Chicken Hill were–at that time–destined to be the staging area for the big equipment.  Still are, as far as I know.

I imagine there is some sort of historical marker at Blair Mountain but I’d like to get the feel of the place and how it happened and what really took them to the breaking point.  And that may mean I need to focus my energy in Matewan, on the Tug River.

A Kind of Trip to Bountiful

On Thursday, Star and I are leaving town and heading to West Virginia.  We’re meeting up with Granny Kate and Mark Dooley and they’ve organized a thing on Saturday with local women who have been asked to bring stories and old-timey ways to share.

It’s field research for the next phase of my folk magic study–and an excuse to hang out with a group of interesting people. And it means I get to spend some time in coal country in West Virginia. The history, the legends, the hardship and the strength have been a part of my Appalachian consciousness for so many years.  The first play I ever wrote was based on “The Trojan Women” but was set in a coal town in the middle of a mining disaster.

We stand now in a world where the coal is stripped from ravaged mountains, where the best timber was stripped from our part of the mountains a century ago–and now the Southern forests are fodder for European heaters, fracking is the new extraction technology (though it isn’t new at all) and little Oceana, West Virginia has been dubbed “Oxyiana” because there are parts of Appalachia that are so poor, so hopeless that all that’s left is to escape through drugs or leave the homeland altogether.

Since the obvious water crisis in Charleston just over a year ago, the weight of it seems unmovable, implacable.  Except the ancient mountains we stand on have seen so much, the people are so strong–and the times are shifting under our feet.

Tower Time. It’s a time to practice what we preach. And what we “preach”  is magic.

So we’re going to “Bountiful” to bring our own brand of Appalachian magic.



The Alewives is a closed group of Witches who meet weekly to learn new things and dream a new world.

We met last night and immediately started a fire in the brazier, dragging chairs and kindling into a circle around it. We spoke of the work to come, the weather, our lives, the world.

It is somehow a natural step to think of the future when you are in such a  place of possibility, in the warm evening of a mountain spring. But the vision was sad and frightening–no matter how much food we grow and preserve, how we reclaim medicine, how we work cooperatively–won’t there be roaming bands of miscreants with weaponry to steal our work and maybe our lives? Can we be more highly weaponized, more warlike, more successful at the patriarchy’s well-thumbed playbook for conquest than it has been?

Probably not.

But…we are Witches and magic workers.  We are in the process of inventing new systems and there is every reason to believe that new systems can be more effective than the old ones. No, we can’t beat the patriarchy at its own game–why would we want to?  New game, new rules.

New world.

Join us?