Guest Author - Phyllis Doyle Burns
People living deep in the mountains of the Appalachians in the old days had to become very self-reliant. It was not easy to get to a doctor and rarely could a doctor reach anyone in time to help them get through an illness. Accidents happened and doctors were no where around in emergencies -- but, there was always a Granny close enough to fetch for help.
Granny women knew the way of herbs and home remedies and also used witchcraft methods. It was not the modern Wiccan type magic, but the magic of the Old World witchcraft passed down for generations by elders teaching their daughters and granddaughters.
Every village or community in the mountains had at least one Granny Woman to run to for help and healing. These women knew exactly which plant, herb, root, or bark would heal each malady or injury that came up.
When the Irish and Scotch people began immigrating to America in the 1700's they brought with them their own culture and traditions. Some of these traditions were from the Ancient ones of northern Ireland.
Most of these immigrants were descended from Scottish and English families who colonized Ireland during the Plantation of Ulster (an organized colonization) in the 17th century. They are referred to as Scotch-Irish or Scots-Irish.
During the 1700s over 200,000 people from the province of Ulster in northern Ireland immigrated to America. Another 100,000 arrived between the years 1783 and 1812, in the years following the American Revolution. Throughout the 1800's more Scots-Irish, over one million, continued to arrive.
Among the immigrants were the women who knew the ways of the Old World witchcraft and herbalism. Many of the immigrants settled in Southern Appalachia and the Ozark Mountains. The women were healers and midwives and often the only practitioners of health care for the poor living in rural areas. They did not take payments for their healing. As with other settlers, they shared what they had -- gratitude for help and knowledge was often in the form of food, quilts, or other needed items, but it was not expected.
These women became known as "Granny Women". They relied heavily on herbal medicine. For instance, a regular remedy for whooping cough was made and bottled to give to the caretaker of the ill one. The Granny would boil one ounce of fresh red clover blossoms in one pint of water, strain, then add one cup honey. This was to be given to the child, one teaspoon twice a day until the cough cleared up.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Granny Women and their midwifery skills were the main help for about half the births in Southern Appalachia. Childbirth was a great concern and a dangerous time in the old days and it was the Granny Woman who played an integral role in seeing that the babe and the mother survived.
One common ritual of a Granny Woman during attending a birth was to put an axe under the bed of the mother during labor. This was symbolic of "cutting the pain". Also, if all the windows were opened during labor, that was symbolic of opening the birth canal for easier delivery. Spells and charms were not looked on as odd or strange and the settlers trusted their Granny.
When the settlers came in contact with the Cherokee peoples a bond of respect and support was created. One of the most beneficial methods they shared was herbalism and healing. The Granny Women brought Old World healing methods and the Cherokee provided extensive knowledge of herbs and their own methods of healing. The sharing, training of each other, and trading knowledge was extremely beneficial to both sides.
Between the Cherokee and the Scotch-Irish was also some strong similarities with the wee folk. The Granny Women worked closely with the Faerie Folk that followed them from northern Ireland to the Appalachians. The Cherokee had always worked with their kind hearted spirits, The Little People. Both group of peoples often left 'offerings' for the little ones who helped them. This could be a bowl of cream sat on the back porch, berries, small pieces of cake or cornbread. This was believed to appease and delight the Wee Folk or The Little People.
The Granny also practiced divination, such as Tarot, reading tea leaves, or watching for signs in the clouds. Scrying, with a bowl of water was another method of divination. These methods are still done today by many people, like the Wiccan, Pagan, and the witches of the Old Order.
Witchcraft as it was practiced in the old way by the Ancients still exists in the Appalachian mountains. Many think of witchcraft as something bad to stay away from -- yet it was the witchcraft and knowledge of the Granny Women who saved many, many lives in the early days of the settlers.