Before we get started, this (like many other of my posts) is to be taken as a crash course. Folk magick covers a vast variety of diverse magickal practices. As such, this only covers the basics. Now let’s get into it, shall we?
What makes it “folk” is that this magick is practiced by common peoples – not the ceremonial magick worked by schooled initiates. The traditions of folk magick are based in cultures that use ingredients available to them in their immediate surrounding areas. They then take these ingredients and form them with their practices and beliefs.
Folk practitioners typically focus on using practical magick that tackles common community issues like healing sickness, raising good energies, rushing in love, luck, and bountiful harvests, banishing evil entities, recovering lost objects, reading omens, and more. The most common found materials used are local flora and fauna, wood, stones, feathers, animals, coins, nails, eggshells, etc.
Now when one hears the term folk magick, it could conjure thoughts of Hoodoo, Root Work, Pow-Wow, Practical Magick, Weather Witching and so on and so forth. When I said a vast variety, this is what I meant. But when and where does it originate? And what are these specific branches all about?
SCOTTISH FOLK MAGICK
From as far as we can tell, Scottish folk magick practices reach all the way back to the 5th century. Norse, Gaelic, Angles, Pictish, Norman and Saxon influences helped to mold how the Scottish folk practiced. From festivals, seasonal practices, and celebrations to prayers, songs, and day-to-day happenings, folk magick manifested in many ways that are practiced to this day.
Witches Not Allowed
Scottish folk practitioners by no means associated themselves with witchcraft. In fact, they would have been extremely insulted if one were to call them such. The reason being is that witchcraft and the witches that practiced it were viewed as complete evil.
While witchcraft was entirely cast off from any associations with Scottish practices, other traditions have borrowed from folk magick to converge with their methodology in one way or another. Be it Trad or Wiccans or Druids, Scottish folk practices can be found in each.
The Otherworld is a place that Scottish folk magicians believe in (and loads of other practitioners, too!). It is a place where their ancestors and creatures like the Fae, the síth/sidhe, and plant spirits live. I’ve written more about the Otherworld and its inhabitants in this post on our sister-site, Candle Cross Coven. Scottish folk magick practitioners build relationships with creatures of the Otherworld and call on their ancestors to aid in their workings.
A lack of ceremony and elaborate rituals are both earmarks of folk magick of the Scots. As folk magick itself is the practice of common peoples, it only makes sense that workings of this nature is straightforward and requires no specialized equipment. I believe this was lent to by all citizens carrying out daily folk magick practices. All common peoples took responsibility for their own safety from the Síth and the schemes of witches.
Modern Day Superstitions
What we know as superstitions are actully rooted in ways folk magicians would protect themselves. Passed down for centuries, things like knocking on wood and crossing your fingers were used and heavily believed in. And there’s good reason why they’re still relevant today.
Besides the daily usage of these “superstitions”, Scottish folk magicians had other practices to tend to. Some were midwives for birth, lykewakers or midwives for death, healers and folk herbalists, diviners, and fairy doctors (among other things) alongside their community duties. Not every practitioner performed these activities, mind you. Most would hold specialized skill in one area.
EUROPEAN FOLK MAGICK
Contrary to popular belief, folk magicians were not practicing witchcraft in the 16th century. Just as with the Scottish, witchcraft was considered a specific harmful sect of magick and therefore, those who practiced folk magick did not call themselves witches. In fact, these practitioners were treated as respected community members.
Magick, herbalism, and medicine were not separated by Europeans until a couple of hundred years ago. Those who fell sick were given herbs – either for consumption or for hanging inside of the home. Both directions for how to use the herbs were considered to be the same in nature; however, if the same were to happen in mondern time, one would be magick and the other would be medicine.
POW-WOW FOLK MAGICK
Let’s move over to the 17th century. A Quaker man called William Penn who was persecuted in England for his religious beliefs came to America in 1682. He founded Pennsylvania and advertised it as a place of religious tolerance. Because of this, early colonial Pennsylvania became a melting pot of many Christian sects. Besides the Quakers, other minority religious sects joined from Holland, Germany, and Scandinavia.
The Pennsylvania Pow-wow custom came from this melting pot. Alongside the aforementioned sects, religious mystics and free-thinkers helped with the formation of the tradition. And while the better part of the Pennsylvania Dutch population were Protestant, the folk culture was entrenched in pre-Reformation practices.
These folk culture practices included honoring saints, ceremonial rites, prayers performed with the authority of the Church, and sanctifying persons or objects as dedicated to Divine service. A common piece of Pow-wow concepts are Christian, as you can see. In fact, both Jesus and Mary are frequently invoked in incantations.
While the bulk of early ritualistic traditions of the Pennsylvania Dutch was ingrained in the German language, the word “Pow-wow” became customary to English speakers by the late 18th century. Pow-wow was appropriated from the Algonquian language by New England missionaries in the 17th century. This is thought to be because the word described a healer, obtained from a verb to mean dreaming or trance.
It is thought that the history of the term was used by the Pennsylvania Dutch because they regarded their ritual healing as being parallel to that of the Algonquin people: performing conjuration to cure disease.
HOODOO AND ROOT WORK
Progressing further into the 19th century brings us to the folk magick branch of Hoodoo. Its practice is found majorly in African-American populations. Strongly soaked in Christian imagery, Hoodoo is a mix of African, Native American, and European beliefs and separate cultures. The Bible is treated as a powerful object with its content used in workings.
Hoodoo is also referred to as root work and some even call it witchcraft. In spite of the similar names of Vodou, Vodoun, or Voodoo, there aren’t any connections between the two practices. However, like the West African religion Voodoo, Hoodoo was also a religion for a time. It was stripped of this status after the 1880s.
During the slave trade when the peoples of West African tribes came to America, the three cultural regions and religions of the Congo, Sierra Leone, and present-day Ghana were all very different. However, after 1807 the African slaves started to unite under one universal culture. From said culture, came Hoodoo.
We see the trend of folk magicians using what’s around them in their natural habitats in Hoodoo. The methods of gathering supplies like herbs and animals mirror that of other folk practices. However, an unfortunate development regarding Hoodoo is the commercialization and tourist trade it has been exploited for.
APPALACHIAN FOLK MAGICK
A blend of traditions from Germany, the British Isles, and Africa came to form North Carolina folk magick. This cultural blend created a heritage unique to the Tarheel State. And just like Scottish and European folk magick, the separation from witchcraft was made distinct.
Mountain witches were representatives of evil and terror. Part of North Carolina folk magick was not only learning the ways of witches, but also how to protect yourself from them. By learning the practical art of magick, practitioners could deal with the unknowable.
Practical magick was formed by folk practitioners as they used found ingredients in the world around them. The solutions to many common issues in the community, from illness to protection, were found through its usage. The difference between carrying a rabbit’s foot for good luck and the preparation of powders and potions is naught. The solutions were found through what they had.
Weather witching also came from Appalachian folk magick. As North Carolinian farmers depend on the weather for their crops to be successful, they learned to read omens to predict what was to come. Some even participated in workings to try and influence the weather. This is a perfect example of folk practitioners adapting their everyday life in order to solve common peoples’ issues.
There is so much in life that we just do not know or have the ability to fathom. One way to try and make the most of this is through magick. And with folk magick, I think it’s one of the simplest ways to make the most of what we have with what we’ve got.
Magick empowers us – especially magick that we can believe in and practice on a daily basis. What I find particularly compelling about this path is that it’s different depending on which cultural group its associated with. Furthermore, WHO you are and identify as a folk magician depends on the community you are a part of. These communities are what shape and mold how their folk practitioners support their fellow people. It is through this that reputations are built and titles are given.
With the resurging interest in witchcraft and occult practices, it’s encouraging to see people exploring their heritage and history. Communities are being forged from common interests. Curiosity about what our natural habitats and surroundings can offer us is rising. And I think that’s a beautiful thing. Bright Blessings to you and yours!