Our land has always been rugged. We’ve always been a bit separated from the rest of the world. In our past, our communities were much more isolated than they are now.
Our ancestors were self-reliant. Every community had a “Granny Witch” or “Granny Woman” who filled many roles. Specifically, they were in charge of healing and magic, and sometimes the line between the two was blurry.
Doctors were few and far between, but Granny Witches knew the human body very well. They also knew the secrets of our forests…they held the knowledge of which forest plants would heal, which would kill, and they safe guarded the information for many generations.
When people fell sick or had accidents, there was rarely time for a doctor to arrive. But a Granny Witch could always be fetched.
The blend of science and magic was peculiar. The magic wasn’t the Wiccan magic of today or the “magic” that uses cauldrons, frogs, and newt eyes. It was the old magic of the Scots and the Irish, who populated our hills in the early days, and whose blood flows through so many of our veins. This magic had been passed on, mother to daughter, for generations. It was focused on nature and healing.
These lines of women knew the purpose of every herb that grew here naturally, and they also grew and cultivated their own.
Interestingly, these women expected no payment for their services. They were sometimes thanked with food, quilts, and the like, but it wasn’t required.
In the 1800s and early 1900s, midwifery was one of the most important duties for these women. Childbirth was dangerous and often deadly. Granny Witches were absolutely integral to our communities, because they kept mother and child safe, with truly excellent survival rates for the day.
Spells and charms were commonplace and expected. During childbirth, Granny Witches would often place an ax under the bed, to symbolize “cutting the pain’ and windows were always opened. This was to represent the opening of the birth canal. It wasn’t until 1923 that formal midwife training began, but before that, the responsibility fell to these women.
Grannies also practiced divination. Looking into a bowl of water (much like a crystal ball) was called scrying, and tea leaves were read frequently.
Today witchcraft is seen as evil, or something to be feared. But truly, it was thanks to these women that we were able to survive in these hills. We should honor their memories and traditions.