Backwoods Witchcraft: Conjure& Folk Magic From Appalachia by Jake Richards

This entry is part 36 of 36 in the series 2022 Reads

As with other posts in this series, these #booksread2022 posts go anywhere from a few weeks to a month after I’ve read them. I read this particular book last week, though! 


Backwoods Witchcraft is kind of a memoir of Appalachian folk magic. This is the second book by Richards I’ve given a look. The first—Doctoring the Devil—was more recent, but also not particularly interesting to me: it’s more of a highly organized magical cookbook than a cultural history, and not the sort of thing I was really after.  

Unfortunately, Backwoods Witchcraft ends up feeling a bit like a less-well-organized stream-of-consciousness magical cookbook with family and regional memoir and some folklore thrown in. I skimmed it for a few occasional interesting bits, but didn’t get much from it, beyond being astonished that people living in our modern world still believe you can make someone fall in love with you by soaking your toenails in liquor for three days, straining it, and then giving it to the person you want to fall in love with you, or that magical little people dwell in the woods, or that you can do magical things with your urine.

Well, okay, I’m not that shocked that people still believe such things, but yeah, it’s always going to shock me a little. More interesting were the bits struck me as fascinatingly particular and bizarre at the same time, like the assertion that Moses—yes, as in, that Moses—enjoys offerings of cornbread. 

I suppose I’d hoped that the account had been written at a much farther remove from these traditions, something that could give me a bit of insight into the work of Manly Wade Wellman or the stories in the Old Gods of Appalachia podcast, but instead found a somewhat unexciting magic textbook, which is of little use to me since I don’t believe in this stuff at all. 

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2 thoughts on “Backwoods Witchcraft: Conjure& Folk Magic From Appalachia by Jake Richards

    1. No worries! They’re fun stories. Haffner Press is supposed to come out with a collection including the stories plus the novels in a two-volume edition, if you really liked Wellman.

      (Though I felt like they got a little repetitive later on—or, rather, are best read with a gap of time between each story, as they would have been experienced when originally published—I definitely enjoyed the earlier stories enough to want to read the novels. However, this new edition is literally cheaper than trying to buy the novels in print. I check it every once in a while and remind myself I need to preorder it sometime, but I haven’t yet pulled the trigger. I think that I will eventually, though.)

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