Yes, you can give him a message. You do take shorthand, don’t you? Good, we take it in the South too. Anyway, just tell him that I have been a Southerner all my life, and I can vouch for the fact the we do eat a lot of things down here…and we’ve certainly all had our share of grits and biscuits and gravy, and I myself have probably eaten enough fried chicken to feed a third world country – not to mention barbecue, cornbread, watermelon, fried pies, okra, and… yes… if I were being perfectly candid, I would have to admit we have also eaten our share of crow, and for all I know – during the darkest, leanest years of the Civil War, some of us may have had a Yankee or two for breakfast. But… speaking for myself and hundreds of thousands of my Southern ancestors who have evolved through many decades of poverty, strife, and turmoil, I would like for Mr. Weaks to know that we have surely eaten many things in the past, and we will surely eat many things in the future, but – God as my witness – we have never, I repeat,
NEVA eaten dirt! Julia Sugarbaker, Designing Women (1982)
Someone asked me the other day: how does being Southern inform your craft? So, when I picked myself up off the floor and stopped hee-hawing, I tried to ‘splain the nature of my animal. He was from Chicago–so this involved quite a bit of muster. I tried the “Daryl Dixon” reference: now, honey, ya know how Daryl is all quiet and still and then just breaks out all bow and arrow? While chewin’ the side of his mouth? Nada. Crickets. I reckon it took me all day to find my words. This one is for you, Mr. Chicago. (Love that pizza pie, btw. Chewy, substantial and worth every penny. Puts me in the mind of a savory cobbler.)
Now, all “my people” are from down here. Ary’ damn one. We have been cotton farmers and ministers, psychologists and even a millionaire or three, but we all have one thing in common: our birth certificates. Since I’ve been on the subject of papers, hereditary craft and the like, I thought I’d sit down a spell and chew on this particular notion of papering. And so: let’s discuss the real Southern witch, hereditary/family trad style. (There are other, just as fine species of us; this one is the only one I am qualified to ponder.)
But hold up–are my premises the end all be all of the Southern Witch? Hell, naw. I am a very specific breed and not all of us are from the same line. These are just “my papers.” Alabama, born and bred, family trad. If you share them, or even most of them, then we are kin.
1. Birthright. Not to “dis-spell” those of us who have lived and loved down here in red clay mud, but this one is a no-brainer. Iffin you were conceived, born and raised and plan to die in the South, well that’s a mighty fine start. You are, for lack of a better term, “papered.”
2. Yor’ momma is a Witch. She (obviously) has trained you in some magical manner and knows that you are a witch. No beating around this here bush–iffin she found yor’ blog and iffin that moment could lead to her whoopin’ yor’ ass, then she doesn’t really know, does she?
3. You still love Christians-’specially those who love and live in your sphere. (And most know, btw, that you are a witch.) We trade molasses and Bisquick recipes, and on occasion, “blessings.” (Honey, will you do that THANG you do? My tomatoes just won’t come up right . . .”)
4. You don’t hanker to lying, have been known to gossip and admit it, and understand that children are blessed and precious even when they ain’t. No. Casting. On. Children. (For crying out loud, do I have to keep repeating this one? Who ARE these bad witches?)
5. You understand that growing heirloom tomatoes from Granny’s seed should always be done while humming, wearing a floppy hat, followed with a nice glass of muscadine wine. Without gloves, please. We like dirt.
6. You secretly love rednecks, ‘specially those who say ma’am, get too drunk at football games and leave their Christmas lights on–all year. (And you hold them accountable when they act an asshat, pull bigotry or variously forget the words of the god they hold so dear.)
7. You *still* have a gun, have no plans to relinquish it and know that it’s for defense against coyotes, rattlesnakes and crystal meth addicts who’ve made the mistake of thinking yor’ house is fodder for their next fix. Amen.
8. You know Grandma’s peach cobbler recipe, by heart. Nuff said.
9. You know every Julia Sugarbaker diatribe. By heart. And secretly suspect that she was a damn fine witch.
10. Cheating is a no go. Oathes are some serious shit down here, y’all. We disown our sisters when they pull it–even if it was a long, hot summer. (Lessen they fess up. Southerners have a horrible habit of forgiving untold tomfoolery if they catch a whiff of righteous regret.)
Now, I’d like to be done, but the list is long and fine and I feel like talking.
11. You can smell trouble on the wind like a dog fart in a tent. And yor’ dog can smell it, too. Gets all up in arms, hackles at full attention and there’s no bacon in sight. Like that.
12. Your secret fantasy is MORE LAND, a river running through it, a bigger chicken run, muscadine vines, the end of daylight savings bullspit, the return of the Yellow Dawg Democrat and the legalization of marijuana.
13. You factor that anything can be a wand. (Mine is my late Grandma’s wooden handle screwdriver.)
14. You’ve done some mighty fine magical skinny dipping. And plan to do it at eighty. Cold beer in hand.
15. You name all yor’ trees. Minny, Jefferson and Hilda all answer broken hearts, wistful salutations and incoming storms without formality and always on time. (And at least one of the furry babies is planted under them. Amen and Aho.)
16. You never brag, lessen it’s part of a ritual. Sounds triflin’ and you knew that by age six. The graceful art of humility allows for something to grow other than your ego, y’all.
17. You can smell a done-gone-bad dawg a mile away. These sorry beasts can’t “get right,” as my daughter would say, slobber over everything from yor’ man to yor’ okra and litter the yard with their stank and have been known to slaughter chickens and porch cats without cause. See number 7.
18. You grow belladonna, mugwort and salvia like they’re dandelions. (You grow those, too.)
19. Most of yor’ witchy store is in passed-on-down Mason jars. So is the Shine.
20. You never, ever, under any circumstances would disgrace the heritage or legacy of another Southerner’s folk. (And, when some asshat does this to you, you just “sic’ the Ancestors on ‘em.”) Lawd, Bless Their Hearts. (P.S. You know the magic behind that little ditty, too.)
As much as I’d like to keep chewing on this, I have a magic student calling me in the next sixty seconds for a lesson so let me leave you with this:
I have New Jersey, California, Australian, English and more friendships that I value and cherish and would gnaw an arm off for in a New York minute. Strange, the respect I’ve been witness to when it comes to other traditions, their roots and the general reciprocity they have shown for mine. In my little neck of the woods, we call these folks “kissing cousins,” translating to mess with them and I’ll show you how a neck turns red. But, for tonight, I thought I’d let all y’all see the underbelly of the Deep Pagan South. Some of my kin had a few words to add to the pot:
“Hmmmmmm. That’ s hard to pin down. Southern magic is fluid. It’s organic. It doesn’t follow rules. My grandparents worked magic all the while being Pentecostals. Papaw knew when a storm was coming. Mamaw knew how to heal. They knew how to plant and when to plant. I think it’s in your blood down here in the south. When you release all that you think witchcraft should be and tap into your roots. A book can’t tell you how to be a southern witch. It can tell you stories about southern witches but not tell you how to be one. You have to LIVE it. You have to grind it out in your everyday life. Only then will you tap into that THUMP that Seba talks about. Ya know. That magical moment when you see the first firefly of the season. That amazing moment when you see your tomatoes blooming. That powerful moment when you feel a storm blowing up. And you CONNECT. You feel your lifeblood moving in sync with the Earth. Southern and witch? I think its all the same.” Jason Williams
“From my point of view, there’s not much difference in being old-school Southern and being “witchy” – sure, we use different names for things, but how many of us had an older relative who planted by the moon, knew how to take off a hex, or had an herbal remedy for everything under the sun? People who live in tune with the earth, by necessity tend to come to the same practices, which is why we see many things across multiple cultures. And I have yet to meet a decent witch who wasn’t *very* in tune with that earth.”
And, on fireflies:
“When I was little, the rule was always that we weren’t allowed to catch them until my Granny’s birthday (late June) because my mom wanted them to have plenty of time to build up their numbers before we disrupted them in any way. So, I have lots of early childhood memories of celebrating her birthday with strawberry cake and icecream topped with fresh raspberries then heading out to the front yard (where we were never allowed to play) armed with a peanut butter jar to run between the oaks catching them while the adults talked on the front porch. We were allowed to keep them until bed time, then we had to release them to continue their lives.” Trillium Meeks
“Being a southern witch is like being a southern cook: everybody’s recipe is different, but it’s all worth eating.” Madolyn Locke
“To me, southern magic is about raw emotion. We southerners feel stronger, run harder and fly higher than most. In my own experience, I have had to learn to utilize the emotion and call on those goddesses that utilize those emotions . . . I remember as a kid, everything was magic. Playing under the nightsky, the booger woods…we weren’t taught that magic didn’t exist. Everything that happened was a part of it.” Dave Gaddy
“It’s just…natural. Coming from outcasts, the French Acadiens or the prisoners dropped off in Georgia, they came with Earth love & Earth magic. It’s passed down without thought…mushroom rings are fairy dances, May Day was that day young women washed their faces with the morning dew so they would be young & beautiful all year. Cooking in dutch ovens, giant scalding pots, open fires for children to dance around. It’s easy being Southern & Pagan. Easier than must folk realize. )O(” Elizabeth Allen
And, from me:
Southerners breathe magic. We were taught by our families to risk everything for the moment: our heart valves for deep-fried chicken, our nobility by marrying for love, our land by civil disobedience and our sensibility for the common sense of knowing our worth in terms other than that of capitalism. We are haunted on purpose. We are drawn to defend the Earth that works our joints and tears our palms. We are the echo of pain and laughter, Saturday-night-fucking and garden sweat, Crisco and cow shit. We honor our Maw Maws when we wrap their afghans around our sun-burned shoulders and dunk our umbrellas into their spittoons. We are the Memory of tribal drums, Irish chants and African hands that pinches a late summer tornado wind and blesses an early spring jasmine. We can sizzle gator just as fast as we can wrestle one into a well worn belt. And we can bless yor’ heart before the screen door hits yor’ uppity, properly-adorned-majestic ass on its way off the porch. We are . . . magic.
Pleased to meet you. Hope you guessed our name. (Now. ”Paper” that.)
*This post is properly dedicated to my Northern brothers and sisters who rock their magic like it’s hot every day, all day, and own it. Your support of us has qualified y’all as kissing cousins. Smooches.
For all my Southern Family Trad: