As a modern-day witchcraft practitioner, Allen doesn’t shy away from the title, especially considering its origins come from “wicce” meaning a wise person.
Allen shares his knowledge through Appalachian Witchery, a small business he founded that provides educational workshops about witchcraft’s history and its current-day practices. During those classes, Allen debunks common myths, mostly manifested through Hollywood, about conventional witchcraft.
With Halloween just around the corner, Allen said his business garners a bit more attention this time of year.
Just this weekend alone, Allen is traveling to Raleigh, N.C., to conduct classes on “Introduction to Appalachian Witchery and Magic” and “Appalachian Divination Techniques.”
The introduction class is based on the Appalachian settlers and some of their peculiar beliefs carried over from England, Ireland, Scotland and Germany.
“It focuses on the folklore and the folk magic practices that the original settlers brought with them and how it evolved throughout the decades and into modern time. We also look at some herbal remedies and things like that,” Allen said.
While not as eccentric as blood sacrifices and devil worshipping, Allen explains settlers of Appalachia did share bizarre remedies to common problems and predicaments.
Some examples include:
— A woman seeking relief from menstrual cramps could try to avoid them altogether if she offers beets outside a graveyard to the “guardian of the cemetery” the day after her last cycle ends.
— A person hoping to rid themselves of warts could steal a neighbor’s dish rag, wipe it over their warts and bury it in the woods off their property. As the rag rotted, so too would the warts.
— A sin eater, wearing a dark cloak and hood, would be summoned upon the death of a loved one to eat a meal placed upon the corpse, absolving the deceased of all their worldly sins and providing them passage into heaven.
“There was a large German influence in the practice, some blending with the Cherokee belief structure,” Allen said. “We also had interchanges with slaves as they were moving through the State of Franklin, especially here within the Johnson City and Tri-Cities area. They would share some of their practices from the Deep South, such as using chicken feet as lucky charms.”
Allen said the ideas of fairies, pixies and the Knocker certainly influenced the development of our urban legends, such as the Woodbooger and Wampus Cat.
Although many settlers practiced what is now categorized as witchcraft, many did not define it in such a way.
“They didn't see it in opposition to their faith. They would believe these (remedies and practices) were handed down to them from the Christian God. The ability to interpret dreams, read fortunes through playing cards or tea leaves,” Allen said. “You would have people doing things in the mountains, what we now would definitely term witchcraft, especially the divination as far as fortune telling.”
Allen said many Appalachian “psychics” used regular playing cards to read fortunes, since Tarot cards were tough to come by back then.
Within the witchcraft belief structure, Allen said the concept of the Christian devil doesn’t even exist, although it does incorporate plenty of physical world deities, such as Mother Nature, and Father Winter.
Growing up in Wise County, Virginia, Allen was raised in a Christian household but grew intrigued by stories told by his grandmother and great aunts.
As a teenager, Allen became enamored with witchcraft following a trip to Salem, Massachusetts, where he met Laurie Cabot, who was named the official witch of Salem in the 1970s by Governor Michael Dukakis.
As he grew older, Allen eventually traveled back to Salem and became a student of Cabot’s, learning the science of witchcraft. He is now considered a “Cabot Witch” in the Cabot Kent Tradition of Witchcraft.
In addition to educating, Allen said he is often called to perform in-home exorcisms, spiritual cleanings, negative energy clearings and psychic readings.
On Nov. 19 and Nov. 20, Allen will be teaching his “Appalachian Spirit Work Class” and an introductory class at the Spiritual Awakening Community Center, 802 Buffalo St., in Johnson City.
To learn more about Appalachian Witchery, visit www.appalachianwitchery.com or www.facebook.com/appalachianwitchery.
Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.