Rich in history, folklore and magic, H. Byron Ballard gives us a glimpse of the Appalachian folkways and magic that is deeply ingrained in her DNA.
In this book, Ballard introduces us to the history and cultural diversity of the original peoples as well as those of Scot-Irish descent whose ancestors immigrated there. She discusses the ecology of the Southern Appalachian area, of how mining and lumber industries have stripped some mountains bare, and how, when jobs were lost, generations of mountain folk moved from the mountains and into towns and cities. She explains how the people who left mountain life behind retained their folk ways, their stories and their magic.
My family immigrated from France and settled in the French Santee settlement in South Carolina. Generations later, their descendants immigrated to Rapides Parish, Louisiana. The Robert and the Eldred families carried their own folkways with them and they merged with Cajun and Creole cultures. I found myself smiling and nodding when Ballard talked about gathering elderberries and eating poke sallit (which should never be eaten raw) and I adored her stories of haints and ghost lights, which I have seen myself.
Her magic is warm and familiar, like slipping into my grandma's old quilt. I can see myself scrying by using a small cast iron skillet. I loved the candy spells. The circus peanut spell that is used when this is your circus and those are your monkeys, is one that is going into my book of shadows.
The section on herbal lore came with some surprises. I had no idea that Queen Anne's lace and Wild Carrot Seed was used as a form of birth control, or that Rabbit Tobacco was used as a cold remedy. There is also a section on poisonous plants and herbs but are added for research purposes only.
Roots, Branches and Spirits is like sitting on the front porch with your favorite auntie, listening to her stories about the old ways, of haints and blue doors, of laying on of hands, to chants on how to bring the butter from the churn. It's a delightful book, informative, personable and to those of us who have roots buried deep in that ancient mountain range, familiar.
~review by Patricia Snodgrass
Author: H. Byron Ballard
Llewellyn Publications, 2021