Theodish Thoughts

Musings on Theodism, religion, mythology, history, and contemporary Heathenry

Category: Hoodoo

Review: “The Outsiders” television series

Foster Ferrell, would-be leader of the clan

So far I’ve seen two episodes of WGN’s new drama “The Outsiders” (playing on Tuesday at 9 PM, at least where I am). It may seem a bit odd to read a review of a television show about Kentucky hillbillies on a Heathen website, but I submit there’s a lot in this show for Heathens to like. In fact, I think of this show as a hillbilly version of The Wicker Man.

The show revolves around the Ferrell clan (I’m sure the homonym with “feral” is completely intentional), who live in their hundreds on a mountain in Kentucky that an evil coal mining company has gotten legal title to. The company wants the local authorities to kick the Ferrells off the mountain so they can strip-mine it to get the coal that lies beneath. Thus lay the chief conflict of the show, but it is by far not the only one.

A love triangle waiting to blow up

The performances are quite good, and there are enough layers of conflict to keep me interested. There are factions within the Ferrells (including a power struggle for control of the clan, love-triangle-induced strife between a “cousin” who had left the mountain and returned, and others), the coal company is obviously being two-faced in its dealings with the local sheriff as well as the townspeople, the chief deputy obviously has his own agenda going on, and there are the ever-present tensions between the townspeople and the Ferrells in general (certain to be exasperated by a burgeoning romance between a Ferrell and a black girl he happens to meet while raiding the town for goods). There are lots of room for conflict, and those conflicts are interwoven quite well.

Lady Ray, matriarch and magic-worker

But what really excites me about this show is the obvious everyday paganism of the Ferrells.

There are prophecies, and the Appalachian folk-magic is thickly spread around. There are “healers” who deal with poultices and herbs straight out of hoodoo, the titular leader of the clan, or “Bren’in”, Lady Ray (played by Phyllis Somerville) is deferred to and held to have magical powers that could have been seen in Veleda or Rosmerta, there is a sort of council of women and elders that have some undefined, and yet quite palpable, role in the administration of the clan, they hold what a modern Asatruar would call a folk-moot to decide issues of import, some of the townsfolk (including the aforementioned deputy) with some knowledge of the Ferrells make pronouncements such as “They know things the name of which we can’t even remember” (which I take to be a reference to land-spirits, elves, and the like), and the presumptive Bren’in, Foster Ferrell, even goes so far in the second episode as to mention “the gods” (with a most definite plural). It’s dripping with Heathenry, presented as un-self-conscious survivals. It’s just the way they do things, and it seems that the Enlightenment was “something that happened to other people”.

Little Foster, complete with elhaz tattoo (and others)

There is more than a little of the Wolves of Vinland to be found in the Bren’in clan, with their “pit fights” (jousts on ATV’s that seemed to me to be straight out of Knightriders) and a fierce independence combined with a love of family that is highlighted with the description of the wide world outside of the mountain: “That world down there is a prison—families don’t know how to look after each other.”

There’s more than a little Heathen mysticism going on in this show, and it goes way beyond Little Fosters runic tattoos. This is a society, nearly completely cut off from the modern world, that holds women in near-reverence for their mystical and prophetic powers, acknowledges and glorifies the natural masculinity of men, places faith in folk-magic remedies, resents intrusion from self-appointed authorities, and holds family and clan above all.

Tell me that doesn’t sound more than a little familiar.

(Photos courtesy WGN)

Review: Staubs and Ditchwater

H. Byron Ballard is billed as “Ashville’s village witch“, and her first book, Staubs and Ditchwater, is a short but wonderful entry into the world of Appalachian hoodoo and folk magic.

The book is structured in topical chapters, each of which is separated by a relevant homey reminiscence about life in rural North Carolina. Her style is wonderfully easy to read, and she really makes it feel like you’re sitting on a porch on a mountain cabin, listening to her talk while the birds and bugs sing into the waning afternoon. She really has a gift for language, and her writing “in dialect” is done rarely enough as to not be annoying or a hindrance to understanding.

Chapter one sets the scene, giving a brief history of the region and its magical and religious history. Chapter two covers magical tools, chapter three materials, chapter four divination, chapter five provides some techniques and spells (or “receipts” as they are called), while chapter six wraps up the whole thing nicely.

What drew my specific attention, in my studies of Germanic folklore and folk-magic, were the similarities between what Ms. Ballard describes and sources from Trolldomr (Scandinavian folk-magic), Braucherei (Amish folk-magic, itself derived from west-German sources), and pre-Christian practices described in penitentials, sermons, Saints’ lives, and similar sources. After all, Appalachia was settled by Anglo-Scottish border country folk (right in the thick of the ancient Danelaw and Norse influence, not to mention the Anglo-Saxons) and Germans.

If the book has one failing, it’s that she doesn’t always differentiate between elements of her practice that are borrowings from Amerindian or African diaspora magic, although she does mention that such borrowings exist. Her second book, Asfidy and Mad-Stones, does seem to do a better job of making such distinctions. Still, it’s not an insurmountable problem, and doesn’t greatly detract from the overall utility, and wonderful readability, of this terrific little book.

If you’re at all interested in folk-magic, this is a great addition to your library.

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