Aaron Oberon is the author of Southern Cunning – a book about folkloric witchcraft in the Southern States of America. I asked him some questions about his book and the traditions he’s working with, which he has answered below…
Can you give me a flavour of southern states folklore? What’s unique to the area?
Most of our folklore directly deals with the atrocities that have happened in the South. Slavery, racism, and genocide are all seeped into the soil and stories. Human evil is one of the biggest reoccurring themes throughout Southern folklore, and while some folks try to ignore the continuation of racism and oppression around them these stories speak volumes. There’s a reason the genre of “Southern Gothic” exists, because there is a macabre cast to most of our folklore. There’s a plant that can be found all throughout the more humid southern locations called “Spanish Moss” and in Savanah, Georgia folks say it won’t grow anywhere that innocent blood was spilled. Even the tales we tell about plants remind us of human atrocity. There is also an intense focus on the community and what it means to be a part of the community. The breaking of taboos, the inversion of norms, and the process of “othering” those that live outside of what the community considers correct. More specifically, living life as a Christian or a Non-Christian, and the perceived immorality of being Non-Christian. When witches, the quintessential Non-Christians, appear in folklore they are often marginalized and living on the fringes of their communities. Witch stories can be some of the most interesting because they often directly challenge commonly held beliefs in southern culture. When the witch come knocking to borrow milk you have two choices. You can stand by the value of “Southern Hospitality” and help out your neighbor in which case the witch can now curse you because she has something of yours. Or you can deny her the milk because of who she is, in which case she curses you for not helping her. So which do you choose? There’s no right answer, because the societal constraints shouldn’t be there to begin with. That the beauty of Southern folklore, it deals with the dark and oppressive, it forces you to address these issues of culture and discrimination, but it never gives you an answer. That’s your job to figure out.
How does folklore impact on witchcraft traditions in the south?
From a personal perspective, you can’t look towards these stories and come out the other side thinking the world is sunshine and rainbows. You have to face the atrocities that define the place where you live, and then how do you take this reflection and make something of it. You’ve read clear as day how horrible things are now what are you going to do about it? I can’t speak for how folklore is effecting witchcraft throughout the entire South, but I know that for me it’s been a process of taking action. The magic seen throughout Southern folklore is active, it clearly accomplishes a goal, and often times it seeks to right a wrong. Southern folklore demonstrates not just atrocity, but personal agency, and the impact that personal choices make on the world. Which to me is witchcraft at its core, when you take action in your craft you make an impact on the world at large.
What do you find exciting about this as a living tradition?
The biggest thing about a living practice is knowing one day it is going to change and that just because something is working for you now doesn’t mean you have to do that same exact thing for the rest of your journey. Witchcraft, folklore, and human beings are all constantly changing and adapting. So when I look at my practice and realize that something no longer fits, I’m able to acknowledge what it brought into my life in the past, and honor that while finding something that fits better for the now.
What does bioregionalism mean to you?
That as person you are celebrating the natural environment around you in the here and now. Bioregionalism has helped me appreciate my home in a way that has truly changed my life. Spiritually its meant that I am more focused on the local spirits, local stories, and local people around me rather than looking at European models of magic and trying to make that work for me when it hasn’t. On a personal level, I always hated the South.
Tell me about the book…
Southern Cunning is a look at how to approach folklore as an informant for witchcraft. It originally started out as a journal I was writing while I went through books of American folklore and started seeing if there was a way to make this applicable to my practice. It turned out to be a major undertaking, one that changed my perspective on what witchcraft is and what it can be. A good chunk of the book focuses on a specific collection of folklore called “The Silver Bullet”, and I chose this book because of all the collections I went through Silver Bullet was the only one focused completely on witches and the details of their practices. The rest of the book is dedicated to the things that make the South what it is from the cultures in the South, its history, religion, and the land itself. My hope with Southern Cunning is that it’s accessible, fun, and gets the wheels turning for the reader. The best compliment I’ve received has been someone telling me “This inspired me to look into my local folklore and work that into my practice”.
Find out more about the book here – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/southern-cunning