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Ozark Magic and Folklore

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The Ozark region of Missouri and Arkansas has long been an enclave of resistance to innovation and "newfangled" ideas. Many of the old-time superstitions and customs have been nurtured and kept alive through the area's relative isolation and the strong attachment of the hillfolk to these old attitudes. Though modern science and education have been making important inroads The Ozark region of Missouri and Arkansas has long been an enclave of resistance to innovation and "newfangled" ideas. Many of the old-time superstitions and customs have been nurtured and kept alive through the area's relative isolation and the strong attachment of the hillfolk to these old attitudes. Though modern science and education have been making important inroads in the last few decades, the region is still a fertile source of quaint ideas, observances, and traditions. People are normally reticent about their deepest beliefs, especially with outsiders. The author, however, has lived in the Ozarks since 1920 and has long since been a student of Ozark life—and a writer of a number of books and articles on various aspects of the subject. Through casual conversations rather than by direct questioning, he has been able gradually to compile a singularly authentic record of Ozark superstition. His book contains a vast amount of folkloristic material, including legends, beliefs, ritual verses and sayings and odd practices of the hillpeople, plus a wealth of general cultural data. Mr. Randolph discusses weather signs; beliefs about auspicious times for planting crops, butchering hogs, etc.; prenatal influence in "marking" babies; backwoods beauty treatments; lucky charms, omens and auguries; courtship jinxes, love potions, etc.; dummy suppers; and numerous other customs and convictions—many racy and amusing, others somewhat grisly or spooky. Here you'll meet and learn about the yarb doctor who prepared curious remedies of herbs and odd concoctions; power doctors who use charms, spells, and exorcism to effect cures; granny-women (mountain midwives); "doodlebuggers" and witch wigglers who find water with the aid of divining rods; "conjurefolk" and Holy Rollers; witches and goomer doctors; clairvoyants and fortune-tellers; plus the ordinary finger-crossing, wish-making citizens of the area. The general reader as well as the specialist in particular fields of cultural anthropology, etc. will truly enjoy this lively survey of lore and practice—a little-known but fascinating slice of American life. Its gentle humor takes the reader into the hills with the author. The book deserves a place in any general collection of Americana and in all collections of folklore," U.S. QUARTERLY BOOKLIST. "A veritable treasury of backwoods custom and belief… [ a ] wealth of circumstantial detail and cultural background," Carl Withers, N.Y. TIMES.


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The Ozark region of Missouri and Arkansas has long been an enclave of resistance to innovation and "newfangled" ideas. Many of the old-time superstitions and customs have been nurtured and kept alive through the area's relative isolation and the strong attachment of the hillfolk to these old attitudes. Though modern science and education have been making important inroads The Ozark region of Missouri and Arkansas has long been an enclave of resistance to innovation and "newfangled" ideas. Many of the old-time superstitions and customs have been nurtured and kept alive through the area's relative isolation and the strong attachment of the hillfolk to these old attitudes. Though modern science and education have been making important inroads in the last few decades, the region is still a fertile source of quaint ideas, observances, and traditions. People are normally reticent about their deepest beliefs, especially with outsiders. The author, however, has lived in the Ozarks since 1920 and has long since been a student of Ozark life—and a writer of a number of books and articles on various aspects of the subject. Through casual conversations rather than by direct questioning, he has been able gradually to compile a singularly authentic record of Ozark superstition. His book contains a vast amount of folkloristic material, including legends, beliefs, ritual verses and sayings and odd practices of the hillpeople, plus a wealth of general cultural data. Mr. Randolph discusses weather signs; beliefs about auspicious times for planting crops, butchering hogs, etc.; prenatal influence in "marking" babies; backwoods beauty treatments; lucky charms, omens and auguries; courtship jinxes, love potions, etc.; dummy suppers; and numerous other customs and convictions—many racy and amusing, others somewhat grisly or spooky. Here you'll meet and learn about the yarb doctor who prepared curious remedies of herbs and odd concoctions; power doctors who use charms, spells, and exorcism to effect cures; granny-women (mountain midwives); "doodlebuggers" and witch wigglers who find water with the aid of divining rods; "conjurefolk" and Holy Rollers; witches and goomer doctors; clairvoyants and fortune-tellers; plus the ordinary finger-crossing, wish-making citizens of the area. The general reader as well as the specialist in particular fields of cultural anthropology, etc. will truly enjoy this lively survey of lore and practice—a little-known but fascinating slice of American life. Its gentle humor takes the reader into the hills with the author. The book deserves a place in any general collection of Americana and in all collections of folklore," U.S. QUARTERLY BOOKLIST. "A veritable treasury of backwoods custom and belief… [ a ] wealth of circumstantial detail and cultural background," Carl Withers, N.Y. TIMES.

30 review for Ozark Magic and Folklore

  1. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    I love this book. It was sent to me by a friend who found it "too creepy" to continue reading. My mother's family are from the Ozarks, and have been there for ages. So, I started out with an interest before I even cracked the cover. The stories are told by a man who seems to have married an Ozark girl, but was still considered an outsider. Many of the stories are quite humorous, some are sad, and some are a little shocking. Quite a few are creepy, too. Awesome book. Would never part with my copy I love this book. It was sent to me by a friend who found it "too creepy" to continue reading. My mother's family are from the Ozarks, and have been there for ages. So, I started out with an interest before I even cracked the cover. The stories are told by a man who seems to have married an Ozark girl, but was still considered an outsider. Many of the stories are quite humorous, some are sad, and some are a little shocking. Quite a few are creepy, too. Awesome book. Would never part with my copy of it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Granny

    I have enjoyed this book very much. It is so information dense that I have to take breaks from it to digest it all (but that's a good thing). The author is an outsider to the culture, and he is candid about the occasions when the people of the area would refuse to go further in discussing a topic with him. I appreciate it so much that he chose not to embellish when those gaps came up. The main area where his status as an outsider interferes with his ability to receive information from the people I have enjoyed this book very much. It is so information dense that I have to take breaks from it to digest it all (but that's a good thing). The author is an outsider to the culture, and he is candid about the occasions when the people of the area would refuse to go further in discussing a topic with him. I appreciate it so much that he chose not to embellish when those gaps came up. The main area where his status as an outsider interferes with his ability to receive information from the people who live there is when the topic of witchcraft came up. No one in a culture such as this will openly admit seeking out a witch; nor speak well of witchcraft, to an outsider. So this chapter was disappointing but not surprising. Otherwise, the book was an excellent look at traditional beliefs of the area. It is remarkable that he was able to build a level of trust with the locals to get as much information as he did, clearly he was not judgmental with them, for the fear is always that "city people" will see you as ignorant and superstitious, rather than understand that much of this lore is respected as a link between you and your ancestors. This book reaffirms my belief in the continuity of magical practice between "back hills" cultures within the United States despite their isolated circumstances prior to about 1950. It is definitely worth reading, if you are interested in folk magic.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    A superb collection written by a master of language and customs. I came to the Ozarks and the University of Arkansas fifteen years after the author passed away, but his stories and his reputation live on. If you're interested in the way language travels and stories are preserved for generations, this is the book for you. Whether your interest is scholarly (dialect studies, for example) or popular reading, you'll find much to appreciate here. A superb collection written by a master of language and customs. I came to the Ozarks and the University of Arkansas fifteen years after the author passed away, but his stories and his reputation live on. If you're interested in the way language travels and stories are preserved for generations, this is the book for you. Whether your interest is scholarly (dialect studies, for example) or popular reading, you'll find much to appreciate here.

  4. 5 out of 5

    David

    Vance Randolph meticulously documented the customs and practices of Ozarkers, both their dialect and, in this book, their superstitions and magical practices. It's an interesting read to get a glimpse of a culture that's now mostly gone, as modernization was beginning to take hold in the Ozarks even during the time Randolph was writing this. Vance Randolph meticulously documented the customs and practices of Ozarkers, both their dialect and, in this book, their superstitions and magical practices. It's an interesting read to get a glimpse of a culture that's now mostly gone, as modernization was beginning to take hold in the Ozarks even during the time Randolph was writing this.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Amber Shehan

    It's funny - while I appreciate the trove he's collected, Vance doesn't seem (or won't admit) that he believes any of it. And I think that part of the time, the Ozark folks are just screwing around with him! It's funny - while I appreciate the trove he's collected, Vance doesn't seem (or won't admit) that he believes any of it. And I think that part of the time, the Ozark folks are just screwing around with him!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Brook Olsen

    Very interesting!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Stuart

    I ran across Vance Randolph while looking for an old book on Appalachian witchcraft that I had once upon a time. Vance ditched out on school as a kiddo and wrote for several newspapers, eventually returning to get some sort of fancy degree from somewhere or whatever. But who cares about that--the important thing about Vance Randolph is he moved deep into the Ozarks and devoted the better portion of his life to documenting Ozarks culture and belief, which was quickly vanishing in the face of high I ran across Vance Randolph while looking for an old book on Appalachian witchcraft that I had once upon a time. Vance ditched out on school as a kiddo and wrote for several newspapers, eventually returning to get some sort of fancy degree from somewhere or whatever. But who cares about that--the important thing about Vance Randolph is he moved deep into the Ozarks and devoted the better portion of his life to documenting Ozarks culture and belief, which was quickly vanishing in the face of highways, radio and the homogenizing and consumerizing force of "modernization." Vance records with wit, humor and compassion hundreds of beliefs and superstitions about the details of life and death (and beyond). The book is separated into rough categories ("ghost stories" "courtship and marriage" "power doctors" etc), each containing a jumble of aphorisms, spells, beliefs and folklore. As much as possible, Vance lets his sources speak for themselves--the book is almost entirely anecdotally based, with a few sources, mostly from newspaper articles in the Ozarks, thrown in for good measure. The only thing keeping this book from four stars is the lack of any anthropological or systemic approach to the folklore and belief--patterns appear readily enough throughout the book's spells, beliefs and superstitions that one could easily paint a fantastic, rich and accurate metaphysical portrait of the early 20th century Ozarker (Ozarkian? Ozarkite?). However, the book is an excellent primer on a sadly-vanished aspect of Ozarks culture and a repository for still-useful folklore and wisdom.

  8. 5 out of 5

    USS

    Riveting look into what may be a disappearing culture in the U.S., the isolated country of the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri. This book details the folk beliefs and traditions of an impoverished people with strong tendencies to the preternatural who are also the keepers of a generations-long tradition of folk medicine. The chapters I found most fascinating were the chapters on weather signs, courtship and marriage, animals and plants, herbal remedies, and death and burial customs. Tip of the h Riveting look into what may be a disappearing culture in the U.S., the isolated country of the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri. This book details the folk beliefs and traditions of an impoverished people with strong tendencies to the preternatural who are also the keepers of a generations-long tradition of folk medicine. The chapters I found most fascinating were the chapters on weather signs, courtship and marriage, animals and plants, herbal remedies, and death and burial customs. Tip of the hat to Vance Randolph, the author, who selflessly lived among the Ozarks for months as an outsider and recorded an oral tradition onto paper so this knowledge doesn't disappear with the culture and its people, the "hillfolk" as the author describes them. This is a good anthropological portrait.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Russ

    This book is fantastic! I got it in Arizona almost as a joke, but it's really grown on me the more I've read it. There is no filler, just tale after tale, superstition after superstition... Being written in the 1940s, it is much closer to the sources than anything written today could hope to be (lots of the superstitions and stories come from folks who lived during the Civil War era). This book is fantastic! I got it in Arizona almost as a joke, but it's really grown on me the more I've read it. There is no filler, just tale after tale, superstition after superstition... Being written in the 1940s, it is much closer to the sources than anything written today could hope to be (lots of the superstitions and stories come from folks who lived during the Civil War era).

  10. 4 out of 5

    Neal

    I've really only read part's of this, its not much for straight reading but its got a lot of interesting superstitions for the area like one where a girl takes a stone from the bottom of a stream wraps a lock of her hair around it and puts it back in the water to make her hair glossy, and if your right elbow aches on a thursday it means two weeks of rain starting tuesday. The weirdest part are the ghost stories from this region, they're kind of "wacky" and anti-climatic. And I use the word wacky I've really only read part's of this, its not much for straight reading but its got a lot of interesting superstitions for the area like one where a girl takes a stone from the bottom of a stream wraps a lock of her hair around it and puts it back in the water to make her hair glossy, and if your right elbow aches on a thursday it means two weeks of rain starting tuesday. The weirdest part are the ghost stories from this region, they're kind of "wacky" and anti-climatic. And I use the word wacky in the sense that people who consider themselves to be "wacky" use it to describe themselves, if that makes any sense.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Oakley

    This is an extensive laundry list of all the superstitions and practices of the hill-people from the Ozark region in 1947. It has many different remedies, directions on how to divine water, ways to put spells on lovers, predict the weather and how to put a soul at rest. It even has some local ghost stories. Most of these beliefs are mystifying, i.e. "The woman who throws an eggshell into a fire on May 1st and sees a drop of blood on that shell will not live to see another may day." Downsides are This is an extensive laundry list of all the superstitions and practices of the hill-people from the Ozark region in 1947. It has many different remedies, directions on how to divine water, ways to put spells on lovers, predict the weather and how to put a soul at rest. It even has some local ghost stories. Most of these beliefs are mystifying, i.e. "The woman who throws an eggshell into a fire on May 1st and sees a drop of blood on that shell will not live to see another may day." Downsides are the author's condescending and monotonous, dry tone. Still, it let's you in on a mentality that's lost in time.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Verity Brown

    An amusing collection of folk superstitions from the Ozarks. In many cases, the British/Scottish ancestry of the hillfolk is clear in the superstitions that have been passed down from generation to generation in America. This book was written in the 1940s, based on information collected for years previous to that, and consequently the "living memory" of the contributors reaches all the way back to the Civil War. A fascinating look at human nature. An amusing collection of folk superstitions from the Ozarks. In many cases, the British/Scottish ancestry of the hillfolk is clear in the superstitions that have been passed down from generation to generation in America. This book was written in the 1940s, based on information collected for years previous to that, and consequently the "living memory" of the contributors reaches all the way back to the Civil War. A fascinating look at human nature.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Shana

    Don't expect a thorough academic examination of the whys and the wherefores of Ozark Folklore. However, it is an extremely valuable compilation of the beliefs of the region on the verge of modernity. Randolph believed that these superstitions were at risk of extinction and many I have never heard before. But I gotta say, more than a few still survive. This was an extremely enjoyable read that I intended to dip into throughout the summer; I ended up reading the whole dang thing. Don't expect a thorough academic examination of the whys and the wherefores of Ozark Folklore. However, it is an extremely valuable compilation of the beliefs of the region on the verge of modernity. Randolph believed that these superstitions were at risk of extinction and many I have never heard before. But I gotta say, more than a few still survive. This was an extremely enjoyable read that I intended to dip into throughout the summer; I ended up reading the whole dang thing.

  14. 5 out of 5

    A.R. Beckert

    I'm a fan of anything interesting, unusual, and well-credited. I heard enough good things to get this on the list and I'm very glad I did. Hoping I'll get to use some of these for inspiration. Took me right back to my time spent in the South! I'm a fan of anything interesting, unusual, and well-credited. I heard enough good things to get this on the list and I'm very glad I did. Hoping I'll get to use some of these for inspiration. Took me right back to my time spent in the South!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Rod Barnes

    I got interested in this because my paternal grandparents were from the Ozarks. I had several dollars of credits from Amazon that were about to expire so I got the Kindle download. I came across a few things that I had heard from them when I was a child. It is a glimpse into another time and place.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Trinette

    This caught my eye on a library display. Turns out I had read this before, so I just skimmed through it. Mildly amusing, especially since I grew up on the edge of the Ozarks.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    One of my most favorite books on american folklore that includes folk magic, medicine, and tales of witchcraft, shapeshifters and ghosts in the Ozarks. Awesome resource, genuine, authentic stuff.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Madly Jane

    Very good.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    I love local folklore and this book is packed with it. It's great! I love local folklore and this book is packed with it. It's great!

  20. 5 out of 5

    isabella

    This was a wild ride ladies and theydies! My favorite part though, beyond the actual stories collected in this, is the vernacular of the people who were interviewed, the way they spoke about these things... Maybe the magic is in the language itself.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Viki

    Interesting stories, some were downright funny. Intriguing history for this area.

  22. 4 out of 5

    The Irreverent Reader

    Very dry. A little hard to read, but interesting if you are interested in the Ozarks, witchcraft, or folklore.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Hex

    This book is filled with wonderful and interesting information. However, the author's writing skills leave much to be desired. This book reads like an Elementary school student's first essay, disjointed, rambling, and massive information dumping. The subject matter is divided into chapters by topic, but that appears to be the only cohesion within. So much potential lost. What a shame. This book is filled with wonderful and interesting information. However, the author's writing skills leave much to be desired. This book reads like an Elementary school student's first essay, disjointed, rambling, and massive information dumping. The subject matter is divided into chapters by topic, but that appears to be the only cohesion within. So much potential lost. What a shame.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Gwnhwyfer

    From the bibliographies of Ellen Dugan's Garden Witchery (2003) and Green Witch's Herbal (2009) From the bibliographies of Ellen Dugan's Garden Witchery (2003) and Green Witch's Herbal (2009)

  25. 4 out of 5

    Chris Smith

  26. 4 out of 5

    Meredith

  27. 4 out of 5

    Canese

  28. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Carter

  29. 4 out of 5

    M. Christine

  30. 4 out of 5

    Abby

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