Category Archives: Appalachian Witches

Halloween Hauntings, Part 12: The Sleeping Prophet of Hopkinsville

 

I discussed the Bell Witch extensively in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and also a bit more about her and other Tennessee witches in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, so I won’t chew my cud twice on that score—at least not here.  However, if you are visiting Adams to get in touch with ol’ Kate, you might want to keep going to visit another town with a reputation for the uncanny and paranormal: Hopkinsville, Kentucky.

If you take Highway 41 up the road apiece beyond Adams, you will soon cross the Tuck-asee state line and come to Hopkinsville, Kentucky, a place equally worthy of note for those who derive joy in being scared out of their wits by paranormal phenomena and other high strangeness.

Hopkinsville, while considerably more urban in character than Adams, is still a quiet town most times and hardly a place one would peg as the epicenter of unexplained events or strangely gifted people.  Yet on both counts Hopkinsville can hold its own with places more famous or more populous.  For one thing, it is the home of Edgar Cayce, world renown as the “Sleeping Prophet.”  Edgar Cayce was an unlikely candidate for notoriety, at least to start with.  Born in 1877, in Beverly, just a stone’s throw south of Hopkinsville and his father would knock him about because he was such a poor student in school.  When he was very young and wandering in the woods he claimed to see “little folk” cavorting about and occasionally spotted his dead grandfather.  He knew grandpa was dead because he could see through him.

By 1910, when this photo was taken, Edgar Cayce had already become nationally famous for his readings.

By 1910, when this photo was taken, Edgar Cayce had already become nationally famous for his readings.

At the age of ten he was taken to church and from that time on diligently began reading the Bible.  Then, at the age of twelve one day an angel appeared to him in a woodland shack as he was doing his daily Bible reading.  The angel told him his prayers would be answered and asked him what he wanted.  Cayce allegedly replied that most of all he wanted to be helpful to others, especially sick children.  On advice of this same mysterious “lady” he found that if he slept on a school textbook, he would absorb all its knowledge while he slept and he soon became an exceptional student.  By 1892 Cayce was giving “readings” in his sleep relating to people’s health issues, although he tried to support himself with a number of day jobs.  Although he never charged for a “reading” at one of his sleep sessions, eventually followers donated enough money to support Cayce that he could concentrate on his readings, which began to expand from health issues in to metaphysics and prophesy.  He moved to Selma, Alabama from 1912 to 1925 and from then to his death in 1945 lived in Virginia Beach, but he was buried in his hometown of Hopkinsville.  Edgar Cayce, unlike many mediums, was not dogmatic about his readings and advised people to accept them only to the extent they benefitted from them; likewise he always advised to test them against real world results.  When awake, Cayce claimed no conscious memory of what he had said or why he said it.  His utterings remain closely studied to this day and some say they have proven remarkably accurate.

New York Times article, dating to 1910, chronicling Edgar Cayce's renown as a healer and psychic.

New York Times article, dating to 1910, chronicling Edgar Cayce’s renown as a healer and psychic.

Hopkinsville is in the heart of the Pennyrile region of southern Kentucky—or Pennyroyal as some more refined folk prefer to call it—and there is available for traveler’s a “Edgar Cayce Cell Phone Tour” of Hopkinsville, while the Pennyroyal Area Museum has devoted a good part of its exhibition space to Cayce and artifacts relating to him.  Hopkinsville, being part of Bell Witch Country, also celebrates the Old Girl in October every year.  There is also the annual Edgar Cayce Hometown Seminar, usually held in March, which celebrates Cayce’s life and readings.

For more about the Tennessee The Bell Witch and Pennyrile oddities, go to Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground.  Also see Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee for more weird witchery as well.

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South

Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. True haunting tales of the Mid South

Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee. True haunting tales of the Mid South

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For exhibitions on Edgar Cayce, visit:

The Pennyroyal Area Museum                                                                                                                                    217 East 9th Street                                                                                                                                Hopkinsville,  KY  42241                                                                                                               (270) 887-4270

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Halloween Hauntings, Part 11: Wicked Witches of Appalachia

A modern take on the traditional witch has her bewitching readers in an entirely different manner

A modern take on the traditional witch has her bewitching readers in an entirely different manner

The late great Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West from an MGM publicity still ca.1939

The late great Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West from an MGM publicity still ca.1939

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around Halloween time it is not to see images of alluring females bedecked in black and looking slinky and seductive in a witch’s costume.  That is one modern stereotype; the other is of the ugly cock-eyed old crone with crooked nose and hairy mole leering out with a toothless smile.  Yet another trope is those neo-pagans who enjoy getting nekkid, then dancing widdershins ‘round campfires and having mostly harmless devilry on selected nights of the year. The truth is that no of these stereotypes are true, at least not of real witches—and make no mistake real witches have existed and for aught I know still do—in the mountains of Tennessee.  Of course I have gone into this in much greater depth in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, so for more about all this, you can learn about it there.

popular modern iconography of the witch and her familiars, the owl and the pussycat.

popular modern iconography of the witch and her familiars, the owl and the pussycat.

Of course the curious thing has always been that there were far many folk who would own up to being witch-hunters (also called ‘witch-doctors”) than those who would actually own up to being a genuine witch.  And as I noted before, if they proudly proclaim themselves a witch, the likelihood is they are not.  Still, it was not so long ago in East Tennessee that folks knew very well who in their community was and was not a witch.  And for the most part they were not ugly nor sexy nor any kind of neo-pagan; but they were feared and avoided—and most, most wicked.

Before the creation of Smoky Mountain National Forest, the multi-county region it covered was home to several mountain communities, now no more.  While the area back in the 1930’s was not quite so backward as Yankee journalists who never ever visited there might have proclaimed in their florid prose, but even by the backwards standards of the early twentieth century South, the folk up there were land rich, but dirt poor.  Of course, if you raised your own crops and herds of livestock, there was always food on the table; but as far as modern luxuries went, such as indoor plumbing or electricity, well, that was something city folks enjoyed, not mountain folk.

Up around what is not national forest once lived a lady that was later known as “Witch McGaha.”  It was not her Christian name, but then she was not the church going type anyhow.  One thing that set folk wise to her was that she was continually trying to borrow things.  It was not as though she needed anything; but if a witch can borrow three things from you, then sure as spit she can put you under her spell.  Conversely, Witch McGaha would never, never lend anybody anything, not even to members of her own family.  Many tales are told about her and her powers, but one will suffice for now

One time her sister, Nance, wanted some nice juicy apples from her sister’s orchard; but Witch McGaha would have none of it.  Not one apple would she loan or give.  Nance even got her mother to talk to her older sister to loan her some apples until her orchard came into its own, all to no avail.  So Nance, too willful for her own good, snuck onto her sister’s orchard and started plucking them off the trees and putting them into a large tote sack.  She bit into one and it was red, ripe and oh so juicy, just bursting with sweetness.

Vintage photo of members of a British tea party. Poison apples were served after tea.

Vintage photo of members of a British tea party. Poison apples were served after tea.

When she had picked her full, Nance started off for home, thinking her sister would be none the wiser.  Suddenly she felt a small tug on the helm of her dress; then another and another.  A pack of bushy tailed grey squirrels had formed a ring around her and were giving her angry looks as the insistently tugged on her dress.  She began to walk faster, but even more squirrels appeared.  She broke into a run and dropped the sack but the growing horde of squirrels would not stop.  Now they were scratching and biting and clawing at every part of Nance’s body and no matter how fast she ran they all held on and kept attacking her.  By the time she reached the threshold of her house she was all bloody and her dress in shreds.  Before she could cross the threshold and the safety of home, Nance McGaha keeled over, dead.

A common feature of Appalachian life was the local Wise Woman, a person who had knowledge of herbs but also knew how to conjur spells.  In nineteenth century North Carolina, one such Wise Woman was especially famous, called “Mammy Wise” (actually her name was Weiss) and while not particularly wicked, she was a particularly talented Wise Woman.  She claimed to have “spelt” the Civil War (she always regretted that); but she could also divine who a thief was in the community and was the first person to resort to when it came to cooking up a love potion.  Mammy Wise was respected and honored on that side of the mountains, but no one with any sense ever tried to get on her bad side, for they knew what she could do.

Woodcut of a British witch ca. 1643. Any woman with herbal knowledge or healing skills could be accused of witchery. The real ones likely went unnoticed, practicing their craft in secret.

Woodcut of a British witch ca. 1643. Any woman with herbal knowledge or healing skills could be accused of witchery. The real ones likely went unnoticed, practicing their craft in secret.

There were—are—other Wise Women in the high mountains, although these days they are far more discreet.  Although society may be more tolerant these days of folk who claim to be witches, those with real power are wise enough to say little and mind their own business—especially when their business is the Dark Arts.  For more about Appalachian Witches and their haunts, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South

Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground: True Tales from the Haunted Hills of the Mid South

This latest offering of all things spooky in the South covers the favorite haunts of downtown Nashville and other Country spooks.

This latest offering of all things spooky in the South covers the favorite haunts of downtown Nashville and other Country spooks.