Book Review – Ossman & Steel’s Classic Household Guide to Appalachian Folk Healing by Jake Richards

Book Review
Ossman & Steel’s
Classic Household Guide to
Appalachian Folk Healing:
A Collection of Old-Time Remedies,
Charms, and Spells
By Jack Richards
Foreword by Silver Ravenwolf
Publisher: Weiser Books
122 pages
Publication: August 1, 2022











From the publisher:

“A long-treasured but forgotten classic of folk healing, with an introduction and commentary by the author of Backwoods Witchcraft and Doctoring the Devil.

Ossman & Steel’s Guide to Health or Household Instructor (its original title) is a collection of spells, remedies, and charms. The book draws from the old Pennsylvania Dutch and German powwow healing practices that in turn helped shape Appalachian folk healing, conjure, rootwork, and many folk healing traditions in America. Jake Richards, author of Backwoods Witchcraft and Doctoring the Devil, puts these remedies in context, with practical advice for modern-day “backwoods” healers interested to use them today.

The first part contains spells and charms for healing wounds, styes, broken bones, maladies, and illnesses of all sorts. The second part includes other folk remedies using ingredients based on sympathetic reasoning, including sulfuric acid, gunpowder, or other substances for swelling, toothache, headache, and so on. These remedies are presented here for historic interest, to help better understand how folk medicine evolved in America.

It is Jake Richard’s hope that reintroducing this work will reestablish its position as a useful household helper in the library of every witch or country healer.”

It is thanks to to combined efforts of two beloved practitioners of folk magick that this volume of lore on Appalachian Folk Healing is in bookstore shelves and in our hands today – Silver Ravenwolf and Jake Richards. Silver Ravenwolf’s work has centered mostly in Central Pennsylvania although she is known worldwide. Jake Richard is based here in the high up hills of Tennessee. Silver Ravenwolf, who couldn’t believe her luck, obtained an archived copy of the book from a library in 1990. Thirty years later she sent a copy of it to Jake Richards. Now he has breathed new life into it and he puts it back into the hands of the common man.

Way back when, when our ancestors from the old countries settled in these hills and hollers known as Appalachia, they had to ‘make do’. There was a saying “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” and that’s just what they did. That saying was still in use in the 60s when I was growing up. Back during settlement days, there were no doctors to run to for every little ill. Life expectancy was short in many cases. They relied on home remedies and folk healers. Many couldn’t read. What they did have was hope, courage, and self-reliance. They doctored with roots, herbs, and prayers. Some knowledge was brought with them from the old countries and some was learned from the native peoples they settled among and intermarried with. They brought their religious beliefs with them as well. Those in these mountains were mostly from Germany, France, England, Scotland, and Ireland.

“Notable among these were the mystic beliefs brought over by the Pennsylvania Dutch through West Virginia. They held strong ideas regarding the heavenly bodies and the astrological forces they have over the body as well as a traditional practice of magic and healing.”

Jake tells us that there were many healing traditions in Appalachia. He describes the different types from pow-wow doctors to outright charlatans. In Appalachia, there was a mix of different folk as there is everywhere, but we have the pleasure of Cherokee lore mixing with the lore that was brought from the old countries. Appalachia was not only unique in days of old. It still is, because those threads still run through the bloodstreams of all who were born and bred in these mountains much like the bedrock that runs through the earth.

Many of the healing traditions of Appalachia were only passed down orally. Writing the remedies down were thought to take away their power and forbidden by most practitioners. Thankfully it was not so by all or we would have no record at all and the knowledge would have perished. Those who did write these things down met with much criticism, even from their own families.

“Some of the remedies call for using dangerous substances, such as gunpowder, sulphur, and copperas. The reader must keep in mind that these are very old remedies and come from a time when such substances were in common use in the medical field when there was little scientific evidence to back up medicinal value to such substances… However, many elders even today remember their mother giving them tablespoon doses of turpentine for coughs. While they sometimes worked, sometimes they didn’t, and sometimes the end result was death. One can well imagine that many people died because of incorrect dosage recommended by self-proclaimed doctors who learned their practice through such books… Such remedies are given here only for historical and educational purposes to retain that wholeness of the work and should in no way be attempted.”

The text of the original publication from 1894 is reproduced unaltered with the original spelling, grammar, and so on. There is racism in the original book. It is a product of the times. You will find such throughout most, if not all, American Folk Magick. Don’t let the twisted remnant of white supremacy influence your work as a healer or your search for one.

Ossman and Steel assure the readers that every word is true. They assert that some of their secrets are worth ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS (quite a sum in 1894)! The book that follows has pow-wow type charms (and this is only a partial list) against evil, prayers before a journey, prayers to prevent ill luck, charms against firearms, a remedy to compel thieves to return stolen goods, spells to bind thieves, spells against evil spirits, cures for sore mouth, sore throat, and fresh wounds, remedy for removing bruises and pain, cure for rheumatism, how to cure snakebite, cure for headache, cure for heart palpitations, remedy for colic, remedy for croup, remedy for vomiting and diarrhea, and more.

Many are chants and/or Bible verses such as the Pennsylvania Dutch use in Pow-wow. Silver Ravenwolf’s book American Folk Magick has a lot of this and is a classic on the subject.

Injecting a personal note here, I will say I can see why Jake Richards says the information is for educational purposes only and should not be attempted. The following is an excerpt:

“How to Cure Cramp Colic in Persons: Take a white dog tird and pulverize it to a powder; then take one teacupful of sweet milk and add the pulverized dog tird to the sweet milk. After this is done, take a charge of gunpowder and add it to the above ingredients. Mix well together and let the patient drink it at one time if it can be done. This remedy has effected in every instance, and where the best physicians could do no more than little children. It can be flavored with vanilla, or anything desired. If one dose does not affect a cure, give the patient the second or third, but this is seldom necessary.” (page 82)

The book continues with remedies for various things – such as rheumatism, warts, boils, weight loss, hemorrhoids, pimples, insomnia, frostbite, teething babies, removing grease spots and problems with livestock. It ends with recipes for various cleaners for the home.

I would recommend this book for anyone who has an interest in folk healing, especially that centered around the Pow-wow and/or Appalachian traditions. Devotees of Jake Richards and Silver Ravenwolf will most definitely want a copy. This is an important part of the history of Appalachian Folk Healing. Thank you, Jake Richards and Silver Ravenwolf for your parts in bringing it out of the dust of the archives of the past back to the people!

Jake Richards holds his Appalachian-Melungeon heritage close to his blood and bones. His family heritage in Appalachia goes back generations; they have lived in southwest Virginia, east Tennessee, and the western Carolinas for a good four hundred years. He spent most of his childhood at his great-grandmother’s house on Big Ridge in North Carolina, wading the waters of the Watauga and traipsing the mountains by his ancestral home on the ridge. “My family,” Jake writes, “always spoke of the old wives’ tales and folk remedies. They were mountain people to the bone; hunters, farmers, faith healers, preachers, and root-diggers.” Jake has practiced Appalachian folk magic for over a decade. Aside from being an author and practitioner, Jake is a member of the Melungeon Heritage Association, holds a seat on the board of WAM: We Are Melungeons, and is the creator of HOM: House of Malungia, Melungeon cultural society. You can find him on Instagram @jake_richards13

Silver Ravenwolf is best known as one of the most widely Wiccan authors of her time, including bestsellers Solitary Witch, Teen Witch, and To Ride a Silver Broomstick. Since 1990, she has produced 22 books through Llewellyn World Wide. Artist, spirit doll maker, chandler, photographer, Braucherei practitioner, and internet entrepreneur, she also heads the Black Forest Clan Circle and Seminary, a Wiccan organization that consists of over sixty covens in thirty states with three international groups. Wife of 38 years, mother of four grown children, and grandmother, Silver has been interviewed by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, US Nes & World Report, and A&E Biography. You can find Silver on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and WordPress.








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About the Author:

Katy Ravensong is a practicing green witch in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. She was raised here where she ran barefoot & free. She is a wife, mother, grandmother, voracious reader, crocheter, and amateur herbalist. She glories in the freedom that comes with being a Crone ~ when she is gone, she will not be known as a woman who could keep her mouth shut! She is disabled, yet tries to make disability work for her. She is an advocate for human rights. She is Dean of Wortcunning and Assistant Dean of Natural Philosophy at The Grey School of Wizardry. She has studied with various herbal teachers, with Witch School International, with Avalonian Institute of Metaphysical Arts, and is a priestess with the Sisters of Earthsong, Order of the White Moon. Her poetry has been featured in several publications including ‘Pagan Poetry for the Festivals and Seasons’ by Wyrdwood Publications edited by Edain Duguay, 2008. Her favorite quote is from Emily Dickinson “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain. If I can ease one life the aching or cool one pain or help one fainting robin unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.”