The Wise Folk

Antique cash register and shelves of herbs

Irony… Although we have more access to information across the globe at the speed of a button, in the not so distant past, we were more connected with the world that surrounds us.

Mountain folk have long been known for some of their…unique gifts and talents. Throughout my Appalachian childhood I had the privilege of crossing paths with a fair number of these folk, and their history and personal stories I carry with me to this day. It’s long been told that the seventh son of a seventh son has what many hillfolk would simply call ‘the sight’, but these special gifts were also found in those who were fully present, attuned, immersed, or just at one with the natural world around them. These mountains held healers who could fix you right up with a collection of wild gathered plants and herbs. There were those who took the fire out of a burn, those who cured thrush, bought warts, spoke to animals, or could predict the weather better than any meteorologist on the TV simply by fully knowing their surroundings.

Papaw bought warts. Folk would come to him and he’d look at the thing and offer you a nickel or a dime for it. His enormous sun darkened hands would clap and he would rub em together before blowing into them and then work with the area that had the wart. He wouldn’t let you look at it and would talk to you the entire time. A week later the ol’ wart would begin to go away. I can’t explain it.

Luke standing in a field

Mamaw was known for helping out young mothers when their youngins had the thrush. She’d rub those hands together till they were hot, all the while whispering unknown words into those hands. She’d then cup em together and blow straight into that baby’s mouth…one short, one long, one short breath. And folks kept coming back to her. I just can’t explain it.

There was the rare occasion when some neighbor had gotten burned and they’d come a calling. She’d comfort the poor soul, and her ring filled hands would begin to rub together. I remember, in her whispers, catching something from Ezekiel, and she would lay those hands just above the burn. She said once that she could feel the fire rising from the poor soul, and as they began to relax I could see the wrinkles in Mamaw’s face increase. She was always tired and didn’t feel like doing much for a couple of days afterwards, and we ate sammiches till she felt good as snuff.

These…gifts…talents…they ain’t necessarily hereditary or transferable. I never learned the whispers of healing words, and I could never take out the fire, but I did learn the art of plant medicine that helped keep these old mountain folk going for centuries past. Mamaw always said my gift may or may not come. She said mine may be the ability to immerse myself in the natural world and hear its song. And I reckon she might be right…she usually was. But y’all, another gift popped up during childhood that I just thought was normal. I can smell snakes just as plain as day. And different species have different smells. But that’s a story for another day.

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