Traditions of folk magic and healing in the Ozark Mountain region are often deceptively simple. Outsiders have often commented upon the "simplistic" or "primitive" nature of Ozark hillfolk, leading to many unwarranted stereotypes over the past two centuries. Nothing could be farther from the truth, however. Outwardly, yes, many of our traditions are hidden behind simple rituals, some of which don't even involve any vocal or somatic components at all. And then there is of course the hillfolk love of repurposing household objects for magic and healing. This tradition was once derived from a sense of necessity, but I personally connect it to the inborn cunning of Ozark healers and magical practitioners who were often said to "know things," meaning they were cognizant of information that ordinary folks in the community were not. One of these areas is auspiciousness, or as one of my teachers described, the most basic, natural, inborn flow of magic that's in all things seen and unseen.
Going with the Flow
So much of Ozark folk magic and healing practices can be derived from a common foundational belief in the innate flow of magic through all things in nature. This flow was described to me by one of my teachers as a river. The easiest way to get down a river is to float and let the current take you where it wants you to go. This flow is connecting to the innate magic within oneself as well as the innate magic within the world around us. We're all floating along in the same river, and we're not separated from nature as many would want us to believe. Going with the flow then means working within the cycles and courses of nature rather than against them. The simplest expression of this is utilizing auspicious timing when formulating remedies and rituals.
Ozarkers have often been obsessive when it comes to magical or auspicious timing. This is especially true in cases where timing could mean survival, as with agricultural practices and healing rituals. Still to this day, many farmers in the region "plant with the signs," meaning they choose specific days based upon the moon phases and zodiac moon cycles that are considered best for planting, fertilizing, and harvesting different crops. Planting with the flow of nature's innate magic then ensures the best possible outcome, or the best chance you've got for success.
Auspicious timing even made its way indoors where hillfolk would calculate the "best days" for many different household activities, including when to cut your fingernails, cut your hair, dye your hair, ween babies, plan for having a baby, get married, and catch certain fish, just to name a few. Many households calculated these days on their own while others used a simpler method and consulted their Farmers' Almanac, which still prints a long list of these "best days" today.
Formulating Remedies with Auspicious Timing
As a tradition, calculating these "best days" also found its way into Ozark healing and magical practices, specifically diagnosis for both physical and magical illnesses. In most cases, but especially with more "traditional" approaches to Ozark healing, locating an illness or hex within the body was a crucial part of the overall healing process. This search was predominantly based upon observance of physical symptoms paired with divination practices. Once the position of the illness or hex is located (or where it is "sitting," as Ozark healers often say), it is then assigned a zodiac sign based on the Man of Signs or Zodiac Man, also found in the almanac. This is a practice that can be traced all the way back to Medieval Europe and perhaps even earlier. It's the idea that every part of the human body, from head to feet, is associated with a specific zodiac sign. Where an illness sits in the body is then believed to be where it is its strongest and most "rooted," to use another Ozark folk term. For instance, a fever is generally located in the head, ruled by Aries, but hexes and "wandering illnesses" are often trickier to find. This is where divination methods for diagnosis often come into the mix.
Ozark healing theory seeks always to "counter" illnesses and hexes, meaning invoking the zodiac sign that is opposite to the one that is assigned to the malady based upon where it is sitting and/or rooted. So, returning to our previous example, a fever is associated with the head, Aries, and so auspicious timing for most effective healing would be on a day with the zodiac moon is in Libra. Along similar lines, elemental opposites would also be invoked. So, Aries is associated with the element Fire, therefore a simple remedy might include "cooling" herbal compounds and ritual methods might incorporate in the element Water (e.g. washing in moving water) as well as the element Air, corresponding to the zodiac opposite Libra (e.g. a smoke bath.)
In addition to zodiac moon signs, which are most commonly found using an almanac, mountain healers and magical practitioners have also incorporated moon phases and planetary correspondences for the days of the week into their formulations. Taking all of this into consideration, a remedy procedure or ritual might appear outwardly to be very simple, as in washing a person in moving water or even just silently reciting a verbal charm or prayer over them. But you can see how underneath this the healer is often making many complicated calculations to find the most auspicious timing as well as method to heal or work some magic on an individual basis. Unfortunately, these inner practices are the ones that are most susceptible to being lost, as they aren't always taught or passed down immediately but require a student to practice formulations with their teacher. I'm certain there are many nuances to these methods, developed over centuries of practice, that are now gone forever.
Generally speaking, Ozarkers are "moon people," as one farmer told me, meaning that traditionally Ozarkers often orient both their day-to-day practices as well as healing and magical traditions with the moon cycles. Working within the phases of the moon is often the easiest way of "going with the flow" of nature because these cycles can more or less be observed with the naked eye. Typically, though, as with all areas of celestial magic in the Ozarks, hillfolk have preferred using their trusted almanac for accuracy.
At the most basic level, the growing and shrinking of the moon's light is believed to be connected to the "tides" within the flow of magic through nature. This magical river swells beyond its boundaries when the moon is full and shrinks back down with the new moon. This isn't to say that magical acts can't be performed during the new moon—far from it. There are many rituals that specifically utilize the moon's power at this time to reach their goal. The new moon is a time for banishment, specifically spirit-entities including ghosts as well as land spirits, the Little People (Ozark fairies), and a whole host of other beings. This is also a time for working against one's enemies or breaking the power someone might have over another person. Part of the reason behind this association is that these energetically charged entities and sources of power can be weakened by connecting them to the new moon, as in the simple verbal charm, "The moon is dark and dead, / And my enemy lying in bed; / In bed and forgetting me, / So let them stay, / So let them be."
The goal of the full moon is then to harness the abundance of power that is now rushing through everything in nature. For this reason, rituals associated with strong healing, good luck, prosperity, and even visions and dreams are performed during the full moon. Otherworldly entities are believed to be strong during the full moon, so caution is taken when working against these forces during this time. Better to protect yourself by invoking the power of this light and wait until the moon is dark again.
The in-between cycles are also harnessed in rituals and remedies, particularly ones that need more time to grow or dissolve. Amulets and other magical objects are traditionally "born" on the new moon then left to "grow" or charge up during the waxing moon. Anything that needs to be enhanced or grown can be done during this time. Opposite is the waning moon, which is associated with lessening, dissolving, and even rotting away. Illnesses and hexes are generally cured during the waning moon, so that as the moon's light fades away so, too, will the target of your spells.
Zodiac Moon Signs
These signs are more difficult to calculate and are generally taken from a guidebook like the almanac. It's important to be able to "catch" these smaller increments of time before they pass away, and I've met many Ozark healers and magical practitioners who highlight specific days in their almanacs that are associated with specific types of work so that they won't miss them. For example, Cancer is associated with cleansing and healing rites, specifically those using water. Cancer moon days are seen as being perfect for all types of healing and cleansing, especially if these days are during the waning moon. So, it's extremely important for traditional healers to be able to catch these days and utilize the innate power that is present before it’s gone.
Other signs that are commonly marked on the calendar include:
In many cases, a healer won't have time to wait until the auspiciousness is just perfect for their work. In situations where the illness or hex can't wait to be removed, a practitioner might work with what they've got and hope for the best. Others might "awaken" the stars and the moon, a process that essentially seeks to bring about auspiciousness that might not naturally be present. In one instance I observed, a healer used a set of very specific verbal charms in order to awaken the power of a certain zodiac constellation, Taurus in this case, because that was what was needed for the ritual at hand but the moon wasn't going to be in Taurus for another week. By awakening the stars through invoking them as entities or guiding spirits, this healer was able to utilize their power whenever she needed it without having to wait for the specific days to roll around.
This obviously goes against the "go with the flow" approach to magic. I was also taught that you can go against the current if you need to, but that you'll need to build a boat. Building a boat means working with tools, prayers, verbal charms, and even with otherworldly partnerships, all of which can add their own power, or fuel, to your spells.
Planetary Signs and Days of the Week
Planetary correspondences are used in a couple of ways. The first method is utilizing the planet associated with the specific zodiac sign that is found as a part of the diagnosis process. For example, a fever is associated with Aries, whose planet is Mars. We can then utilize the planetary opposite, Venus (Libra), as a part of our remedy formulation.
The second method utilizes planetary correspondences as they are associated with the days of the week. This yields an additional level of magical timing that can be added to specific remedies. For example, in opposing the Aries influence upon a fever, we invoke Libra (Venus), which means that our most auspicious day for countering this malady might be when the moon is waning (lessening power), on a Friday (Venus) when the zodiac moon sign is in Libra (opposes Aries.)
Utilizing the days of the week, alongside phases of the moon, are probably the easiest magical timings to formulate. A healer or magical practitioner is likely to be able to perform a ritual procedure on a Friday when the moon is waning. Adding the zodiac moon signs adds another layer of magical energies to the process, but its necessity depends upon the practitioner themselves. There are many who are happy to make their clients wait weeks, even months for the perfect timing to come around, knowing that by waiting, the ritual has the best chance of success.
Fevers or Hexes Located in the Head
Moon Phase: Waning
Day of Week: Friday
Planetary Correspondence: Venus
Zodiac Moon Sign: Libra
Example Ritual: Cleansing baths in a river (water) or smoke baths (air)
Moon Phase: Waxing/Full
Day of Week: Tuesday (Aries & Scorpio); Sunday (Leo)
Planetary Correspondence: Mars (Aries & Scorpio); Sun (Leo)
Zodiac Moon Sign: Aries, Leo, Scorpio
Example Ritual: Three rings of fire ritual (fire); washing in blessed water every day as a shield (water)
Protecting the Family and/or Home
Moon Phase: Waxing/Full
Day of Week: Friday (Taurus); Monday (Cancer)
Planetary Correspondence: Moon (Cancer); Venus (Taurus)
Zodiac Moon Sign: Taurus, Cancer
Example Ritual: Talismans using plant material like greenbriar or thorns (earth); magical stakes driven into ground around house to create a "fence" (earth); sprinkling house with blessed water (water)