Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Appalachian Bible Folk Magic

I found this, so I'm not the only one.
Today's personal Bible reading in Ezekiel surprised me with some very old memories.

The verse was Ezekiel 16:6. "And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, live."

The context is God addressing Jerusalem as an abandoned infant who grows up to become his pampered spouse. Much whoredom followeth.

My family on both sides were dirt-poor coal miners in southern Illinois. (My dad was literally a hobo riding the rails as an orphan at 14.) My grandfather's great-grandmother on my mother's side was Cherokee (the fictionalized heroine of my mom's novel, Yellow Leaf). They had come via Tennessee, and before that, the hollers further east.

(The real Yellow Leaf was an herbalist. Some of her less favorite husbands suddenly got sick and died, leading to much family speculation,  but that's another story. Marrying Yellow Leaf was not an actuarially sound decision.)

I grew up with stories about "the Ragan verse." Everyone on my mother's side had memorized Ezekiel 16:6. This was not unique to them, because one story was that a black Pullman porter knew the verse and its special use, too. An internet search reveals that the folk magic surrounding this verse was pretty common.

The special use was as a magical incantation to stop hemorrhaging.

Many a tale was told of one member of the family or another saving neighbor or stranger from bleeding to death by reciting this verse. Indeed, I was made to memorize "the Ragan verse" as a very small child by my mother for this express purpose. I was instructed you had to recite it three times.

Is it possible that someone with absolute faith in God's ability to answer prayer could effectively intervene to stop bleeding by the appropriate citation from Holy Writ? Or is it the worst kind of superstition and the exact type of abuse that has made the Church historically leery of Bible reading outside of the protection of the magisterium?

I never had occasion to use it. I might as a last resort. It couldn't hurt.

Direct pressure and, if feasible, a tourniquet would be my first choices, though.


  1. Both my grandfathers worked coal. They came out of the mines covered in white privilege.

  2. I'll just say, "comment of the year."

    1. I concur. That could be a first line in a novel.

  3. I highly recommend the Manly Wade Wellman novels centering on "John the Balladeer" also called "Silver John." Appalachian folk magic and its intertwining with our hero's mountain-style Christianity- have you read them, Bear?

    1. No, I haven’t but I’ll check them out. They sound interesting. My family preserved words like “yonder” in casual conversation. They were not musical, but the hollers are like time capsules preserving old English music. There’s a movie called Song Catcher about that which is very good until there has to be some out of left field lesbian thing near the end.

    2. Like Loretta's Coal Miner's Daughter? I liked that film, many people, do, we all really want a simple life. Life is not simple, now. That film must resonate with you, I would imagine.
      Re the prayer for saving someone's life. That is interesting, and who would know where the line between prayer and superstition is. Hm. I'd say it's prayer and pray it. Maybe for a secularist it's superstition and a believing Christian it's prayer.

  4. Consider, perhaps, allowing the posting of "your favorite Bible verse." It could be fun.

    Mine is Acts 19: 13-16. If read aloud, a deep voice is needed for a part.

    1. I try to memorize mine. I even have an app called Scripture Typer that makes it a lot easier, and you can use any translation. Like many things, however (that do not involve writing) I don't stick to with any consistency.

      I think you could make a pretty funny comic strip out of that.


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