This post originally appeared on my Patreon March 10, 2021.
This post isn’t so much of a review, but more of a collection of the quotes and notes I took while reading Backwoods Witchcraft, a book that took me four months (and three checkouts from the library) to finish. The length of time it took had nothing to do with the book itself, but more with the fact that I just wasn’t in the right mindset for it the first few times I picked it up.
The witchcraft that Richards practices has its roots firmly planted in Christian soil, using Bible scripture, mythology and symbols. That’s not a path that really appeals to me, so it took me a while to get past my knee-jerk rejection of those aspects to appreciate the other aspects of the book. Beyond psalms and calls to the Trinity, there are various intersections between his practice and my own. Specifically, there is an emphasis on a make-do attitude, and working with the land and nature.
What was more interesting to me, though, as a sewing witch, were the tidbits scattered throughout the book on how sewing notions, thread and fabric have been used in Richards’ craft. For example he mentions that, “For any pain from the jaw up (fever, toothache, earache, and so on), hold a button made of bone in your mouth until the pain subsides.” Richards makes the comparison between this folk remedy and taking communion. For myself, I read it as not only as possibly using the properties of the bone to treat issues related to bones, but as a type of distraction technique: focusing one’s attention on the button in one’s mouth instead of the pain.
Thread and yarn come up a few times in the book, such as when discussing one practice where a piece of yarn is used to measure, “an afflicted or symbolic part of the body.” The yarn is then knotted and dealt with in various ways. This is a type of knot magick that is used in folk magick from various traditions. Later Richards mentions that, “To protect children from the evil eye, a red X was embroidered into the left leg hem of their underwear.” This sentence really excited me because it is near identical to the “witch stitches” I use in my own practice. Seeing a similar concept, used by witches that I have never met and that is part of a larger tradition is gratifying to someone who is pretty much self-taught from no tradition. It’s a rare bit of unexpected validation.
Fabric was also mentioned several times throughout the book, with an emphasis on using flannel in pouches and charms. “Flannel,” Richards writes, “was believed to bring good luck all on its own, so most charm bags are crafted with flannel from old shirts.” I love this explanation of not only why flannel would be the material of choice for spellcrafting, but also the suggestion of what kind of flannel to use. While using old shirts ties back to that make-do, sustainable attitude that underlies so much of folk magick, it also allows one to make charms that are even more tailored and intimate. As a sewing witch, who has a box full of scraps and buttons taken from the old clothes of loved ones, I like to use such items in any magick I’m making for said loved one.
All that said, I think the book is interesting and worth the read.
ICYMI, I have a Goodreads account. I mostly just keep track of the books I am reading there, and occasionally I will post a review.