Book Review: Doctoring the Devil: Notebooks of an Appalachian Conjure Man by Jake Richards

Review by Vincent Higginbotham | Instagram | Twitter 

About the Author

Jake Richards has lived in east Tennessee his whole life; it’s no wonder that deep in his blood and bones is where he holds his Appalachian heritage. For over 500 years his family has worked the land on Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. He grew up spending most of his time on the side of a mountain at his Great-Grandmother’s house in North Carolina. Jake has been practicing Appalachian folk magick for nearly a decade. He owns Little Chicago Conjure located in Jonesborough, Tennessee where he also teaches classes on the subject. His store supplies ingredients and other Appalachian folk magic provisions. Jake is also the author of Backwoods Witchcraft: Conjure & Folk Magic from Appalachia. His Conjure Cards are a fortune-telling card deck complete with a guidebook which will be released later this year. You can follow Jake on both Instagram and Twitter.

About Doctoring the Devil: Notebooks of an Appalachian Conjure Man by Jake Richards

If you have ever driven into the Appalachian Mountains you know why they are called the Smokies. A bluish grey mist dances amongst the peaks reaching so high they seem to be touching heaven. It is no wonder they call this God’s country. Stopping at any lookout point along the winding roads cut into these majestic monoliths provides onlookers with a view of valleys and slopes that seem to indicate that magic is real and it resides here. 

In this book Jake has taken that magic and transmuted it from scenic panoramas into ink and paper. From the first paragraph in the introduction his readers are placed squarely in the center of life on the side of a mountain. He recalls wading in the creek every spring, collecting chicken and duck eggs, and watching as his grandmother canned beans and tomatoes all while being exposed to mountain lore which would one day equipe him for his future as a conjure man. 

From the different types of workers one would find in Appalachia to the mountain lore Jake grew up hearing, we become exposed to a life many of us cannot imagine living. Our city lifestyles and medicinal technologies don’t compare to the innate wisdom of these faith healers, witchdoctors and root workers. We learn about the ability to steal a fever with an egg or to stop blood with a prayer. This is old magic passed down from mother to son and father to daughter. We are introduced to Haints and Plat-Eyes then Bible scriptures which serve as spells. From hexes to healings this book covers it all. 

Capture by Meg Rosenbriar
Pick Up This Book Because

Initially when I was offered the chance to read this book, I didn’t know what to expect. I am neither a Conjure Man nor am I of Appalachian descent. However, I was surprised just how much of the magic in this book made perfect sense to me. It was not completely unfamiliar and yet still it seemed dissimilar from the magic I perform. A key tenant mentioned in an early chapter suggests that one must cover their head while conjuring for fear of going mad, going grey, or having a haint attach themselves to you. This is a new behavior I see myself integrating into my own practice. While I may not be conjuring I can see the entities I work with as requiring the same sort of necessity for reasons that seem to align. 

Other mentions like keeping private and listening more than you speak rang through for me as interchangeable with a particular pillar of Witchcraft, to keep silent. Topics brought up like forms of divination which include, seeking yes or no answers from corn and throwing the bones came across as different but not unusual and completely worth trying. Ideas such as spiritual bathing, hand and foot washing, and sweeping the body all make sense and have practical applications in many other magical paths. 

Honestly, I can see myself revisiting this book multiple times. I read it twice before writing this review, and each time I grasped new ideas that I want to develop for myself and my practice. And that’s the thing about this book. It doesn’t feel like I can’t do exactly that, extract parts that resonate and integrate them into my own magic. There are plenty of things that I don’t see myself using such as Psalms or Bible verses for spell crafting. But this is a personal preference. These do not make or break the book but rather are very clearly part of how Jake and other Appalachians perform magic.

“[T]he most fascinating character in the hills was the root person. This was the old woman who knew everything whispered in the dark, and the man who came over the hills to cure you of a curse, holding a bucket of vomited crickets and salamanders.”

The Magic You Could Learn

There are a growing number of Christian Witches in the world. Often these Witches feel singled out or as if they must be on the defense if they speak up about their belief system. While Appalachian Conjure isn’t the first time I have heard of the Bible being used in magic; it certainly does come off as very open in this book. 

From teaching Egg Cleansings while praying Psalm 86 to creating a charm to protect yourself from haints using Psalm 31:15-17, there is accessible magic to be learned in this book.

Jake teaches his readers every thing you could want in a book on magic. There are complete chapters full of tricks to protect yourself and others, to increase luck and money, or to protect against the law and rain down justice. You can learn love and fidelity spells, fertility, birthing, and abortion magic, or to heal all sorts of things from burns to bleeding. And finally Jake teaches us about curses, not only how to create them but also how to break them. His hexes run the course from breaking up lovers to stopping gossip then he follows up by explaining how to remove most crossings. 

This is the kind of information most people will find something useful in. It is worth coming back to time and again. Beyond that this is a true testament to the fact that Jake is doing his part to keep the culture, history, and people of Appalachia alive.   

Doctoring the Devil: Notebooks of an Appalachian Conjure Man can be purchased here

About Vincent Higginbotham 

Vincent is the author of How Witchcraft Saved My Life: Practical Advice for Transformative Magick which is published by Llewellyn Worldwide and will be released in June 2021. It is available for pre-order now. He has been called to Witchcraft his entire life but failed to pay attention for much longer than he would like to admit. Since truly taking this path seriously he has found his hunger for education is insatiable, he consumes books in an attempt to quench a thirst for knowledge. It is never enough. There is no subject Vincent finds taboo and he believes that every Witch’s voice is deserving of an audience.

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