Folkloric witchcraft is a stream of traditional witchcraft that focuses on the stories surrounding witches to inform a contemporary practice. What makes folkloric witchcraft distinct from traditional witchcraft is a shift in focus. Folkloric witchcraft focuses on the belief in what witches do rather than the reality of what witches do. This means that folkloric witchcraft is not a reconstruction, because folkloric witchcraft is not attempting to rebuild a practice that once existed.
What Does a Folkloric Practice Look Like?
A folk witch brings folklore to life. The first thing I do when trying to solve a problem or answer a question is refer to either the folklore or the spirits. Folklore provides a wealth of information spanning how to become a witch to how to protect yourself from a witch. These stories give us tidbits about how magic works, what spirits do, and how to solve problems. Fairy tales, urban legends, and even modern imaginings of witches can all be sources of information.
A folkloric practice is just as much reading and listening to stories as it is digging in the dirt and talking to ghosts. It's grinding a pestle and mortar to help you fly like Baba Yaga. It's putting silver coins under your computer to make it start working again. It's dancing around trees to call the devil. It's anything that surrounds the image of the witch and can be brought into contemporary life.
Reading Folklore Like a Witch
As an exercise, treat all folklore as real until proven fake. (This is just an exercise don't take it literally y'all.) Think about a famous witch, I'll use Baba Yaga as an example. Baba Yaga flew in a pestle and mortar. Flight is seen as symbolic in folklore for a witch leaving their body in spirit form to roam free. So thinking like a folk witch, a pestle and mortar can be used to help leave the body. Now you've come up with a concept from the folklore, try it out.
Get herbs that are associated with spirit flight and throw them into a pestle and mortar. Now grind them up. Don't be aggressive, let the tool do the work. Let that grinding noise, that faint scraping, be like a drum beat and lead you into trance. Continue grinding the herbs while the plant spirits reach out from the mortar and help guide your spirit out of your body. Continue drifting into trance until you leave your body.
Did it work? If not, give it a few more tries and if it feels right keep it up until you see results. If there are no results, okay move on. Think of folklore as leaving hints, guiding you on the right path. If a guide gets you lost, well get a new one.
Bringing it Home
Folkloric witchcraft is also a practice utilized to bring the focus on the witches land. Many times we look to European stories rather than stories from the soil we live on. In fact I just did this by looking at Baba Yaga, a Slavic witch. There's nothing wrong whatsoever with looking at these stories, but if they don't work try something from home.
My go-to selection of American Witch-stories is The Silver Bullet in which Hubert J. Davis compiles fantastic stories from the Southern United States (Mostly the Appalachian Mountains) all about witches. One stand-out bit of lore for spirit flight is the use of keyhole to fly. Try using this imagery instead of the mortar and pestle. Use the keyhole as a gateway between the worlds. Try concocting specially prepared oils like one witch used. An oil that strips the skin and an oil that lets you fly. Ask familiar spirits for help. If one method doesn't work, keep at it or shift gears.
The land has a unique sentience that is not bound to European gods, and yet it is common practice to invoke these gods to represent or speak for the land. A folkloric witch may look at urban legends to find clues to the spirits of the land. MothMan in West Virginia, Champ in Lake Champlain, or even good ole' Skunk Ape here in the Everglades could all be hints towards land spirits making themselves known. Most folks would just think of these creatures as legends, but a folk witch can look beyond the stories and make their own decisions about the validity of the monsters as spirits.
Building a folkloric practice isn't a complicated one. Listen to the stories your ancestors told. Listen to the stories your parents tell. Listen to the stories the land is telling. That is how you shape a folkloric practice.
Photo taken by Aaron Oberon. All images and content copyright by author Aaron Oberon, 2018. All rights reserved.