1. The Infamous Witch

A song sung in Tennessee often has two meanings–one apparent to whomever listens to it, and one coded for a deliberate audience.  You probably learned about this in school, how a field full of people picking cotton might sing “Follow the Drinking Gourd” to direct a man hidden in the stand of trees to go north in the direction the Big Dipper points, while the overseer sits on his horse, oblivious.

That’s the way the story of the witch goes, too.  Some folks tell the story as if it’s a story about an old woman angry about being cheated in a slave trade.  Others tell it as if it’s a story about a man who couldn’t keep his hands off his daughter, and the embodiment of her unspoken fury.

It is a story about revenge, at least the way I heard it; that much is true.

And it is a story of a young mother, but not the Bell woman.  This is the story of a young mother sold to a new family, away from her babies, who swore to always hate the whole family, to destroy them all, starting with the father, the worst, the one with the sharp tongue and the quick fist.  But those were strange times, and, eventually, she softened towards the women.  Helped keep them safe as she could, as safe as she could.

She could wander around the house unnoticed.  She knew what plants in the wilds of Robertson County could kill.  She could slip the poison into the food.  She could work the foot magic that hobbled the old man.  She could speak without anyone noticing her mouth moving.  She could make an animal do her bidding.  She could stop a president in his tracks.  And she could read, though no one knew that, but her.

“Do you know Marie Laveau?”

“Yes,” I said.

“This woman could have been like that, if she wasn’t stuck out in the country.  If you know the Work, you can recognize a Worker.  And the Witch was a powerful Worker.  You hear that story, if you know what to listen for, and you hear the story of the greatest hoodoo woman in Tennessee.  Hands down.”

“Do you think she still haunts that place?”

“Sure I do.”

“Have you seen her?”

“Oh, no.  I don’t mess with things that powerful.  Now my grandmother, in her day, she might have.  She was fearless.  But not me.  I know better.  There’s trouble.”

“Why do you think she’s still there?”

“Because that’s her land, now, sweetie.  That’s the point of the story–You do the Work; you get the reward.”


8 thoughts on “1. The Infamous Witch

  1. Just because I’d hate for this post to be ignored in the midst of our own local versions of PrimaryFail and RaceFail, and all the national RapeFail stuff, let me ask whether you can do links to your map in the individual ghost stories. Also to ask whether you think there’s any truth to this one.

  2. Stop reading my mind for the last 30 years, B.


    Most importantly, what a gift you have. We may be dead from Teh Amazing before Halloween.

    Thank you. Looking forward to the rest.

  3. Ha, I was trying to do links FROM the map to the posts. Had not even considered from the posts to the map. Let me see if I can figure out how to do that.

    Also, nm, it’s hard to say, since so much of what has been reported about the Bell Witch was reported decades after the fact. But, if we’re assuming that many of the things reported did happen–that people were attacked in the home, that walking across things caused people illness, that a disembodied voice was heard–you’re looking for someone in the house who was both always present and pretty invisible. A slave fits that.

    And the foot-magic, if those reports are accurate, is almost surely African in origin. While a lot of magical traditions rely on the victim coming near or in contact with a hidden object, stepping on or over that object in order to start it working is almost always African-derived.

    Even other traditions that have picked it up seem to have picked it up from African-descended magic.

  4. I am alone in my house this morning and that last line made me have to look over my shoulder.

    I’m looking forward to the rest too!

  5. In the meantime, if you click on the map to make it take you to its own page, it will let you look at the title of the story and take you to where that story takes place.

    Still, it kind of sucks that I don’t have brains enough to pull off the most obvious interaction.

  6. HIstory AND fable. Both in service to the truth. The best kind of fiction. Thanks, B.

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