Book Review: Mountain Magic by Rebecca Beyer
Updated: Feb 14
Mountain Magic (publication date February 14, 2023) is a beautifully illustrated collection of the history and presence of magic and folklore in the Appalachian Mountains. Rebecca Beyer, an Appalachian ethnobiologist who was born in Western Pennsylvania and still lives in the mountains, dedicates the book to the diverse people who occupy the land. She teaches readers that the folk magic of Appalachia is ever present but difficult to see. Beyer notes that the Appalachian culture has been long misunderstood and badly represented by outsiders. She lovingly restores faith in the “old Wild Thing” that shrouds the hills and valleys with magic.
The book is divided into sections including The Calling (a breakdown of the different types of Appalachian witches), Mountain Medicine (an overview of the landscape and the folk knowledge of the region), Occult Uses of Appalachian Herbs (such as blackberry, mandrake, goldenrod, and ginseng), The Workings (charms and curses), and Seasonal Lore and Mountain Astrology (a look at the rotating weather and movement of the heavens). Each section is accompanied by beautiful illustrations, recipes, and anecdotes about Appalachian life.
Mountain Magic is full of surprises for the average reader. Beyer explains that Appalachian witches are often practitioners of Christianity who traditionally doctor their families with herbs and charms. She shares that mountain medicine has been heavily influenced by native cultures along with the arrival of Spanish, African, and Scotch-Irish immigrants. She teaches that blood, which can be high, low, thick, or thin, is the most important part of the body when it comes to staying healthy and living in balance with the community and environment.
Although residents of Appalachia may be reluctant to share their folklore with outsiders, Beyer argues that Burn Whisperers (who can take the heat from a burn) and Blood Stoppers (who can heal wounds) have always existed in the mountains and continue to practice today. She explains the gendered rules of magic, reminds readers that forests existed before pharmacies, and shares healing recipes for wild salad and spicebush tea.
I found this short book utterly fascinating and would like to read more books in the Modern Folk Magic series. Mountain Magic skillfully creates a portrait of a place that is steeped in mystery, and readers will come away with a new appreciation for the magic found in the world around them.
You can pre-order the book here.
Thank you to NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.
Kelly Jarvis teaches classes in literature, writing, and fairy tale at Central Connecticut State University, The University of Connecticut, and Tunxis Community College. She lives, happily ever after, with her husband and three sons in a house filled with fairy tale books. She is also The Fairy Tale Magazine's special project’s writer.