Brandon Weston comes from a family of Ozark traditional healers, people who have home remedies to cure any number of things and believe in the power of having bedside company through illness.
Since he had grown up surrounded by people like Uncle Bill, who might cure warts, and other family members who would treat ailments or go to see a “witch woman” for a rash, Weston took it as part of average life and never gave it a second thought. It wasn’t until he entered college, however, that he realized his experiences were markedly different from his friends who didn’t grow up in the area.
Weston explores the traditions and practices of Ozark healers in his two books, “Ozark Folk Magic: Plants, Prayers, and Healing” and “The Ozark Mountain Spell Book: Magic and Healing.”
So, how far does your family go with their access to this area?
We have a lot of generations here. We go back to the Ozark white settlement in the 1810s or 1820s. Before that they were in Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina – generally Appalachia. I enjoy genealogy; I don’t like having unsolved mysteries. We still have a few areas where records are limited.
In your TedX Fayetteville talk, you mentioned a moment when you changed your perspective on your family’s capabilities and realized that not every family can do what you do. Can you tell me more about this topic?
People don’t always know (that such things are) part of the culture until someone from the outside tells them “You do things we don’t”. I remember the “wait, other people don’t do this” moment. Because that’s just the way the Ozark family was about.
We have always been a Haki family. My great uncles and great aunts at family reunions will have plenty of stories and tall tales. I grew up immersed in Ozark culture as it changed in the 20th century. A lot of moments determined by (this) type of culture. I’m talking about the remnants of those that survived with subsequent generations.
My great uncle was a wart magician; He can heal them.
Ozark Folk Magic seems to be a unique book. I haven’t seen anything else dealing with these topics.
This work is really important. My main goal in writing has been to stimulate conversations and inspire other Ozarkers to piece together their own family and community practices, to develop a sense of identity and connection to magical traditions.
Coming from witchcraft and pagan societies, we do not want to fit in culturally with them, we want to connect with the traditions of our ancestors.
One thing I’ve found in the United States is that we don’t know where we come from. In My Family, genealogy traced my family to 15 different countries. How can I connect to that when they come from all over Europe? We offer, first and foremost, a lost perspective—from the traditional healers of the Ozark Mountains.
I wanted to present stories from teachers I’ve worked with and my own. I wanted to provide people, who feel they may have a healing gift, with an essential reference guide and practices to engage with. I went back and forth with whether I wanted to introduce it because Ozark folk practices were a secret. There is still a lot that I will never post.
Everything I have publicly posted has been taught, and I feel everyone will benefit from it.
How did you come to understand that the Ozark culture exists and that it is different from other cultures?
I didn’t know anything about this stuff until I got to college and found Vance Randolph, the Civil War-era folklorist who wrote about the Ozarks. Reading that, something clicked. They were exactly the things I saw from my family.
From there I gobbled up everything I could find, but there is very little in the Ozarks out there. Historically, we’re getting better at Ozark history, but there’s not much folklore. Most were talking about the turn of the 20th century, but I wondered, “Where are we today? Are there modern practitioners of the tradition?”
I started doing tours, just walking around talking to people and learning what I could do. I began working with healers, teachers, and small communities and learned about The Gift, the innate power of healing. My work has kind of shifted from collecting folklore to things that I can use.
I consider myself a traditional healer and practitioner. I was not only writing folklore but (doing therapy). There is nothing from the practitioners point of view. All previous writings were from outside narrators and narrators.
How have healing practices changed in recent years?
Modern practitioners are very different from historical practitioners. The old ones were specialists like my Uncle Bill on warts and the ability to stop the blood in a wound. Since the healers were dead and because they couldn’t pass on the practices, it started to intensify.
New traditional practitioners fill in the gaps with other things we learn. We tend to operate in more general terms, more like a magical advisor than anything else. The people I work with, I pride myself on being able to help them no matter what the problem is by connecting to the healing process, whether it be misfortune, bad relationships, these are the things that in the good old days would make room for healing. we will. People will relate to the process and develop specific rituals for them.
So modern therapists have to know a lot about a lot of areas, then.
The work I do covers just about everything, and it’s challenging at times, but I find it very rewarding to do as well. It would be easy to specialize. I see myself providing another aspect of the healing process. I urge people to seek medical help when needed and generally receive a lot of medical requests. If it doesn’t work for them first, I offer the mental, spiritual, and magical part of the healing process our ancestors went through along with healing the body. Healers pick up where modern medicine drops people.
What does this combination of modern therapy and modern medicine look like?
I have clients who specifically ask for healing or prayers, such as blessing a medication so it works the way it’s intended. I develop rituals for people who are sick or in the hospital. I see myself as a bit of a folk psychologist and help provide a connection to their spirit process.
I am an herbalist, but i work more with the mental and spiritual than with medicine. This is not to say that I do not work with plants, it is still an important part of the practice, but for me there are things I have to be careful about to work in the modern world. There’s a lot we have to deal with that our grandparents didn’t.
We had a workshop that stressed that (Anyone) is probably on a prescription medication, which could interact with herbal remedies. It is even more important that they seek appropriate medical treatment. But we would love to be there if a person wants to relate to the healing process in a different way.
In the old Ozarks, there was no segregation. Both doctors and therapists will remain in the patient’s home observing them, in a (real, physical) bedside manner. Now we approach this in a different way (separating medical, mental, and spiritual health practices). In my Ted talk, I describe this work as an important part of Indigenous cultures. A system in Alaska with tribal states working with health professionals in hospitals found that having cultural representatives in the hospital resulted in people recovering faster when they received appropriate medical care as well as culturally specific operations to make them feel comfortable in the process.
That’s what I do too.
Can you give me an example of your practice?
There are a few stereotypes that make everything (apparently wise) so simple. The therapists you’ve worked with, you may not know they do anything. Some sit quietly on a chair. Or the more traditional might carry a Bible or have someone carry it. Some pass and take a hand on someone.
But the amazing thing for me is the idea that external simplicity does not always mean internal. There are a lot of things going on.
There are long prayers to recite from memory. There is a fear that if you speak out loud to certain people or write it down, it will disappear. The things you posted are not that.
He was one of my teachers who (helped) find the gift in me, had a hard time about asking a lot of questions. As a therapist, she said, we should be able to do whatever we need to do in a completely empty prison cell. One of those foundational lines about Ozark practice is the idea that at the end of the day, it’s all about the instinctive connection, with my own abilities doing what I need to do, whether you have the right plants or ritual stuff or setting or the right timing.