Day 94: How the Witch Doctor Broke A Spell

Folklorist Mary Celestia Parler with Fred High; University of Arkansas Libraries Special Collections.


Told originally by Mrs. Betty Minnick of High, Arkansas on March 20, 1951. Collected by Irene Carlisle and transcribed by Mary Celestia Parler. A recording and transcription appears in “The Ozark Folksong Collection”, a digital collection from the University of Arkansas.

Well, he (her father) was in bed, and they couldn’t—they’d be snakes come in the bed where he was at, and none of ‘em couldn’t see ’em. So Grandma and Grandpa told him to cover up his head; he’d cover up his head, and there’d come waffle irons, right in his face, hot—red-hot waffle irons.

So they was an old man come there, and he says, “Do you believe in witches?” Said, “We sure do!” Said, “Well, I’ll cure your child;” said, “if you believe in witches, I can have the one to come, bring her right here, that’s a-doin’ this bewitchin’.”

So he said he’d be back the next day, this old man did; and he was a witch doctor. So next day he came back, and he said, “How’s the boy this morning?” Grandmother says, “He’s no better; he’s just like he was.” He set and looked at him for awhile, and he said, “Give me a little salt.” Well, this old man went to eatin’ salt, and dreckly, he looked out the door and says, “They’ll be here dreckly,” says, “git a lot of brush in here.” So they made a red-hot fire; put brush on the fire, in the old chimly—they had an old stick-and-clay chimly, so they put their brush in there, and fixed their fire, and set the chair right close by, so that she could set down. Says, “She’ll come to borry somethin’; now watch, she’ll want something.”

Here she come; says, “And don’t let her have it!” He et salt; this old man et salt.

(She) Said, “I’m in a hurry; I want some salt.” Says, “Take that chair”—the old man says, “Take that chair.” “Oh, I’m in a hurry; I want some salt; I’ve got to get back.” Says, “Set down there in that chair.” She says, “I’ve not got time; I’ve got to get back; give me some salt!”

“I’ve not got time; I’ve got to get back; give me some salt!” And he said, “You say, ‘Bless this house and family; great God of high heavens, bless this house and family.’” She says, “My god!“ He says, “Your god’s the Devil.” said, “You bless—say, ‘God of the high heavens, bless high this family and this child.’” So she said, “God of the heavens, bless this child and this house and family”—and out at the door she went, and away she went, and they never saw her nor heared of her no more; and the boy got better.

(He made her break her own spell?)
(What did salt have to do with it?)
Well, I don’t know; that’s jist their way of doctorin’, I reckon.
(Why did witch have to borrow salt?)
Well, I don’t know; she’d borrow salt or something ever’ time she’d come.
(Mrs. Mary Briscoe: “If you leaned it to her, why, then, she could go on.”)
She’d go on, bewitch—bewitch people; but though they wasn’t s’posed to let her have nothing at all.

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