106: Healing with Wooden Pegs



Using pegs made of various types of wood for remedies and protective charms is a common practice in many different folk healing traditions. New World Witchery has a good post about “plugging” but I thought I’d include some Ozark examples taken from Vance Randolph’s “Ozark Magic and Folklore”.

“To cure malaria, chills, fever, and ague all you need is a hickory peg about a foot long. Drive it into the ground in some secluded place, where you can visit it unseen. Do not tell anyone about this business. Go there every day, pull up the peg, blow seven times into the hole, and replace the peg. After you have done this for twelve successive days, drive the peg deep into the earth so that it cannot be seen, and leave it there. You’ll have no more chills and fever that season. If the cure doesn’t work, it means that you have been seen blowing into the hole, or that you have inadvertently mentioned it to somebody.”

“To cure asthma, bore a hole in a black-oak tree, at the height of the patient’s head. Drive a little wooden peg into the hole, so as to hold a lock of his hair. Cut the hair and peg off flush with the trunk. When the bark grows over the hole so that the peg is no longer visible, and the patient’s hair grows out to replace the missing lock, the asthma will be gone forever.”

“To stop a toothache, one has only to walk into the woods with a friend of the opposite sex, not a blood relation. Stand up against the biggest ironwood tree you can find, while your friend drives a little wooden peg into the tree at the exact height of the aching tooth. I have seen many of these ‘toothache pegs,’ and when I pulled one out invariably found some brown gummy substance in the hole. But people who do this trick tell me that the peg is perfectly clean when it is driven into the tree. To check this matter I drove some pegs into an ironwood tree myself, without any toothache or magical mumbo jumbo; I pulled these out later, at intervals varying from a few weeks to a year, but never found any gummy stuff on my pegs. There may be more to this toothache-peg business than I have been told, but I am setting down such information as I have, for the sake of the record.”

“A hillman whose wife is ‘triflin’ on him’ is sometimes persuaded that he can make everything right by going into the woods at midnight and boring a hole in the crotch of a pawpaw tree. This done, he mutters a secret Biblical quotation, drives a stout wooden peg into the auger hole, and walks away without looking back at the tree. The hole behind the peg may contain a wad of human hair, dried blood, fingernail parings, ‘a piece of a woman’s undergarment, and some unidentified material resembling beeswax.”

“Some of the old-timers drive three nails into the outside of a door, in the form of a triangle, to keep witches away from the cabin; one man told me that the three nails represent the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost and were particularly efficacious in protecting an expectant mother from the powers of evil. Painting the outside of a door blue is said to be a sensible precaution also, and some people make doubly sure by driving several tiny pegs of pawpaw wood into the doorsill.”

“Some hillfolk plant a cedar peg, with three short prongs, in the pathway to keep witches away from a backwoods cabin. It is said that this device is particularly favored by certain primitive Christians, who regard it as representative of the Trinity. It is very bad luck to disturb such a symbol, whether one believes in witchcraft or not. Enlightened hill people may laugh at these outworn superstitions, but they are nevertheless very careful not to step on a ‘witch peg.’”

“If it is possible to obtain any part of the witch’s body such as fingernail parings, a lock of hair, a tooth, or even a cloth with some of her blood upon it the witch doctor has recourse to another method. Out in the woods at midnight he bores a hole in the fork of a pawpaw tree, and drives a wooden peg into the hole. Once, despite the protests of a superstitious hillman who was with me, I pulled out one of these pegs and examined it. The end was covered with beeswax, in which several long hairs were imbedded. There was a circle of what appeared to be dried blood higher up on the peg, and the auger hole contained a quantity of fine sand. A similar ‘pawpaw conjure’ is sometimes employed by cuckold husbands, but it is primarily intended to deal with women who ‘talk the Devil’s language.’”

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