Culture and Religion
Cultural and Religious beliefs differ among various Melungeon families and settlements. Quite commonly, the cultural and religious beliefs of Melungeon communities didn't drastically differ than the greater Appalachian communities around them. Primitive Baptist religions defined most households, however, none were short on folklore and superstition. Survival and a yearning for understanding were the foundation for many folk remedies, unique traditions, and beliefs that shaped Melungeon homes.
Superstitions dictated everyday life for Melungeon families. From how we planted our farms and gardens to how we entered and exited homes, were all driven by superstition. Planting by the signs is a practice still followed by many Melungeon familes, and superstition states it is bad luck to leave a house from a different door than you entered. Superstitions around deaths and birth gifts are especially prevalent. Beliefs around being born with a veil over the face or being born blue say these babies will be healers or spiritually sacred. Superstitions about animals were also especially common. Particularly around black animals like black cats, black dogs, and black hens. Often times superstitions about black cats and black hens played a role folk magic practices that called for black hen feathers or black cat fur, fr faith and folk healing methods involving a black hen egg, while superstitions about seeing black dogs indicated death is near.
In a community with little access to healthcare due to discrimination, isolation, and poverty, faith healing was often relied on to save lives or cure ailments. Examples of faithhealing include using bible verses to stop blood, talking the fire out of burns, charming warts away, and curing thrush. Some believe these gifts are only given to the seventh son of a seventh son, while others believe they are passed on. When passed on it is often believed that it must be passed from male to female and vice versa, some believe it must be whispered, and some believe that once you pass it on you no longer posess the gift yourself. Many times bible verses, prayer, and psalms are used in faithhealing, while others turn to snakehandling or baptism.
Folk magic and medicine
Much like faithhealing and superstition, folk medicine and magic were often relied on for healing both physically and spiritually. Practices like Braucherei, Machashaba*, and Hillbilly hoodoo are all examples of folk magic and folk medicine practices held by Melungeon families. Communities relied on their granny woman or yarb dr over professional healthcare for remedies and medicines. Many times these medicines included things like herbs, spices, minerals, and other substances used to create tonics, teas, salves, tinctures and other physical aids to help with ailments such as toothaches, wounds, headaches, congestion, cough, asthma, diaper rash, etc. The use of asfidity bags was common in warding off illness and black salves created for wounds and slivers. Using stump water for blemishes or dishrags to charm off warts are commonly used today as folk remedies. Folk magic and medicine was also relied on for healing the soul or spiritual warfare. Many people believed in crossings and hexings and used folk magic to ward them off or reverse them. Smoke cleansing, herbal baths, burying things at crossroads, making nannie dolls, using blue glass and haint blue paint to ward off haints, using red dirt and coal powder or iron rail spikes for protection of the home and other traditions are commonly seen to this day.
*This terminology is heavily debated and many refer to it only as folkcraft.
Though there is some record of Melungeon people being anti religious or practicing non abrahamic or polytheistic religions, it is commonly seen that by the end of the 19th century many had assimilated into some form of Pentecostal or Primitive Baptist Church belief system. The practice of Snake Handling* was also present in a small amount of Melungeon families. Though many religious, our ancestors still believed in the power and spirit of the land and universe and didn't tend to view folk practices as sinful. Melungeon families relied on religious superstitions to help deal with loss in the form of sin-eaters to relieve the deceased of sin and ensure their entry to heaven, and feather crowns as a sign their loved one had crossed on when found inside a feather pillow that belonged to the deceased. Today Melungeon people practice a large variety of religious or spiritual practices, some may not identify with any and some may be against religion. Melungeon is not an ethnoreligious group and religion is not tied into our ethnic identity, and one should be wary of any claims that all Melungeon families practiced or were required to practice a specific religion to be considered Melungeon, our religious and spiritual views continue to vary just as they have in the past.
*Presently, Snake Handling is illegal in multiple states and should only be practiced by trained professionals
-Patricia A Waak
-Elizabeth Caldwell Hinchman
In A Graveyard at
My Bones Are Red
Folk Medicine in
Melungeons: The Last
Lost Tribe in America