Ghosts and witches, Ozark style

October is my favorite month – and not just because I was born in it – but I can’t say Halloween is my favorite holiday.

For starters, growing up, we didn’t celebrate it, for religious reasons. So I don’t have any fond childhood memories of trick-or-treating or bobbing for apples (do kids still do that?) or anything of the sort.

Secondly, I’m not that keen on getting “skeered.” I keep away from horror flicks and especially anything hinting at dark powers (demons and the like). The jury is still out with me when it comes to ghosts. wes-photo

I know that isn’t a very Ozark-like position. Probably a majority of the hillfolks I know believe in such a thing as lost souls roaming the earth and terrifying the bejeezus out of people. I ain’t saying there isn’t SOMETHING to it. I’m just saying I’m not so sure these things are “ghosts” as traditionally defined and believed in.

This is coming from someone who lived, as caretaker, for two years in a Civil War house that had been used as a hospital following two battles around the premises. People died terrible deaths in and around that house. Still, I never saw nor heard nor felt anything supernatural or unexplained the entire time I lived there. Not once.

The closest thing to strange that ever happened to me in my life was hearing my name very distinctly hissed near my left ear one night as I was reading in a chair. “Wessssleeey,” it whispered, and rather maliciously too, I thought.

I was about 14 years old. I actually got up and went to my sister, who was fast asleep on the nearby screened-in porch, to see if she had called to me through the screen door. The voice was that clear. It must have just been in my head. Except I would have sworn on a Bible at the time that it wasn’t. I’ll admit, I was a little shaken.

­All that said, my people in the Ozarks, that is those who lived and died before, had a lot to say about ghosts, as documented by Mr. Vance Randolph in the early decades of the 20th century.

For one, ghosts prefer to show themselves in the dark of the moon. That means the 1-3 days of the lunar phase when the moon isn’t visible (the New Moon).

If you’re of the believing sort, stay away from redbud and pawpaw trees. Spirits like to congregate around them. Don’t ask me why.

You can spot a ghost from astride a horse by looking between the horse’s ears. Speaking of horses, they can spot ghosts when you can’t – same as dogs – though that is probably generally known today, from movies and novels and such.

If you do see a spirit, and are afraid it means you harm, address it “in the name of God” or in the name of the fully Trinity. It can’t do you any harm then. If it’s actually a demon it will vanish. If it’s just a spirit, it will answer you civilly. I believe I might prefer it just to go away, though. I’m not much for conversing with the dead.

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If you think you know to whom the restless soul belongs, put a stone on the person’s grave. It will “lay the spirit down.” It can be a large stone or small. Doesn’t matter. It might be a good idea to go ahead and throw a few pebbles on grandpa. Just in case.

The old-timers also had a mite to say about witchcraft. Witches can kill someone, for instance, by scraping dirt from a fresh grave at midnight with the forefinger of the left hand, mixing it with the blood of a black bird – a crow is best, but a black chicken is OK if need be, tying the mixture in a rag that has touched a corpse, and burying it under the doorstep of the targeted victim. Ahem. Well, then.

A seemingly simpler method a witch may use to kill someone is by walking clockwise around them three times. Less work, same result. Work smart, not hard, I reckon. If the intended victim is sick in bed, with the bed against one wall, the witch can also just walk around the person’s cabin three times in the dead of night.

Now, it’s pretty easy to reveal a witch. If a man kisses a witch, the coins in his pocket will all turn black. So if you suspect someone of being in league with the Prince of Darkness, smooch away if you dare.

Also, when a witch enters the house, any raw onions that have been cut up and peeled will immediately sour and actually become poisonous. I reckon the first person to take a bite of whatever meal those onions are a part of will be a physical warning to the others.

Remember, witches always have shifty eyes, unless they are bewitching someone at that very moment, in which case they they will stare right at them.

If sparks from a fire seem to fly toward a particular person, you can bet that person has something to do with witchcraft.

To keep witches away, the well-known upside down horseshoe nailed over a door is a proven method. Also, you can hammer three nails (representing the Trinity) close together in a triangle into the outside of the door itself.

Or you can hang the guts of a horned owl, or the testicles of a squirrel, over your door as well. But I think I’d rather just put up a horseshoe.

Happy Halloween.

(Wes Franklin can be reached at 417-658-8443 or

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