Complete Book of North American Folk Magic, edited by Cory Thomas Hutcheson

Cory Thomas Hutcheson, author of New World Witchery: A Trove of North American Folk Magic (2021), has brought together an incredible assembly of folk practitioners from across North America– Mexico, the United States, and Canada.

You will get an own voices insider perspective of Appalachian mountain magic, brujeria, curanderismo, Detroit hoodoo, Florida swamp magic, French Canadian sorcellerie, Irish American folk magic, Italian American magic, Melungeon folk magic, New England cunning craft, New Orleans voodoo, Ozark folk magic, Pennsylvania powwow and braucherei, Slavic American folk magic, Southern conjure, and more.

North America stretches five thousand miles across, nestled in between two great oceans, and within that space, frozen tundra, glaciers, pine forests, deciduous rainforests, blooming deserts, prairies, and towering groves of redwood.

This is the homeland of hundreds of Indigenous nations for millennia, a land ravaged with invasions and displacements, of dark legacies but also a hope for and collective effort to forge a brighter future.

And this is a collection of the magical traditions practiced by the people who reside on this continent.

Folk magic is the way that ordinary people shape the world with the uncanny, otherworldly, or wild power they have access to, much of it sourced from interaction with the landscape.

Was there witchcraft in Salem? We ask in Chapter 1. Learn about anti-malocchio (evil eye) charms and Italian American magic from the Garden State in Chapter 2, and the powwow, a tradition of faith healing through Christ from the Reformed churches of Pennsylvania, or how the chain letter that was the bane of our childhood existence in fact relates to the magical tradition of himmelsbrief, a “heaven letter,” from the Pennsylvania Dutch.

Santeria, also known as La Regla Lucumi, is a widely practiced faith in the African Traditional Religions (ATRs), with its core traced back to the Yoruba of West Africa that found its way to New Orleans and the deep south. Primarily an oral tradition, stories form its backbone, called patakis. 

You’ll read about how different immigrant and ethnic enclaves converged, such as how Chinese traditions and ATR came together on Southern sugar plantations– TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) herbs such as lemongrass, citronella, and palmarosa blended in hoodoo in a formula called Chinese Wash, believed to cleanse away evil and bad luck. Even within North America, the practice of formulating Chinese Wash migrated from the deep south up to Brooklyn and Chicago.

Curanderismo is a tradition of folk healing practiced by the Latinx and found across the El Norte region. Neuvaines were prescribed prayers thanking saints and ancestors for their divine assistance, practiced in French Canadian sorcellerie, or folk witchcraft.

Sidhe is a Gaelic term referring to otherworldly entities, and part of the belief system of Irish American folk magic practitioners. The txiv ua neeb are Hmong shamanic practitioners who have helped to keep old world traditions alive in the Hmong American communities of Minnesota.

Complete Book of North American Folk Magic helps you to chart these immigrant traditions across a map of the continent. “This is a land ruled by old mountain gods, sacred rivers, and endless green. A place where the compass winds were said to battle and where fire was stolen by tricksters,” writes Via Hedera.

This land is one of magic and medicine.

“The best way to learn folk magic is to talk to the folk.” Hutcheson has brought together an assembly of folk practitioners to shed light on the magic of Vicks VapoRub and chain letters, of the haunting stories to reflect on when you see the northern lights, or walk upon the Appalachian hills.

You’ll nod in understanding as to why that porch roof is blue. Now you’ll have deeper context when you watch the parades of Dia de los Muertos or the Lunar New Year.

I’m impressed by the roster of luminaries who have contributed to this collection. Stephanie Rose Bird is the author of seven books, including The Healing Power of African American Spirituality and Four Seasons of Mojo; Starr Casas, who writes about Old Style Conjure south of the Mason-Dixon line, and Ixtoii Paloma Vervantes, full-time Curandera, Mexican Shaman, and elder.

I’m always excited to read Lilith Dorsey’s work, author of Orishas, Goddesses, and Voodoo Queens, along with being a celebrated teacher in our community of Celtic, Afro-Caribbean, and Native American spirituality. Read about Slavic folk magic from Melissa A. Ivanco-Murray, a doctoral candidate in Slavic studies and creator of the Slavic Tarot. This is just to highlight a few of the incredible contributors to this tome.

I’m in here, too, repping The Left Coast, Chinese Americans, and Taoist magic. Here’s an excerpt from my chapter. =)

One common thread among the different secret societies was the trinitarian view that power is harnessed through alchemical and mystical mastery over Heaven, Earth, and Man . . . that concept of the triangle evolved into the modern term for Chinese secret societies: the Triads.

Triad leaders from the mother country formed the tongs. Tong subculture was steeped in Taoist mystical traditions, from blood oaths during initiation and pacing rituals rooted in Taoist ceremonial magic to honoring Guan Di as a patron god.

An Oakland Chinatown faith healer might be a middle-aged man with leathery brown skin and missing teeth, wearing Coke bottle glasses and claiming to descend from seven generations of healers. You’ll go to his apartment, he’ll sit you down in a dimly lit room filled wall to wall with statues of gods and Buddhas, burn so much incense that your eyes tear up, beat on a wood block, and chant over you. Afterward you’d hand him a red envelope thick with cash.

As early as the Zhou dynasty, secret societies formed by rebels, insurgents, revolutionaries, and dissidents against the occupying seats of government tapped into ceremonial magic for their sources of subversive power.

During the Han, the first magical Taoist lineage led the Yellow Turban Rebellion against the emperor, sending China into anarchy during the Three Kingdoms Era. Warlords sought alliances with Taoist sorcerers. Underground resistance organized by Taoist secret societies invoked the old gods and integrated the shamanism of China’s antiquity into their occult orders.

This is an encyclopedia and atlas of North American folk traditions. Take it in chapter by chapter. Continue your education by following the work of the many author practitioners featured here. As the Chaotic Witch Aunt Frankie Castanea put it, “A must-have book for any folk practitioner.”

One thought on “Complete Book of North American Folk Magic, edited by Cory Thomas Hutcheson

  1. I wanted to thank you for your insightful and informative review of the “Complete Book of North American Folk Magic”, edited by Cory Thomas Hutcheson. Your review provided a comprehensive overview of the book, highlighting its strengths and weaknesses, and giving readers a clear idea of what to expect.

    I especially appreciated your detailed analysis of the different sections of the book and the variety of folk magic practices included. Your review has given me a better understanding of the rich history and diversity of North American folk magic.

    Your passion for the subject matter is evident in your writing, and your review has inspired me to delve deeper into the world of folk magic. I look forward to reading more of your reviews and exploring your website further.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and expertise with the world.


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