Davyd I’m really happy to be able to introduce Orion Foxwood to Indie Shaman. Orion is a traditional witch, a conjure man and author of several great books including The Faery Teachings and The Tree of Enchantment. He was born with the veil in the state of Virginia and brought up in a family of faith healers, root doctors and Southern and Appalachian folk magic.
Welcome to you Orion its lovely to be chatting to you today.
Orion Lovely to talk to you.
Davyd There’s so much I’d like to talk about with you but I’m going to get to the roots, if you’ll pardon the pun, of all of the work that you do. Perhaps it would be a good start if you could explain a little bit about what is Appalachian folk magic?
Orion Sure. I think the first thing to start off would be who are the Appalachian people? The Appalachian people, or the Hill Folk as we often call ourselves, are from the Appalachian chain of mountains which extends all the way from Virginia to Maine in the United States. So you have Northern Appalachia and Southern Appalachia. We can tell where a person is from by how they say it. If they say “Appa-lay-shun” they are from Northern, if they say “Appa-la-shun” they are from Southern. Appalachian folks are very much, in some ways, secluded because they are in the mountains. Also in Southern Appalachia slavery never made it up into the mountains. So it’s a very different mind-set of hardworking and very religious people.
The Christianity I grew up with, which most anthropologists would call Folk Christianity, is very much Pagan at its roots. To give you a feel for Appalachian spiritual life … the soul of the spirituality … my momma used to say from time to time “Now kids I want you to stay inside with your daddy for about 2 hours. Mommas got to go out and touch the plants so she can hear God” (we had a big garden, it was 5 acres). Appalachian spirituality, its rich, its deep, its soulful. We don’t believe we own the land, the land owns us. And we romance the land – you talk to any Appalachian and the land they live on is kin, the land they live on is holy and sacred.
We’re very poor financially but deeply rich spiritually. There’s a special something Appalachian people have, I believe. It’s often hard to break into those communities because they are closed. The spirit workers that are there are what we would call a conjure worker. A conjure worker is more of a Southern term – you hear it more in the Carolinas and in the South – but I’ll use it often because it explains what I’m talking about; the synchronistic folk spirituality of the South, specifically the Agrarian South, then later in the cities of the South after emancipation and African influences.
My Appalachian roots were interesting because they were from the Shenandoah Valley, its Southern culture, plantation culture down in the valley and then Appalachian pouring in from the mountains. So you get quite a mixture of folk magic, folk healing, folk spirituality … the first time I ever heard of God as a little boy I heard him referred to as ‘the life that runs through all things’ … isn’t that beautiful ‘the life that runs through all’.
Davyd When we were talking before you were explaining to me about the various types of influences in Appalachian folk which includes: First Nations, shamanic pathways, a little bit of Voodoo and also what we would call Celtic folk magic as well. Can you elaborate a little on how those different traditions have come together and what the influences are in the area you are from and in yourself? Because it’s three different pathways but there is a lot of connections between the First Nations people and the Celtic people for lots of reasons?
Orion Oh yes – a sort of shared soul wisdom a certain way we relate from the soul. In fact interestingly when I’ve hung out with workers from the Congo they have commented; they say there’s this African presence that I feel in your soul. Some of that is the influence of African American culture and of the African slave trade on the culture of that I grew up in. But it also helps that my momma was born on a plantation in slaves’ quarters, a place called Hollingsworth Place, near Cedar Creek where the famous battle was during the Civil War. Mom was birthed by a freed slave. We knew her as Miss Granny which in Appalachian speak is a term of endearment for an elder woman. If you call her Granny Woman or Miss Granny that means she’s a midwife but it also means she’s a wise woman.
In terms of influences when you say Appalachia that’s a big word – it’s like Celtic. When people say Celtic there are some core attributes shared across all the variants of the Celtic tradition but that’s a big word meaning a big multi-dimensional type of culture. Appalachian is the same way. The Appalachian mountain chain is a very long chain and these areas were very secluded up in the mountains and Hill Folks love their ‘hollers’, where there is one way in and no other way out. That way they could be secluded; they could just be them with their kin the mountains, the trees. Most Appalachians are just as happy to be just with their folk and with God as they understand God – and with Nature because Nature and God are just the same to the Appalachian.
Davyd One of the things that’s just occurred to me is that all of the three groups of people we have talked about have been severely oppressed, all people who have had their land taken from them or been forcibly evicted from their lands. Maybe in all of that there is some kind of understanding about what it’s like to lose your place on your land.
Orion Well I think there is something about the suffering too. You either survive or don’t survive. Whether its racism or extreme poverty or whatever – it brings pain so you unearth the deep waters of the soul. We have a big wave of crystal meth going on at the moment and that’s the next big thing that’s destroying our culture … but at the same time you’ll see this richness of spirit this richness of music and art. I had a big ‘aha’ moment some years ago. I started noticing patterns in cultures that had a strong wave of magic and magical practice and what I found was magic most rears its head when freedom is most challenged. And I think magic is about the freedom of the soul to be a conscious creator; a partner of the divine. Not just a worshipper of the divine – a partner. Not equals – more like the fingers on a hand. Wherever freedom is most oppressed this volcanic eruption will happen of the ability through spiritual means to take control of our destiny and restore justice or restore the balance; our freedom.
But right now I think the thing that is most endangered is our planet. Not that I don’t think our planet can’t defend herself; I’m sure she could shake us off like fleas on the back of a dog. But we’re causing the web of life to shake too much and I fear that if we don’t come together and let these magics resurface … so that we can see the invisible connections between visible things, so we can get back that wisdom that once knew why the water tastes bitter downstream after we’ve peed in the water upstream, so we can get back into an intimate relationship with life.
I have a theory that all the churches, synagogues, temple, workshops, they’re filled with one thing – homesickness. We as a species are feeling the loss of connection – to each other, to the things that mean most to us, to the earth itself. And there’s an abandonment, fear, fury and shame that’s showing itself in the behaviours of our species. But for some of us something breaks our heart open, something cracks open the window, so we can see. Some of us weren’t born with the ability to shut off seeing the intimacy of life. I think that is what this interview, what the Shamanic Lands Event is about. It’s in these places where we can come together and be the agents of change. We are all in the process of remembering.
Davyd Personally I think the planet is going to be fine; Mother Earth has been through this process of regeneration and cleansing many times before. I fear more for humans; I think we are the ones most in trouble. You said previously that overspecialisation is a hallmark of a species about to go extinct. I think that’s a really pertinent point; that we have to wake up collectively and quickly to realise that the planet will survive but perhaps we won’t.
Orion This profound grandmother once said to me, “Orion we need nature, we need a lot of nature – for our food for our shelter for everything – nature doesn’t really need us right now”. That’s not a good place to be. She said that the more considerate we are of nature the more our presence in it matters – the more the other species almost want to fight for our survival. And when we’re living close to the rhythms, nature in all her glory, all her wisdom and mystery, presents herself to us all the time. The different plants that bring the medicine we need – we will find ourselves growing, right outside our front door. But right now we’re at a place that when a human walks into the woods, the woods recoils – things run – and that’s not where we need to be. We need to be able to walk into the woods and whole plant species go, ‘Yup those are those critters that give us the good fertilizer we like’. Or ‘they’re the ones that really take care of us’. Or ‘they don’t even know me and they trimmed me and I survived the disease’. We need to get into selfless acts of nature.
Davyd I guess it’s a bit like turning up at a party and you’re known as the person who always brings the really yummy scrumptious food. Or you’re the dude that turns up and gets blind drunk and causes a big scene and a big argument. Which one are we? Are we the person that everyone is happy to see or the one that everyone dreads turning up.
Orion Oh absolutely. As the Grandmother says ‘you don’t write, you don’t call, except when you need something’! I think we have to start calling on Nature – calling on whatever we call it, Great Spirit, Goddess, God – just to praise it; to say I love you, thank you, how may I serve. And when we serve the wellbeing of others, non-human, we’ll find that we are taken care of. Like in the old religion; the focus on the fertility of the crops and on the plants, that’s not for the well-being of humanity, that’s for the well-being of the plants and the animals. If we take care of them we will be taken care of. And that’s a mind-set we’ve got to get into. We’re so humanocentric – when we think of a dog that’s smart, for example, it’s because that dog knows its name – it acts human. I don’t know that that’s the hallmark of intelligence because that dog put out in the wild is going to survive much better than me; it’s not removed from its instincts, it’s not removed from its inner knowing and it hasn’t specialised and internalised its intelligence so much. We’ve got to go back and get intimate with ourselves and with life again. And that’s when the intuition will balance with the ‘extuition’ and we will know how to invent in compassionate and co-creative ways. I look forward to those days – I know they are going to happen but we may have some pains on the way.
Davyd Yeah, one of the reasons that we have felt called to organise this special Otherworld edition of The Shamanic Lands is for all of the reasons you’ve just talked about. And we understand the imperative need for us, as humans, to reconnect to nature is possibly the key to our survival as a species on this planet right now. When we go outside into the forest and we immerse ourselves in that energy we can still feel the presence of those otherworld beings – of the tree beings, the plant beings. So when we were putting this event together it was really important for us to connect with people such as yourself. Can you elaborate on the connection to the Otherworld – the Underworld as it’s sometimes called – what does it mean to you and why do you feel its important right now?
Orion The first thing I have to say is that the Underworld is the subtle world. The Underworld is not about how things appear, it’s how things are; it’s the realm of the arriving not the arrived. Sometimes we think of it as ‘down there’ but that’s a sort of illusion. It seems like there is an ‘up there’ and a ‘down there’ because of the way that we are built – the way our head moves and our sight moves. But the truth is there is really an ‘out there’, an ‘in there’ and a ‘right here’.
The best way we can understand this is we breathe. We have lungs that breathe; that is the surface world. We have lungs that breath out into a greater world – it’s a world full of breath – that’s the upper world. But we also have lungs that breathe the greater world into this deeper world (*points to own chest*) and brings life out of it. We breathe in and we oxygenate our whole internal galaxy. So if we start thinking of this concept of the three worlds as really points along the strata of life; I like the breathing concept of movement in, a mental hold and movement out. And so all things on the surface world are on their way somewhere else, they’re all transition states of energetic consciousness.
When we’re working with the Underworld and we want to receive its wisdoms we have to treat it like we’re walking on the edge of the ocean and we see this little shell and we really want it. We want it but if we’re wise ‘wanters of shells’ then we know we’ve got to calibrate a relationship between two things, the motion of the ocean and the velocity of our reach. The Underworld can be a challenge because you can’t make it do anything and you can’t reach too hard. The Underworld is the inner draw of life’s breath. We’ve all touched it when we’ve been walking in the woods and suddenly we feel that sense of otherness; like we’re transplanted into a ‘not place not time’, where things are suspended and there is just the eternal now, the eternal arriving. This place we call the Underworld or the Otherworld is the undergirding, underbelly of life and right now we’ve grown top heavy with outer awareness, with sciences that want to go expansive but not deep. There’s a saying I grew up with ‘you cannot bless the fruits and curse the roots’. The ‘re-sacredising’ of our relationship with the underworld, the underbelly of life, the ancestral realm, the ever arriving ancestral wisdom, is a must. Trees have it down, plants have it down – they always drop their roots first and then they seed up. We kind of go the other way because we train ourselves to do that. And so right now we have a lovely brain but the human brain, as smart as it is, can be a high chair tyrant that can’t get enough. There’s three places of consciousness; our heart, our head and our belly. The Underworld says get into the belly and the only way you’re going to get here is through the heart. You’ve got to get to the foundations of things and in the foundational wisdom of the Underworld I truly believe is the sound of the soul – the thing that’s going to bring healing – and we’re going to feel what it truly feels like to be home.
Davyd So just before we wrap up this little chat – you’re going to be over here with us in the beautiful land of Cymru, the Land of the Dragons, here in this very unspoilt part of Wales where we still have very strong nature spirits, the energy of the land is still very strong. You’re going to be running a special workshop for us called ‘Unbinding the spell of forgetfulness; Deep Healing Through Faery/Human Alliance’. Can you just give us a quick note about what that’s about?
Orion Well … my Queen, my spirit wife, my Brigh, the heart of everything I do … One day we were talking about the image of the faerie and how the attack on the old ways was two part. First demonization, make it evil; this often happens with new traditions and old traditions but demonization still says that this connection, this belief, has power. It says, ‘don’t go there, it’s wicked’. But then there’s trivialisation and that’s where we saw the image of the faerie grow smaller and smaller. The powerful thing Brigh shared with me was that they grew just small enough to fit back through the keyhole in human consciousness and return back to its primal strength and beauty again. I asked Brigh ultimately who saved the faerie tradition, the folklore and all this and she said that there is one type of elder that preserved it more than any and that’s the children. In their innocence they saw the beauty in this little image of the faerie. But I think they saw more; they saw hope, they saw seeds of magic and where there’s magic there’s hope. And so here we are now – we all need to touch that original innocence, that starry-eyed childlike wonder, that look that all of life is the wonder that it is; that looks out the window and is befuddled in wonderment by the grandeur of the sky, of the musical sound of growing things. When we touch this it does something to our soul, it heals us. So touching the original innocence and the healing heart of faerie is to turn back to the original feeling of wonderment, the childlike innocence that we once had. That doesn’t say it takes away from our discernment as adults. But there’s a saying that was on a sign in Winchester Park – which was the closest town to where I lived in Virginia – it said ‘The adults stop playing to grow old’, meaning you grow old if you stop playing. So this is about returning to the innocent heart to be befuddled, be-wondered, by the deep powerful force of the ancestors of all life – the Shining Ones – that are at the origins of all life – faerie.
Davyd How can people find out more about the work you do?
Orion Well my website is still being constructed so be kind! Its orionfoxwood.com. I’m also on Facebook but I’m slow at this IT stuff. But if you have any questions please feel free – I do respond.
Davyd Thank you for taking the time to chat to me and many blessings on all of your work.
Orion Thank you and blessings of the holy ancestors.
Orion Foxwood is a traditional witch, conjure-man and faery seer. The author of The Faery Teachings, The Tree of Enchantment, The Candle & the Crossroads and The Flame in the Cauldron. Born with the veil in Shenandoah Valley, Virginia he was exposed to faith-healing, root-doctoring, faery lore and Southern and Appalachian folk magic which he teaches in workshops and other forums. He is the founder of the House of Brigh Faery Seership Institute and Foxwood Temple, co-founder of Conjure Crossroads, the annual Folk Magic Festival in New Orleans and of Conjure-Craft and the Witches in the Woods gatherings aimed at fostering education, community, co-creative magic and the healing and helping practices of the traditions he carries. Website orionfoxwood.com.
To view a workshop with Orion Foxwood, Traditional Appalachian Folk Healer, Faery Seer & Root Doctor– ‘Teachings Of The Otherworld, please subscribe to Wisdom Hub TV a unique online learning website, delivering educational, inspirational and authentic teachings from the world of nature, healing, earth lore and indigenous wisdom with the objective of helping people reconnect back to nature. The ethos of WisdomHub TV has and always will be community based; through coming together in a central hub we can radiate the teachings of nature back out to the global community members and help teach people how to heal themselves and in doing so help change the direction that the planet is going in.
To watch this interview in full please visit Wisdom Hub TV.
This article featured in Issue 36 of Indie Shaman magazine, published in April 2018