Tag Archives: Folklore

“An’ it harm none, do what ye will”

"The cards are only suggestions, but if I see something that has a lot to say in it, then I can transcribe it," says Turner.

“The cards are only suggestions, but if I see something that has a lot to say in it, then I can transcribe it,” says Turner.

In his 1929 publication titled Witchcraft in Old and New England, famed literary studies folklorist George Lyman Kittredge paints witches—specifically, women—as harbingers of maleficium when he writes,

…she is hunted down like a wolf because she is an enemy to mankind. Her heart is full of malignity. And her revenge is out of all proportion to the affront, for she is in league with spirits of evil who are almost infinite in strength. The witch is a murderer, or may become a murderer on the slightest provocation. She cannot be spared, for there is no safety for life, body, or estate until she is sent out of the world.

While Kittredge was commenting on prevailing attitudes towards witches in 16th and 17th century England, his descriptions still ring true within a modern framework. It comes as no surprise, then, that those who embraced Neopaganism, Wicca, or witchcraft in the 20th century continued to battle deeply-rooted stereotypes. The conjured image of a gnarled hag whispering incantations over a bubbling cauldron may never disappear entirely, but there are those within the alternative healing community who actively seek to dismantle such outdated models of understanding and reorient public perceptions of healers and psychic practitioners.

In October 1980, folk studies graduate student Jan Laude was introduced to Peggy Sue Turner, a contemporary psychic living in Bowling Green. Over the next 20 months, Laude worked closely with Turner as she made the attempt to understand the “connection between a woman’s  life history and her supernatural experiences.” Laude’s findings were published as her 1982 Master’s thesis titled “A Contemporary Female Psychic: A Folkloristic Study of a Traditional Occupation” and highlight the intersection between narrative and folk belief. Turner’s experiences with “palmistry, the tarot, automatic writing, faith healing, witchcraft, and herbs” are placed within an occupational context, and Laude is intentional in looking at how successful alternative healers “must, to be successful, balance tradition with adaptive mechanisms to accommodate contemporary cultural and social needs.”

Turner, who was born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1932, had her first visionary incident at a young age. She shares with Laude,

…I was roller skating one day. And I had fallen as usual, you know, with the sidewalk burns that you get…And I happened to look up at the sky. It had a cloud formation, or something. I don’t know, it was a vision or what, but it was a huge throne and it was brilliantly outline in the brightest light. I mean, it wasn’t white light. It was bright. That’s all.

Throughout her early twenties and into her forties, Turner practiced her psychic work informally, often dressing up as a stereotypical fortune teller and providing her friends with herbal remedies. In the mid-1970s Turner attended a meeting of the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship, a “non-profit group for individuals interested in psychic phenomena,” for the first time. This network of believers was instrumental in allowing Turner to feel more comfortable with her supernatural inclinations. Over the next several years, Turner continued to her hone her psychic abilities, which she described as “God-given,” while supporting her children as a single mother. She details her emergence from the “long period of psychic isolation” to become a woman confident with her innate capability to from strong, meaningful connections with clients, address and ameliorate emotional and physical maladies, and carry on traditionally-based beliefs surrounding health and the supernatural.

Laude weaves together a masterful narrative that details the complex relationship between womanhood, religion, medicine, and community. Without sensationalizing Turner’s psychic skills, and by offering an intimate glimpse into how healers play a role within their communities, Laude helps to give a strong, clear voice to those who are so often misunderstood.

For information on additional psychics, witches, faith healers, and other practitioners of alternative and supernatural modalities, visit TopSCHOLAR or browse through KenCat, a searchable database featuring manuscripts, photographs and other non-book objects housed in the Department of Library Special Collections!

Post written by WKU Folk Studies graduate student Delainey Bowers

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Within the All of It: Trigg County African-American Oral History Project

“What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

In the fall of 1995, four folk studies students from the Cultural Conservation class at WKU conducted an oral history project to document African American heritage in Caldwell, Christian, Todd, and Trigg counties. With grant-based funding from the Pennyrile Area Development District (PADD), local committees were established in each county, allowing interviewers to become better acquainted with long-time residents and their personal narratives, which focused on their experiences of living in Trigg County.

The student group recorded a total of 18 interviews with 15 participants, most of whom have longstanding familial ties to the region. The interviews, which often take the format of a “life history,” cover a broad range of topics from American Bandstand, sorority life, courtship customs, and bootlegging, to tobacco harvesting, family reunions, quilting bees, and church services. The scope of the project, spanning nearly five decades from the early 1900s to the late 1950s, marks an era of both agricultural and industrial growth, political uncertainty, and technological advancement—all nipping at the heels of the stirring civil rights movement.

Serving as the first oral history project of its kind in Trigg County, the lives of its participants are played out on tape in ways that reveal what it meant to be black in the Jim Crow South, how physical landscapes shape cultural traditions, and how a strong sense of identity was—and remains—crucial in developing supportive, lasting communities.

Onie Bakerat her home in Cadiz, Kentucky (October 1995)

Onie Baker at her home in Cadiz, Kentucky (October 1995)

 

The collection itself (FA 196), located within WKU’s Manuscripts and Folklife Archives, contains photographs of participants, brief biographical sketches, original interview cassette tapes, and detailed indexes of every recorded interview.

For information on African American experiences in Kentucky, Trigg County, and additional oral history projects, visit TopSCHOLAR or browse through KenCat, a searchable database featuring manuscripts, photographs and other non-book objects housed in the Department of Library Special Collections!

Post written by WKU Folk Studies graduate student Delainey Bowers

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Sadie and Susie

Max Nahm; the Nahm home, site of a murder

Max Nahm; the Nahm home, site of a murder

It was a domestic tragedy that devolved into a spat about domestic servants.  On June 7, 1945, Sadie Brown, the longtime African-American cook of prominent Bowling Green banker Max Nahm, was arguing with a male acquaintance in the kitchen of Nahm’s home at 14th and College Streets.  The argument ended when he grabbed a knife, slashed her throat, and fled.

From her State Street home a block away, Martha Potter wrote the news to her children.  For most of her life, Martha, who kept boarders in her home, relied heavily on African-American domestic servants, but the past few years had been a trial.  Susie Potter, her own longtime cook and maid with whom she shared a surname, had resigned in 1937, and recently the attraction of better-paying war work had made replacements scarce.

But now it was Max Nahm’s turn to experience a “servant problem.”  As the local African-American community reacted in shock to Sadie’s murder, Susie told Martha of their folk beliefs regarding violent death.  “Susie said that murder blood was hard to wash out and that if it wasn’t washed up before the victim’s death it never would come out,” Martha informed her children.  Sally, her current cook, had agreed, adding that “every time there is a thunderstorm that spot will come back.”

A few weeks later, Susie herself was cooking for Nahm, but his search for live-in help remained futile because no servant was willing to stay overnight in the house.  Then Susie became ill, and she and Martha made a secret pact: after Susie’s recovery, she would return to work for Martha, not for Nahm.

The conspiracy continued through the fall of 1946, with Martha confiding to her children that “Max still says she is coming to work for him.”  When Susie finally rejoined Martha’s household in spring 1947, Nahm “got mighty mad,” but Martha haughtily denied having “stolen” his cook.  Although he found a replacement, the 84-year-old banker nursed a grudge that Martha attributed solely to ego.  “Max is still pouting with me about Susie,” Martha wrote in June 1948–a full three years after Sadie Brown’s tragic death in his kitchen.

Martha Potter’s letters about the politics of domestic service are part of the Lissauer Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more collections of Bowling Green family papers, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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International Kissing Day

Spoonholder

Today is international kissing day something WKU is totally behind.  Early in the history of WKU students met at the spoonholder to “study.”

Unidentified Students

Everyone has heard of the Kissing Bridge.  It is said that a couple on a first date who kiss on the bridge will marry.  Kissing Bridge

Enjoy International Kissing Day with someone you love!

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Folklife Exhibit Opens at Kentucky Museum

KFP ExhibitAn exhibit, “Documenting Tradition:  Images from the Kentucky Folklife Program Archives,” will open at WKU’s Kentucky Museum on June 1 and run through October 19.  Brent Bjorkman, director of the Kentucky Folklife Archives, wrote the following for the exhibit’s title panel:

For over 20 years the mission of the Kentucky Folklife Program (KFP) has been to responsibly engage with Kentucky communities to document, present and conserve the cultural heritage of the state, most often referred to as folklife.  In keeping with this mission, the public folklorists working for the KFP in the field over these years (and into the present) have documented and shared the diverse and dynamic folklife of communities across the Commonwealth who so graciously allowed them entry into their lives.

Last summer the KFP was relocated to Western Kentucky University from its former home in Frankfort, and with it came its archive, a vast repository of images, recorded interviews, and field notes that collectively tell the unfolding story of Kentucky and its people.

The images that make up this exhibit were chosen from the KFP archive by Kentucky Museum staff and encompass a board overview of its rich contents.  Click here to view directions and hours of operation for the Kentucky Museum. 

The KFP archives is administered by the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives unit of the Special Collections Library.  Faculty and staff are excited about adding this extensive resource to our research collections.  To view finding aids for collections in WKU’s Folklife Archives click here.

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