Drink Lots of Whiskey

whiskey, rock sugar, cherry bark

I feed my ancestors whiskey.  I come from a whiskey family. Yes, there's rampant intergenerational alcoholism but there's also a culture of appreciation among us all for the spirits you drink and the spirits you venerate, and as it turns out the spirit of choice to feed the spirits in our family is whiskey.  I think it originated as some nod or ode to our Southern roots; to our swamp ancestors who distilled themselves some crazy moonshine. Maybe my mom just knew her damn magic; where whiskey, rum, camphor, and cigarettes are common offerings. Whiskey is my libation of choice where the spirits are concerned and in the making of my favorite kinds of love potions and medicines.  Whiskey could defeat cannibals and cure ills, bring back lovers and warm your chills.
This is what you need to appreciate about whiskey medicine magic:

It is old folk medicine popular in the States and this medicine could be used inside and out for the oddest reasons. "Large quantities of whiskey are commonly "prescribed" for snakebite among both Mexican and Anglo Americans, often to be both drunk and applied to the wound." (Bourke, Curtin, Hand)-  Beatrice A. Roeder, Chicano folk medicine from Los Angeles, California

It was used in American folk medicine to treat these conditions;  the chills; "Cherry bark and poplar bark and whiskey are used to break chills.” (Illinois), childbirth (whiskey and cloves are said to ease the pain of childbirth in some oral accounts of African American folklore reported by Federal Writers Project. It was also reportedly used in the treatment of cramps; "Mixed with whiskey and rock candy, may-apple and hickory relieved cramps and colds."-Wilbur Watson, Black Folk Medicine: The Therapeutic Significance of Faith and Trust

Colds; "Whiskey camphre is a well-known medication considered beneficial, not only for a cold but also for other ailments.  It is prepared in the following way; "Buy camphre, crush it pour whiskey over it, keep the liquid in a bottle. It is... good to drink a little spoon of it for all sorts of ailments."-Wayland D. Hand, American Folk Medicine: A Symposium.

Snake bites and colic; "Take a half a gill of good rye whiskey, and a pipe full of tobacco; put the whiskey in a bottle, then smoke the tobacco and blow the smoke into the bottle, shake it up well and drink it."- J. G Hoffman, The Long lost Friend (1820) and to treat toothaches- something many of us were treated with on occasion as children and was once a medically prescribed mouthwash for toothaches.

It is used in American folk medicine today to treat these conditions: depression, happiness, sobriety, divorce, bad days, nagging spouses, longevity.

It is used as an offering to the spirits of your ancestors in hoodoo traditions: "Similarly, African slaves "fed" offerings of whiskey, camphor, and corn liquor to their charms in order to vitalize them."-Yvonne P. Chireau, Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition.  Catherine Yronwode in Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic classified whiskey as a sacred substance meant to pay for debts to the spirits, extract herbal essences or 'capture' a lover. 

The Tennessee Folklore Society reports it was used in the production of medicinal liquors; "plant juice combined with rock candy and whiskey to make bitters or cordials"

Whiskey in the Frank C. Brown Collection

* Red Dogwood made into tea with whiskey to keep cold away- (FCB: 1117)
* Cherry bark soaked in whiskey makes a spring tonic. (FCB)
* For a tonic boil the bark of the cherry tree in water. Add a few nails and a little whiskey, strain the mixture and drink (FCB: 1073, p.146)
* For chills use rock candy, cherry bark and whiskey- (FCB: 1076, p. 147)

These having been reported from all over; New York, Maryland, Tennessee, Illinois, North and South Carolina and more.  A recurrent theme in the folklore collected from all over the country and from various collections that are the basis for Brown's work appears to be the treatment of whiskey for medicinal purposes when mixed with a particular set of herbs.  That is to say, nowhere do I see it recommended to mix whiskey with any old medicinal herb or tonic- rather whiskey has some chosen companions.

Whiskey, Cherry Bark and Rock Candy

It would appear that cherry bark and rock candy are the companions of whiskey medicine, and that whiskey mixed with herbal teas is a long-loved medicine of the common folk and is more steeped into our *collective intergenerational alcoholism*, and, folk medicine.  It's rather cure-all but in relation to rock candy and a healing plant matter, it appears to have been a vehicle for great healing. Having tried every recipe worth it's salt, I have to say, getting drunk on sugar whiskey cures any pain that ails except obesity and liver failure...

Snakebite? Drink Lots of Whiskey

"Drink all the whiskey you can, the more the better." FCB:NCFL

It can cure snakebites by killing you of alcohol poisoning before you can succumb to the venom. Am I to understand that my dear sweet ancestors thought that "drinking whiskey until you are drunk" is the cure for snake bites?  Drink all the whiskey I can hold?  Really Grandma? Good lord if the snake don't getcha the liver failure will...


"Widely used in American folk medicine, whiskey also plays a role in contemporary American folk magic. A piece of agar (a type of seaweed) is put into a jar of whiskey and allowed to soak. This is done to attract "good spirits". Toadstools are also soaked in whiskey, and the stem is used to rub the bodies of those thought to be hexed."- Scott Cunningham, Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Wicca in the Kitchen

Pouring some out for a fallen friend, knocking back a shot at the bar with your mates over a fond memory, covertly passing a flask for a swig at a family funeral,  raising your glass to the dead when they're mentioned at the dinner table... that is some wonderfully Western shit because it must have come from all over the world, and the world makes us, US.

I make some of my best potions with whiskey; its sweetness blends with so much, it packs a punch and warms the body.  It was once a standard part of medical supplies in the great wars and it represents one of many of the incredible gifts of our Scottish and Irish ancestors as it blended with Afro-American folk magical practice.  America has always been great, because whiskey.  This day I honor my ancestors who brought the whiskey arts to the new world; I tip my glass to you today, grandma.  Bottoms up.

"Thank you, Jack Daniels; Old Number Seven,
Tennessee whiskey got me drinking in heaven and oh,
angels start to look good to me,
they're gonna have to deport me to the fiery deep!"
-Devil Makes Three


American Folk Medicine: A Symposium by Wayland D. Hand
Frank C. Brown Collection
Black Folk Medicine: The Therapeutic Significance of Faith and Trust by Wilbur Watson
Chicano folk medicine from Los Angeles, California by Beatrice A. Roeder
Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition by Yvonne P. Chireau
The Long Lost Friend by J.G Hoffman

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