I’ve always identified as a “Backwater Witch”. I meant it in the way that my craft is crude, basic, and simplistic as well as unsophisticated. I didn’t realize how much of my family’s culture is represented in that statement. My parents are people who lived along the Delaware River and were called Clark Indians or Delaware Indians. Not all Delaware Indians are of Native American Descent. These are people who were a mix of people from the “lower class” who were extremely impoverished and therefore lived off the land as their main source of survival. Most of them were Farmers and my father often told stories of hunting in the Marshlands along the Delaware River. He spoke often of different flavors of a Snapper and misses wild rabbit that’s been battered and fried. I didn’t know it when I was growing up just how rich my ancestry is in the diversity of culture within my own family tree. Because my parents grew up along the Delaware River as part of the community that lived just outside of what we all know as mainstream Society. This community of people lived primarily on wild game and separate from “civilized society“.
They were called different colorful and demeaning names such as Hillbillies, Mulattos, Heathens, Indians, and other less nice names. This community was so far outside of the regular European culture we see in movies and books and stories passed down among many American Families that even at the time were seen to be one of them (outside mainstream society) and not one of us (a member of mainstream society). The people of this community were seen similarly to what we all know here in Southern California as Tent City and with whole families living in this community. Delaware Indians didn’t live in Tipis or Tents but they did live in Shacks and my mother’s family lived in a chicken coupe. She was the oldest of seven living children. Many children in my parent’s families either died at childbirth or from disease and sometimes fatal accidents but they still had 7 living children to raise up in their little chicken coupe and my father’s family had 6 living children in their little shack.
To get an idea of the type of conditions these people lived in can be seen in my mother’s story about the knock on the door the night before Christmas. My Grandparents had 7 children, my mother was the oldest. Christmas was a hard time of year for the Delaware Indians. There were no gifts to put under a tree and the winter conditions were harsh. I don’t recall if they had a Tree what less with decorations. This particular year on Christmas Eve there was a knock on the door. When they opened the door all they saw was a box of old used toys that were obviously discards from other children’s toy boxes that were collected and placed on my Grandparents’ Doorstep of that chicken coupe. As my mother happily helped go through the toys and select the appropriate toys for her siblings, fussing with the messed up hair on the dirty-faced dolls or the wobbly tire on an old truck buffing out scratches with a little spit on her fingertips, she forgot to pick something for herself. It was fine because her parents went through the toys and made sure she got a gift. That was a fond memory of my mother’s that she shared. Did I tell you that my mother was a great Story Teller?
My Father’s brother told me about what it was like in the winter in that old shack they lived in. It was a common routine to brush the freezing wet snow off their blankets that blew in the cracks between the boards that made up the wall between their bed and the bitter cold outside. Both my parents went to bed hungry more than once. My father went hungry more than my mother’s family. Lucky for my mother’s family that my mother’s father was sickly so their family got a little compassion thrown on them. My father’s family? Not so much. His father did all kinds of eclectic work. That side of the family had people with not so fair complexions and with all the discrimination and abuse thrown at darker complected people and poor white trash, it compounded his already impoverished life and unhealthy coping skill of alcoholism. My father and his siblings probably should have been removed from the home of their abusive alcoholic father. But that was how things was back then. They were poor and kicked to the curb and forgotten like lost unloved children.
The Lyons Club decided to help the families out as they could to get these families with starving children some food and shelter. My mother’s father was disabled by a heart condition from an illness in his childhood called Rheumatic Fever and although he worked as a bus driver for some time, he was unable to work after a while. The Lions club gave my mother’s parents a modest house to live in but my grandfather died in open heart surgery in his late 30’s. Because the people of this community were seen as grossly impoverished and not in a compassionate way but more as the scum on the earth, my mother was embarrassed about her lineage. She was so embarrassed by it that our lineage was concealed from all of us children. Well, at least from me and my brother, I’m not sure how much my parents told my sister.
The one thing that my parents were comfortable telling us is that we are German on my mom’s side and Irish on my Father’s side. I had to know what our lineage is. I had to know who my ancestors are. I discovered that My Great Grandmother, Millie Chambers, married my Grandfather who is not just German but Amish. My Great Grandmother Millie was said to be a highly sought psychic. As I heard these things about her as I was growing up, I didn’t realize what that would mean to me in the future.
One of the things about my family that was passed down was a belief in spiritualism including mediumship but different forms of divination were practiced among the women of my family for generations. Some of my immediate family members have proven to be quite accurate with their intuitive abilities. I don’t think any of them speak to the dead though. I remember my mother reading tea leaves when I was about 4 or 5 years old and I remember about that time I watched my mother read cards. Actual playing cards to be exact, like a regular old poker deck that she would use when certain friends came to see her. She gave all that up when she became Baptist. My grandparents were mostly Methodist but my parents became Baptist about the time I was 4 or 5 years old. That is when my mother gave up all of her Divination practices but she couldn’t stop the intuition.
I’m descendant from the Delaware Indians who lived along the Delaware River and its marshlands, a simple people, no wonder my craft is simple and unsophisticated.
I had been calling myself a Backwater Witch for years now. I draw a lot of my craft from the influence of my family. One of the things about a Backwater Witch is that in my personal craft, I rummage through philosophy, psychology, Wicca, various forms of Witchcraft, various perspectives on ideas and techniques. One of the most valuable pieces of information to me is the perspectives of others who studied, meditated on, or otherwise had extensive experience in a given subject because I believe there is gold in everything. In every concept including the ones I devise in my own creative mind, there is a degree of information that doesn’t quite fit and the author of the concept fills in the blanks the best they can. Everyone does it. I may read 10 different books on the same subject that had been written by 10 different authors picking what works for me at that time and putting aside what doesn’t because everyone brings something special to the table. A Backwater Witch has learned how to recognize the value where others disregard it. I’m talking about people, not junk.
My handcrafted tools are the same as my personal craft. Just like my craft is made up of a bunch of eclectic concepts, thoughts, ideas, and beliefs that all work together but are quite blended in nature just like my lineage, my tools are often pieced together with whatever I have on hand. A Backwater Witch uses what resources are available to him/her. To the unknowing eye, his/her powerful tools may look like mere junk but at a closer look are quite powerful little tools. they don’t always look impressive, but the signature of a Backwater Witch is the mismatched look of her tools. Just like my lineage and my tradition of Witchcraft, my tools are just as eclectic. All of my handmade tools were made out of necessity and functionality, not so much for aesthetics or adornment. Most of what I use is either from a natural resource or what’s available to me in our modern world.
For me, Backwater Witchcraft is based on the bare foundations of what Witchcraft is. It is based on the Roots of my ancestry passed down from generation to generation. I don’t consider myself a hereditary Witch because I believe all Witches are born Witches who grow into their craft at some point in their life. I also believe that Witchcraft is a choice that calls to some but not to all. Backwater Witchcraft is merely one of many traditions of Witchcraft. To me, Witchcraft traditions are like family traditions. Every family has their take on it. Backwater Witchcraft remains for me a symbol of my heritage from the backwater Marsh people of the Delaware River.