Signs, Cures, & Witchery DVD

Signs, Cures, & Witchery DVD

NOW digitally remastered
Cover of Signs, Cures, & Witchery DVDSigns, Cures & Witchery

Appalachian Cosmology and Belief

A fascinating glimpse of some little-known Appalachian beliefs and practices among descendents of early German pioneers.  This hour-long documentary traces Germanic belief systems from Europe to West Virginia, from the fifteenth century to present practitioners.  Signs, Cures and Witchery opens a window into our ancient past, revealing the courage, resourcefulness and humor of people whose survival depended on their ability to “read signs,” cure their own ills, and find explanations for life’s mysteries.  Local community practices in West Virginia such as witch doctoring, “belsnickling,” “shanghai,” and folk healing are connected to their medieval counterparts in woodcuts and other works of art. In tracing immigration to remote mountain communities, we learn how expressions of folk art and occult belief survive. This work specifically examines aspects of Appalachian oral tradition and folklore that draw from German culture. This informative, entertaining film is an invaluable aid to all who have interest in religion, psychology, folklore, metaphysical, regional, gender, and ethnic studies. (See Dirty Linen magazine review below.)


Produced by Gerald Milnes
(This film is no longer available in VHS.)
DVD – 60 minutes – $20


Signs, Cures & Witchery
Appalachian Cosmology and Belief
Video Cassette – 57:30 Minutes
Augusta Heritage Center – AHV-01 [(2001)]

As this documentary points out, there is a substantial Germanic presence in the Appalachians that has been ignored by scholars. These ‘scholars’ at the Augusta Heritage Center, dispel the notion that the Appalachians were only settled by the British, Scots and Irish and reveal how old world Germanic folklore still remains in West Virginia. Like Milnes’ previous film Fiddles, Snakes and Dog Days, much of the film is based on interviews with various folk artists who have been around the subject matter all their lives. They discuss an array of witchery-related topics such as witch doctoring, breaking spells, countering spells and the black bible that is a ‘must’ read for any aspiring witch. There are accounts of how witches were seen wringing towels yielding pails of milk; there are tales of how witch balls flying through the air can cause bodily injury upon contact. The sciences of symbology and numerology are traceable back to Germany as are the local mid-winter customs of ‘belsnickling’ and ‘shanghai.’ There are even segments where elderly West Virginians speak a local dialect of German.

Besides the dense information content, it’s also apparent how Milnes continues to progress as a filmmaker. Many of the subjects are filmed with multiple cameras, hence leveraging different angles that add impact to the artist’s testimony. Some subjects are framed with soft, dark corners that are much like a portrait while the overall sounds and sights are always resoundingly sharp. A revealing, if not fascinating presentation.

Dan Willging, Denver, CO