“Appalachia: a word stolen from more than one language. It conjures images of the beauty of God’s creation and the darkness of Man’s various poverties. The simpler way of life here bespeaks a time past of purity and piety but, turn over a stone, and you’ll find the underbelly of suspicion and clannishness. Folks who live here don’t trust easy. There are whole graveyards here full of what we’ve learned about outsiders, and before you judge us as backwood hillbillies or opioid-addicted rednecks, take a minute to understand how we got here. I mean how we really got here.” -opening narration of the Prologue
Old Gods of Appalachia is a new podcast that has a lot going for it. The narrator, at once an enthralling mix of Vincent Price and a Southern Evangelical preacher, invites us in to Barlo, Kentucky, and the Appalachian mountains to spin us a tale spanning millennia. Here, we pass between different characters and times to learn about the terrible things imprisoned in some of the oldest mountains in the world, and about the people unfortunate, stubborn, and strong enough to have built their homes over them. At the heart of the story is the terrible battle between the natural world and the human desire to strip it of coal and all other resources, something particularly relevant today as we watch fracking, oil pipelines, and strip mining desecrate the land.
If you were worried that such a rural location in an old-fashioned setting would mean more toxic masculinity than you could swing an opossum at, you’ll be delighted to learn the exact opposite holds true here. Strong and determined women are found in abundance within this story, and the men they love are more concerned with love and devotion towards their families than they are self-gratification or extramarital affairs. Asexual representation comes in strong in the form of the Witch Queen, a main character who will not be controlled, not by mortals and not by spooks. She remembers with fondness her mothers, two women who loved one another fiercely and taught their daughter all they knew about witchcraft and herbs. She is not for you.
The magic found within this podcast is of the “granny witch” variety, that of folklore and wildcraft that doesn’t much care what faith you follow as long as you respect the land and its people. There are gods of a sort here (of the Lovecraftian variety), but animists and nature worshipers will be delighted that The Green (the collective existence of the earth and everything that makes it up) is given equal footing.
Whether or not you come from Appalachia, worship The Green under one of Its many names, or simply have an interest in Lovecraftian gods, Old Gods of Appalachia will quickly draw you in and make you family. And if, like me, family is something that has always bound you, you can find more in the Discord and Facebook groups set up to accommodate kith and kin.
Old Gods of Appalachia has just concluded the first 10-episode season as of January, and the special “Build Mama a Coffin” is currently available to their Patreon subscribers at the $10 tier.
[Ashley Nicole Hunter sits on the board of directors for Bibliotheca Alexandrina and has been published in a few reputable (and otherwise) publications.]