The Song of the Churn

As an independent scholar and folklorist, my abiding passion and my work consists in writing, talking about and teaching traditional mountain folkways, including herbal healing and folk magic. My recent research has been an exploration of the survivals of border Scots techniques as they pertain to the southern highlands of Appalachia, where this group came to be called the Scots-Irish.

My research in the Alexander Carmichael Collection at the University of Edinburgh brought me face to face with charms and superstitions that I learned from family members and neighbors as I was growing up more than fifty years ago in western North Carolina. I am working with singer and WNC native Alicia Corbin Knighten to research and record a series of traditional women’s work songs that also include elements of these charms.

This paper will outline the progress of this project, review the source materials utilized and share the next steps, which include recording some of these survivals of Scottish folkways as they came to be practiced in the Great Smoky Mountains. The title of the paper comes from an old churning song—Come, Butter, Come—that was popular on southern Appalachian farmsteads and can also be found in Carmichael’s popular book, Carmina Gadelica. Carmina Gadelica is Carmichael’s rich collection of prayers, charms and incantations gathered in Scotland.