An interview with an Appalachian songsmith

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IRONSBURG, Tenn. – Whether he is tending the land on his farm in the mountains of eastern Tennessee or performing his songs at a Pagan gathering, Louis Garou is a man who is truly grateful for all that he has and all that he can do.

“Every morning, without fail,” he explained, “when I wake up I thank the Goddess, and whatever wayward god that might care, for all the blessings I have received. And the biggest blessing is living on this land, in these mountains.”

[courtesy – L. Garou]

He refers to himself as, “just a witchy, mountain farmer,” and he takes his calling as a steward of the land seriously. “It is a privilege and a responsibility to care for this sacred ground. I do not ever take it lightly.”

As a lifelong Appalachian, Garou understands that there is more to being a steward of the land than just tending the soil.

“When I bought the farm I made a promise to the Little People,” he said. “There would be no trees cut in this area. No hunting. No domestic animals. I have kept that promise for almost forty years now. And the only thing I do there is to sit and watch nature, write, play my guitar, and yes, dream.”

Indeed, when he is not hard at work on the farm in the mountains of (eastern) Tennessee one will most likely find him engaged in another of his great passions–making music.

It is something Garou has been doing for most of his life.

“The music was my first love,” said Garou. “I started playing in bars at fourteen.”

Since then, Garou has never stopped writing songs, and through most of that time, magick has been a part of his life, tying the music, the land stewardship, and most everything else together.

“I discovered Witchcraft around sixteen,” he explained. “I knew there were real problems with Christianity and began researching other systems. There really wasn’t a lot of information available (at the time) so I practiced a lot intuitively.”

That approach has served him well over the years.

“It has always worked,” he said, laughing. “My songs about magic are rooted in everything I see daily, or dream about, because magic is all around us. I have felt it all my life. Living on the farm, we are rooted in the turning of the Wheel of the Year.”

Two of Garou’s most recently released songs, “Magick All Around Us,” and “Rise Up Lilith,” clearly illustrate the way magic is integral to everyday life, right down to the way he wrote the songs.

He described, “Magick All Around Us,” written in 2018, as a song that wrote itself. “I just held the pen,” he said.

From the opening lyric, “Some say the veil is ripped and torn,” serves as a reminder that magic to be found everywhere and in everything, even when the world appears to be broken and hope feels hard to come by. On the recording, Garou’s voice breaks while delivering this line, lending the message an additional layer of poignancy.

Garou’s most recent composition, “Rise Up, Lilith” also has a message in it.

“Every year at Easter, someone posts the, “Easter is really Eostre/Ostara meme,” he explained, “and every year I look and smack my head because the picture is Lilith. This year, with the ongoing war on women and their reproductive rights, it spoke to me in a different way. I am sick of the way my sisters are treated. They need to look to Lilith.”

The song has been garnering attention in Pagan music circles. The Cauldron Radio project has it, and two more of Garou’s songs in the rotation.

“People are noticing me,” he said. “I don’t listen to Pagan/Witch music. I do not want to be influenced by what other musicians and bands are doing. Everything I play is my take on it, whatever I feel when I write and record. I think people appreciate the simplicity and honest feeling.”

[courtesy – L. Garou]

He has also been performing live more than ever. It is only June, but the 2019 festival season has already been a busy one.

Pagan Unity Festival in Tennesee, Harmony in the Hollow in Arkansas, and the Building Bridges interfaith gathering in Georgia have all featured Garou in the lineup. Pagan Spirit Gathering in Ohio, the Mystic South Conference in Georgia, Southeastern North Carolina Pagan Pride Day, and Nashville Pagan Pride Day are all on his upcoming schedule.

“I love to share my music and see the people’s reaction to it,” said Garou. “Music is magic on an elemental level. Energy and vibrations sent out. What could be more natural?”

Garou nearly lost this opportunity to share his music.

In early 2017, he suffered what he refers to as a, “cardiac event,” which was nearly fatal. He said that it was a wake-up call for him, and a sign that he needed to do things differently.

He described a dream he had after receiving a stabilizing injection that made it safe for him to be transported to the hospital by helicopter.

The dream was an odyssey through what Garou calls, “a dense, shadowed, laurel hell.” When he emerged from the laurel and arrived at the edge of a gorge, he saw a flat, blank cliff wall on the other side. “I thought it was odd. There should have been petroglyphs, carvings, even graffiti. Not just this unnatural perfect blank surface.”

It took him a few days to figure out the meaning of his dream. He likes to quote Sarah and John Conner from the Terminator movies.

“It was the lesson of Saint Sarah. ‘The future is not written… there is no fate but what we make ourselves.’”

Garou explained that he had already begun to work on his music more seriously at the time of the health scare. He had actually stopped playing for a time and was just starting back up.

“It did alter the way I view my music,” he said. “I write about what I feel now instead of trying to, ‘write a song’. And it flows. It did not change my view of magic. Magic is all around us, always.”

[Image credit – John Beckett]

In the time since his cardiac event, Garou continues to take good care of the land he lives on, but he has heeded the message of change and dedicated more and more of his energy to making music, as he did earlier in life.

“I have never feared death,” said Garou. “She is always over my left shoulder, but I realized I was not quite done here. I have some things to say and do in the time I have left.”

And whatever it is he has to say and do, there is no doubt where those things will be done.

“I have lived in Appalachia, specifically east Tennessee, all my life,” said Garou, “and like the song says, ‘I know I will die here.’”

Louis Garou lives that song, and embodies the magic that can be found all around us.