Old Gods of
and Cam Collins
by Jarad Johnson
I love a good podcast. I listen to them while I’m walking or gardening, and sometimes a podcast is so good that I spend an entire afternoon walking up and down my road. Old Gods of Appalachia enthralled me so much when I first listened to it that I walked fifteen miles in one day. Yes, I was sore, but I was also addicted to this podcast. It has witches, horror, supernatural goings on. It’s well written, performed, and genuinely creepy.
(Note: there is no real way for me to review this podcast justice without discussing spoilers. If that’s an issue for you, go and listen to it first! Once you learn of the things that sleep beneath and the power that dwells within the forests, then read this review).
There are several storylines in the world of Old Gods, but they are all interconnected. The first of those is the story of the Witch Queen. Now, if you have read even half of one of my reviews, you know that I enjoy a good witch character. I don’t really enjoy when a witch character is just an amalgamation of stereotypes, like witches in classic fairy tales. They tend to be two dimensional and if I’m honest, boring. The kind of witch I enjoy is the character of Daughter Dooley, who is both a powerful holler witch and a person with flaws and fears. We first see the character as an outcast, rejected by her community. She takes up residence in a shack in the woods, where she collects river water and tends a garden. She is connected to the earth and the power of, “the green,” as only a witch could be. A spirit (one of the things that slept beneath the hills of Appalachia) offers her a tantalizing deal that she can’t resist. However, in exchange for some gifts, she must perform certain tasks. There is doubt and hesitation at first, and then, rebellion against the forces that seek to control her. The storyline of Daughter Dooley is not (I hope) over yet, and I look forward to seeing what has become of that particular witch.
The main plot of the first season centers around Barlow, Kentucky. If you were already wary about going into mines, this will make you want to avoid even passing one ever again. There is a preacher who serves and is influenced by beings dark and malevolent, and a girl who is chased by fiery monsters birthed from the mines (haints is a good word to describe them, and one that I learned from listening to this podcast. Perhaps there are those among my family and acquaintances for whom the title “damned haints!” would be an appropriate insult. Indeed, perhaps they were birthed by some malevolence from deep in the earth). The story had the perfect moments of suspense and lull, slow build, and fast action. If it had been a novel, I would have devoured it in a matter of hours. One of the things I enjoy about Old Gods is that, although they tell a story that is horror and fantasy based, they are not afraid to tell real world truths while they do so.
As much as I love the horror and ghoulishness and witchery that goes on, there is also another aspect of this season, something that adds depth and pathos. That is the mining industry. Old Gods gleans from reality and real-world events, specifically those based in Appalachia. I’m not overly familiar with the mining industry. I knew that black lung was a disease caused by mining, and I knew that mining was generally an industry where the people who toiled and made money for the corporate bosses were seen as disposable. This is really the underlying theme of the first season, and they have taken the real-life horror of sons and husbands disappearing down into the mines and either never coming out, getting injured or dying the slow and painful death of black lung, and taken it a step further. Horror based in real life is always much more chilling.
There’s so much more, as well! There’s the story of the wolf sisters and the wise women of the Clutch. This is a story of blood and transformation, vengeance, and corruption. And how the things that sleep beneath take advantage of situations like that. Old Gods always tells a good story, with lots of nuance and gray areas.
And there’s a story that’s exclusive to Patreon - Build Mama A Coffin. Keeping that in mind that the story is for patrons, I won’t say too much about it. However, I would like to mention that it’s freaking awesome! Broadly, this is a story about a powerful witch named Glory-Anne, whose children are being influenced by dark forces in order for her power to be consumed by them. Glory-Anne is to date my favorite witch character. She is just the right amount of badass and sass. I like to think we’d be friends. Secondly, there’s Granny White. You should definitely get to know her. She both fascinates and terrifies me. She’s like if my grandmother baked children instead of cookies (I guess that would make Thanksgiving more entertaining). Not only is the world of Old Gods expanded in this 17-part episode series, we also learn more about the things that sleep beneath. I cannot recommend it enough, and I’ll shut up now. There’s only so many spoilers I can give away without ruining the suspense!
I know I usually take in stories in book form. But this podcast is a great way to experience this world. In this format, I get to enjoy a good story in a more concise way. Readers, I find, tend to be greedy when we get our hooks into a good story, but I forced myself to listen to two or three episodes a day, thus enabling me to savor every morsel, if you will. I could really go into detail about how much I loved every moment, but I think that would only be entertaining for me. And anyway, you should listen to it for yourself!
Actually, I think that listening to Old Gods is the perfect way to consume it. Not only does the baritone and intonation of the narrator call to my mind a preacher at a black altar, there are sound effects and voice affects that make it much more real and spine tingling. I’m not someone who is easily impressed by horror as a genre. I enjoy it, sure, but rarely does it give me the heebie jeebies, and when it does, I know that it was very well done. Thanks for entertaining and creeping me out and making me wonder what lurks in the woods around my house.
(By the way, season two of Old Gods has just begun, and I am chomping at the bit to listen to all the episodes. If you want to get caught up, now’s your chance!)
You can find Old Gods of Appalachia at:
And they're on Patreon!
Jarad recently graduated from college at MTSU, loves tea and coffee, and tries to spend every spare second reading. He has been a fervent gardener for 6 years and is fascinated by all related topics and has spent the last several years writing about this passion. He believes that nature is our greatest teacher. He majored in English with a concentration in literature and plans to pursue and master’s degree in Ecocriticism.
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