Famous for its harbor front views, low country food and rich history, Charleston, South Carolina’s tourist industry continues to boom in the post-recession era. But just across the harbor, the lesser-traveled town of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, awaits you. Scenic plantations, unique dining options, and, most interestingly for the pagan traveler, a key position on the Gullah Corridor, make Mount Pleasant the perfect place to wander off the beaten path.
For other pagan/witchy travel destinations, check out Pagan Travel.
What You Should Know
Mount Pleasant, SC sits almost exactly smack in the middle of a region called the Gullah Heritage Corridor.
Much like the unique spiritual practices of the Caribbean and the hoodoo/voodoo traditions of other parts of the Deep South, the Gullah people practice a religion that blends Christian traditions with various spiritual traditions of West Africa.
The Gullah/Geechee all descend from the West African slave trade.
While they certainly share that in common with many people in this country, the Gullah/Geechee are special in that their African-rooted traditions survive in tight communities along the Corridor, passed hand-to-hand from grandparents to children down to the current (dwindling) generation.
They speak their own language.
And unfortunately, their current problem sounds darkly familiar to the indigenous tribes of the Midwest.It comes down to a land dispute.
Many, in fact.
After abolition of slavery, freed men bought tracts of land cheaply on the coastal Sea Islands. This was allowed by the recently divested slave owners, not out of some suddenly acquired enlightenment, but out of apathy.
No one else wanted this land.
It was undesirable by every definition. It flooded. It frequently bore the brunt of devastating hurricanes. Mosquitoes infested every swampy acre, spreading everything from minor irritation to disease outbreak.
In short, it was totally unprofitable and high-risk to agriculture investors.
So the Geechee/Gullah people took it, worked it and lived on it, passing it down from generation to generation, usually with no legal documents under a vaguely “official” mechanism called “heirs properties.”
Families conducted trade mostly under a barter system, with very little hard economic capital involved.
The land is communal, with no singular owner.
But this worked. For many generations, going back as far as abolition, communal ownership complimented the communal life of the Gullah people.
Then, at some point, this land went from “undesirable” to wildly expensive “waterfront” property that piqued the interest of developers.
They needed somewhere to put golf courses and seaside condos.
Suddenly, property that was once purchased for $15 an acre was now worth $800,000 an acre.
It’s important to note that the land ownership defined as “heirs property” is not a democratic situation. At any point, any one of these owners can demand his share in dollar value.
And since the Gullah communities almost never have the means to pay him, they are forced to sell it on the open market—–even if the demanding party only owns 1/100 of a percent.
Even if he doesn’t live there.
Even if he’s never set foot in South Carolina.
This problem deserves more attention from citizens and media that it gets, so bear it in mind on your travels.
Also: please always remember, the Gullah/Geechee people are not tourist attractions. You will find the Gullah people to be wholly welcoming and quite happy to answer questions about their culture. You should feel free to talk to those Gullah people who sell their handicrafts openly in public markets or those who work as tour guides.
But please use common sense and never disturb them where they live unless expressly invited.
Where to Stay
Well, not in a hotel, for sure!
I worked in the hotel industry for 10 years and I’ll be the first to tell you: if you stay in a hotel, you may as well stay home.
Renting space in a real home with real locals sets the stage for an authentic experience you won’t soon forget.
I promise, it makes a huge difference.
I was welcomed as a guest a the charming Da Noi Bed & Breakfast.
The owners, a charming couple named Wyatt & Wenche, went far above and beyond the ordinary duties of hosts.
Gifted with a knack for tapping into her guests interests, Wench made a perfect unofficial tour guide and pointed the way to off-the-grid attractions I certainly would have missed on my own.
Wenche even took me on a personal tour of her neighborhood, directing me to locations to check out during my stay.
Book a room with her, tell her what you’re interested in and then take her advice!
Where to Eat & Drink
The Mainland Container caught my eye with its urban cool concept: they built a bar around a shipping container! Of all the restaurants/bars I tried, this one stood out as a the hidden gem. For a unique night out experience, drop in for drinks and be sure to try a piece of the chocolate cake. So yummy!
Red’s Ice House. If you plan to travel with your familiar, this restaurant welcomes you to bring your dog. I love this idea. Go get drunk with your furry friend and toast the evening.
I found many people here local to Mount Pleasant willing to let me in on their favorite hot spots.
Before I left, I tried a cocktail called “The Charleston.” It was one of about 4 I sampled that night from various restaurants, and honestly, it was the only one I really liked.
Page’s Okra Grill. Recommended to me by my host at Da Noi, this local’s favorite serves up authentic low-country food surrounded by a lively atmosphere and top-notch staff. They don’t take reservations on the weekend, so be prepared to stand in line, but the food is worth it!
Water’s Edge. For the seafood lover, the Water’s Edge offers a lovely selection of fresh catches, including muscles, crab cakes and flounder. As a bonus, it overlooks Rock Creek Park and a glorious view of the sunset.
What to Do & See
Visit a plantation. Confronting the United States’ dark past with the institution of slavery breaks even the most unflinching heart, but it is foundational to understanding this region, in both a historical and modern context.
On the recommendation of my host, I went to see Boone Hall Plantation, Mount Pleasant’s crown jewel historical site.
The highlight of this property is supposed to be the plantation mansion itself, but I found the presentation by a Gullah historian near the slave quarters far more compelling than any dull account of the wealthy landowners on the hill.
The presenter told us about the inventive things the slaves came up with to survive, like passing messages through music and rhythms sung in the fields.
One of my favorite exhibits played the sound of a group of women singing a “ring shout,” an ecstatic religious chant evolved from West African tribal songs.
It’s the most beautiful, soul-stirring sound in the world, and I could listen to it for hours.
Go basket shopping. We pagans love us some baskets. We drag them to ritual chock full of candles, oils and incenses. We take them with us to pagan festivals. They take a starring role during Ostara and they substitute nicely for a purse in a pinch.
But mass-produced baskets typically available at Walmart or the craft store often fall apart quickly. Anything more than 2 or 3 pounds splits the material, making them impractical for any heavy-duty use.
So it makes sense to invest in a nice one.
Mount Pleasant boasts some of the best basket makers in the world.
No region offers high quality baskets than the Gullah Corridor, where locals put many hours into every piece, weaving each basket from sweet grass into a sturdy, reliable basket appropriate for a lifetime of use.
Also, they’re gorgeous.
Take a walk through Shem Creek Park. But make sure you do it at sunset! The wooden walkway crosses over open marshland showcasing spectacular views of the sunset.
Go to a church service at an African Methodist Church. I know, I know. You’re pagan. You probably don’t do the church thing. But if you’ve never been to an African Methodist Church, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.
Many people in this region of Gullah/Geechee heritage attend AME churches, and they sometimes even dress in traditional African clothing. The sermons are passionate and the congregations welcome outsiders. Don’t worry if you’re not of African heritage. African Methodist congregations welcome people of all backgrounds graciously.
Give generously when the collection plate comes your way and accept any invitation to eat afterwards—the food is killer.
Visit Sullivan’s Island. Full disclosure: this is one thing I did not actually do myself. I only had 24 hours, but if I could have crammed in one more thing, it would have been this.
Sullivan’s Island is adjacent to Mount Pleasant and the locals lavish praise of its beauty.
Venture where I could not and tell me about it in the comments if you’ve been there!