Pennsylvania German Powwowing


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How to research folk magic traditions

Posted by Rob Phoenix on January 17, 2014 at 6:35 AM

One of the largest hurdles that those of us who study and practice folk magic traditions faces is the lousy research and misinformation that is perpetuated in modern 'magical' literature.  Thanks to the new age boom in the 1990's, the shelves of the bookstores are weighed down by poor academia, historical revisionism, and just plain old bad writing.  And sadly, it is this information that has been used as the foundation for magical practice for the past 20 years.  When I was first introduced to the actual practice of powwowing, it was through the lens of a neopagan organization founded and run by an author famous for her poor scholarship.  But in those days I was young (in my mid 20's) and extremely impressionable, and so I didn't realize that the history she was teaching was actually a lie.  When I branched out on my own and set my pre-conceived notions and desires aside, I was able to study actual history and academia, and that's when my powwowing work really began.

 

Piecing together the history of folk magic traditions isn't easy.  You have to first dig through the misinformation that is out there.  That information is easy to spot.  In addition to almost any title with a crescent moon on the cover, most of these publications are categorized under the headings of "new age" or "wicca" or something similar.  But it's important to remember that actual folk magic traditions are a part of our history.  And, within that history, they are pieces of actual and established cultures.  In other words, the best way to learn about folk magic is by learning about the people who are associated with that folk magic.

 

The study of Pennsylvania German powwowing, with the intent of establishing yourself as a practitioner and authority on the subject, requires several approaches, which I've outlined here for you to consider.  And keep in mind that these are the steps (more or less) that I adhered to in order to piece together a proper history and understanding of the tradition.

 

1.- Skip the New Age/Occult/Wicca section of the bookstore.  Don't even go in that direction, it won't help you.  Those books are generally written with one thing in mind.....fame.  Those authors want to have that book under their belt so they can give themselves some type of credentials within the neopagan world.  And, indeed, that's all it really takes in that community.  Unfortunately, academia and scholarship are often left at the door with many of those works.  So skip that section, it's not a proper approach.

 

2.-Go to the library.  In that library, seek out the history of the culture you are interested in.  In the case of Pennsylvania German culture, there is a wealth of information out there.  You have to first ask yourself who are the people that make up this culture?  Start there and learn about those people.  Since we're talking about folk magic, you also have to research the beliefs of those people.  What were the prevailing religions?  What were those religions like prior to the immigration of those people?  If you are looking at an American folk magic tradition, find out the history of the churches for those people.  And, of equal importance, learn the history of the areas where those people settled here.  That's where you'll find the creation of the folk magic traditions.  Remember to ask yourself: Who, What, When, Where, Why, How, and To What Extent.  All of these things can be asked in regards to the people and culture and beliefs and location of the folks you are studying.

 

3.-Remain neutral.  Don't study with an agenda of proving something.  Study with an agenda of LEARNING about those people.  When it comes to our American folk magic traditions, keep in mind that these people are our cultural ancestors.  It does them an injustice to superimpose our romanticized ideals onto them.  It insults their memories.  In my case, my ancestors weren't particularly "magical".  However, they were members of the Reformed church in Austria and it was a tremendous leap of faith for them to leave their lives behind and come here to Pennsylvania to establish themselves.  Had they not made that sacrifice and brave move, I wouldn't be here.  It would be a dishonor for me to pretend they were something other than what they were.  History is amazing, and the more truth you learn about your family's history, the more power there will be in your practice of their folk magic. 

 

4.-Take it for what it is.  If you learn that the culture was responsible for horrors beyond imagining, take it for what it is.  It's still history.  It's still a part of the culture that created the folk tradition you are studying.  Take that information and understand it for what it really is: a piece of history.  A necessary piece that helped to mold things into what they are today.

 

5.-Don't speculate.  Putting assumptions onto the actions of our ancestors is not real history and it certainly isn't scholarly.  Saying things like "My great great grandfather painted this star hex sign to protect his barn.  I'm sure he understood this symbol to represent the three-fold Mother Goddess...".  No.  He probably didn't.  But unless you found his diary explaining his reasoning, all you really know is that he painted a star.  What is the historical and cultural significance of those stars?  That's more likely your answer.  Don't get crazy, stick to real history and facts.

 

6.-Don't assume that because the ancients of a country did something, that means your ancestry did it too.  Just because my ancestors (some of them, at any rate) came from Austria, it does not mean they were Heathens.  It does not mean they were even very good Christians.  All I really know of them is that they were members of the Reformed church and remained members when they came to Pennsylvania.  There is no evidence to suggest they kept any type of heathen beliefs alive.  What we know from history is that much of Austria was Catholic in the 1800's.  The Reformed Germans were something of a minority.  There is no evidence of pagan beliefs active at the time.  And, since I can't trace my family back any further, that's all I really know. 

 

7.-Don't assume that because your last name means something, that this is an indication of your connection to a pagan past.  My last name means "Merchant".  It's English in origin.  However, to trace the line of my last name is nearly impossible.  It isn't a straight line, as anyone who studies family history will know.  And when you take on the study of your family, you can't go back very far, trust me.  Your last name is your connection to a great big long list of people, with various beliefs and lifestyles and origins.  You can't make narrow assumptions.  Your last name may very well be an accident.  In my case, Chapman isn't even the name I was given at birth.  So there are many things to consider.  Don't assume you know all there is to know about your lineage by your last name.  It's so much more complex than that.

 

8.-ALWAYS CITE YOUR SOURCES.  Remember that the more historical and academic your sources are, the more correct your information will be, and the more seriously you will be taken.  In order to be a student of a folk magic tradition, you literally need to become an academic and a scholar.  Always cite your sources.  If you are presenting information online, link to your resources.   Personal gnosis doesn't count as academia.  Also, try not to link to your own work, unless you are doing so as a reference, not a resource.  Also remember to be prepared to have your work challenged.  If you are making claims, prepare to back up those claims with actual academia.  In this day and age of misinformation, it is crucial to the preservation of culture that you are doing things properly.  That means that when you are challenged, you can confidentaly prove that what you say is true. 

 

9,- Ask questions of people who know.  There are many learned individuals out there.  Ask them questions.  Track down the real authorities.  Let them know your interest in preserving a piece of culture.

 

10.-Immerse yourself in the culture.  Live it.  That's how you'll learn it.  That's how you'll understand it.  Without an understanding of how that culture formed and lived, you won't have a proper understanding of it's folk magic.  If you don't have that personal connection, you are essentially playing a game of pretend.

 

11. Stick to it.  Don't give up.  The information is out there, but you have to be persistent.  Go to local Historical Societies, go to the library, ask the older folks who may remember, just keep going.  Don't ever think you know all there is to know, because there is always more.

 

12.-Be true to the history and culture of the people.  Your study of a specific folk magic tradition is also an effort to preserve that bit of culture.  Be true to it.  Don't make it something it is not.  Be faithful to the people who lived it.  Keep it alive to preserve culture and history and honor those who made up that culture. 

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About Me

 

Guder Daag!  Wie bisch?

My name is Robert Phoenix (formerly Chapman) and I am the creator of this site.  I do all of this research myself because I truly love the culture of the Pennsylvania Dutch and the tradition of Powwow.  I was born and raised in Pennsylvania and currently live in South-Central Pennsylvania and work for the state of PA.  I've always been interested in folk magic and have studied many different systems over the years.  I was raised Catholic, as this was the religion of my mother's side of the family, and as an adult I have embraced the religion of my father's side of the family, the Reformed church; known nowadays as the United Church of Christ.  My personal beliefs are a blend of both traditions.  I love Powwowing because it's a Christian-based system that really does work and it connects me to the traditions, beliefs, religion, and folklore of my ancestors.  

Books You Should Read

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Current Moon Phase

The Pennsylvania Dutch know the value of being aware of the Moon's phases.  Keep track here for all of your planting/harvesting needs!

 

CURRENT MOON

Featured Hex

 

The Lancaster County Hex.  It doesn't have any mystical meaning, it's purely a decorative advertisement piece. :)

Another variation of the Double Distlefink, meaning double good luck.

 

Known as the "Daddy of all Hexes", this combination of color and symbology provides good luck all year round. The twelve petals around the circle symbolize the twelve months of the year.

 

 

The Distlefink is my favorite hex sign image.  The double Distlefink is a sign of Double Good Luck.

 

To view or purchase hex signs, go to ZOOKS DUTCH NOVELTIES!

My friends

These are links to some of my friend's sites that I think you might enjoy!

 

Jim Minick a blog by a friend with powwowing in his family.  Keep up to date for his upcoming book!

 

Rue and Hyssop  a blog about herbal products with some really fun giveaways

 

The Orphan's Almanac  a blog of fantastic book reviews

 

New World Witchery  a site with articles about the many variations of American folk magic

Some of my favorite charms

An all-purpose healing charm

Heile, heile, Segen.

Drei Tage Regen.

Drei Tage Dreck.

Und jetzt ist alles weg

+  +  +

Translation:

Holy, holy blessing

Three days of rain

Three days of muck

And all is gone.

+  +  +

To insure safety from an angry dog

Dog, hold thy nose to the ground;

God has made me and thee, hound.

 

To cure a person of worms

You are a little worm, not entirely grown.

You plague me in marrow and bone.

You may be white, black, or red,

In a quarter of an hour you will be dead.

 

A Charm for Personal Safety

Cross of Christ and Crown of Christ and Jesus Christ; red blood, be to me at all times and all hours good.  god the Father is before me.  God the Son is at my side.  God the Holy Ghost is behind me.  Who now is stronger than these three persons may come to seize me.

+   +   +  then follow up with three Paternosters.

 

To Compel a dog, horse, or other animal to follow you

Casper guide thee, Balthasar bind thee, Melchior keep thee

Three times, utter these words into the animal's right ear.

For Wounds and Stopping of Blood

Blessed is the day on which Jesus Christ was born; blessed is the day on which Jesus Christ died; blessed is the day on which Jesus Christ arose from the dead.  These are the three holy hours; by these N.N., I stop thy blood.  Thy sores shall neither swell nor fester; no more shall that happen, than that the Virgin Mary will bear another son.

+   +   +

Protection from Sorcery

Take elm wood on Good Friday, cut the same while calling the holiest names.  Cut chips of this wood from one to two inches in length.  Carve on them, in the three holiest names, three crosses.  Wherever such a slip is placed, all sorcery will be banished.

To Stop Blood

There stood three roses upon our Saviour's grave.  The first is mild, the other is good, the third shall stop the blood.

 

+ + +

A Protective Talisman

To be hung in the home, hidden in a secret place, or carried with you.

A charm to make a thief return stolen goods

Write upon two pieces of paper the following words, and attach one to the top of the door, and the other under the threshold, and the thief will return on the third day and bring back the stolen articles:

 

Abraham bound it †

Isaac redeemed and found it †

Jacob carried it home †

it is bound as tightly as steel and iron, chains and fetters. † † †

 

To Remove Skin Infections

Many of the old charms refer to a skin infection known as "wildfire".  This referred to a very specific skin condition called erysipelas.  I use the term to refer to any skin condition.  Feel free to change it to something else that might work better for you if you choose not to use the term "wildfire".

With a red string, pull it tight between your two hands.  First touch the top of the individual's head then sweep the string down the front of the body and away from the person three times while you repeat the following three times:

Wildfire

fly, fly, fly

The red string chase you

away, away, away

Then speak the baptismal name of the individual then seal with the words:

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

To Stop Blood

On a slip of white paper, write the following:

+++Pishon+++Gihon+++Tigres+++Euphrates+++

Place this paper over the wound to stop the blood.

 

Charm to cure burns

For mild burns on the skin (don't try to treat serious burns, get medical attention immediately):

At the end of each spoken line, gently blow on the burned area (GENTLY!!!)

Fire of God (gentle breath)

Lose thy heat (gentle breath)

As Judas lost his color (gentle breath)

When he betrayed our Lord (gentle breath)

In the garden of olives (gentle breath)

Amen, Amen, Amen (gentle breath)

Repeat for a total of three times, seal the working.

To Guard your home against thieves and witches

Take a glass of water and repeat over it 77 times:

Adonai, Elohim, the LORD my God

Pour the water around the perimeter of your home.  This is believed to prevent witches and thieves from infiltrating your property.  Made more powerful if done on a Holy Day or after taking sacrament at church.

 

Interesting charm and it's language variations

This was shared by a member of my church as she learned it as a child growing up in PA Dutch country:

 

"Heile, heile, Hinkeldreck! Marifree ischt olles weg."

or, another variation,

"Heile, heile, Hinkeldreck! Marifree ischt olles recht."

in German,

"Heiliger, heiliger, Huhnerdreck! Morgen fruh ist alles weg (recht)."

and, in English,

"Holy, holy chicken dirt.  Early morning it is gone/away/right."

and, made to rhyme, we get the familiar charm as demonstrated below,

"Holy, holy chicken dirt.  Tomorrow morning it won't hurt!"

 

It is said that to spit on the area of pain helps seal the magic.

 

To Keep Witches Away from your Property

In the Amish community, there is an old belief that if a bundle of St. John's Wort was hung over the door of the house or barn, no witch could enter and no witchcraft could effect the people or animals within.  In these days of the prevalence of hexerei, why take chances?

 

Sealing a Powwow working

When a charm calls for sealing the working with the sign of the cross, this is done with the right hand, made into a fist, and the thumb straight out (like a 'thumbs up' position).  The cross is 'drawn' over the affected area with the ball of the hand just below the thumb; typically three times; spoken in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

 

For Easing Pains

Hold hand over painful area and recite three times:

Holy, Holy chicken dirt

Tomorrow morning, it won't hurt

Blow on area three times, then seal with the sign of the cross.


To Banish Fevers

Suspend, upon a Friday, a letter containing the names set forth below, between the hours of eight and nine, upon the patient's neck, in the following manner:

Fold together, and tie it in grayish red cloth, which must be unbleached, and pierce through the cloth and the letter, three holes. Draw red thread through them, while calling the three holiest names. Suspend the same around the neck of the patient, and let it remain eleven days. After taking it off, burn it before the lapse of one hour:


 

 

H B R H C H T H B R H

H B R H C H T H B R

H B R H C H T H B

H B R H C H T H

H B R H C H T

H B R H C H

H B R H C

H B R H

H B R

H B

H





Against Evil Spirits and all manner of Witchcraft.

 I.

N. I. R.

 I.

 Sanctus.   Spiritus.

I.

N. I. R.

I.

All this be guarded, here in time, and there in eternity. Amen.

You must write all the above on a piece of white paper, and carry it about you. The characters or letters above, signify: "God bless me here in time, and there eternally."

 



To Protect your home from all manner of evils

In chalk or white stone, just outside your doorstep, mark on the ground three crosses spaced equal distance apart while saying:

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people.  He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David as he said through his holy prophets long ago, salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.


To Soothe Aches and Pains

Place hands gently on the afflicted area.

Repeat the following for a total of three times:

I will exalt you, O Lord,

for you lifted me out of the depths

and did not let my enemies gloat over me.

O Lord my God, I called to you for help

and you healed me.

O Lord, you brought me up from the grave;

you spared me from going down into the pit.

(Excerpt from Psalm 30, spoken with devotion.)


To Stop a Wound from Bleeding

Say three times over the wound:

Mary goes throughout the land

She has two pitchers in her hand;

In one is blood, in one is water;

Blood stay; water go.

Make three signs of the cross over the wound.


To Determine if you have been Bewitched

Rub a raw egg from the top of your head down the length of your body to your feet three times.  Break the egg into a dish or fireplace.  If there is blood in the egg, it is a sign that negative witchery has been cast on you.


To Remove Negative Witchery and Return it to the Witch

Boil a piece of beef and while it is cooking, keep sticking it with a needle.  The one who bewitched you will have the same pains and the spell upon you will be broken.


To Prevent Weak or Malicious Persons from doing you an injury

On a piece of paper write the following:

Dullix, ix, ux. Yea, you can't come over Pontio;

Pontio is above Pilato. + + +

Hang this above the main entrance to your house and it will certainly protect you from malicious persons!

To Protect The Home

Go to each window and door individually.  In the air make the sign of the cross or protective star while saying:


Three angels with three swords stand before the house of God.

The first is courage,

the second is strength,

the third strikes down all enemies.

In the name of the Holy Trinity!


Weather Charm

Hold a red knife in the air, blade facing oncoming storm, and say three times:

"Three angels ride the winds

to lands both far and near

Go west, go east, go south, go north

but do not linger here!"

Stick the knife into the ground.


To Stop Blood


Place a red knife gently over the affected area.


Three ladies came from Jordan's land

Each with a bloody knife in her hand

Stand blood, stand, in the name of God stand

Bloody wound, in God's name mend!


Repeat three times.


For Justice in Court


Carry a bit of Pot Marigold (Calendula) on the day of your court appearance and, prior to leaving your home, recite Psalm 20 three times.


The SATOR charm can be copied onto a slip of paper then taped to the inside of your front door to protect your home from thieves and intruders.