Pennsylvania German Powwow

Faith healing and folk magic of the Pennsylvania Germans

There's not really a proper way for me to teach you how to do any actual powwowing charms on a website. For that, you may need an actual in-person teacher. However, you can learn all about powwowing from this site and it will give you a good place to start. My advice is for you to try the charms that I have on this site, and who knows, they may work for you. If so, then you may have the gift of powwowing naturally. Some may argue that powwowing isn't a natural gift. I can't say yes or no for sure. All I know is that some of the charms I use were never taught to me by another person. I tried them. They worked. 'Nuff said.

Before I get into the hows of brauche work, I really feel that it's important to put a little bit out there about cultural respect and the honoring of our ancestors ways. Years ago I felt as many do, that to honor the ancestors, I should go back as far as possible...that somehow the Christian ancestors didn't count.  But as I learn more and more about my own ancestral lineage, I realize that religious beliefs were very much tied into the lifestyles of those who came to America and, in fact, one of the main reasons for their immigration to America in the first place. It would be an injustice and, in my opinion, an insult, to deny that my ancestor's Christian religion was important. The fact is, the history of PA German culture is also the history of religion in America; particularly within the Lutheran church.  And the history of Powwowing is very much a part of that religious history as well.  My own ancestors on my father's side immigrated here from Austria.  From those ancestors to the present day, my family has been a part of the Lutheran and Reformed churches in Schuylkill County (they merged in some instances and became the ELCA/UCC congregations we have now).  Those earliest immigrants up to and including my own father are all buried in the same churchyard. I am carrying on this religious tradition.  My advice to those who wish to remain truest to their ancestral lineage is this:  learn about your ancestors.  Put names and faces to them.  Find out what their religious beliefs were.  Find out where their churches were.  Respect those traditions.  Carry them on.  That's where the real cultural knowledge and ancestral respect is found.  When we honor those who have struggled so hard to make a home for their families...namely us, here in this new world, and keep their faith alive, and establish churches and homesteads for us.... we are really embracing the real Pennsylvania German culture and remaining true to the real spirit of powwow work. 

 

Pictured here is my personal powwowing book, a copy of the New Testament from 1896.  Inside I have many of my favorite charms written, as well as paper charms and talismans that I've made over the years for various reasons.  My charm book travels everywhere with me and is always a part of my powwow practice.

 

 

If you want a comprehensive history of the "Holy Experiment" that was William Penn's idea for Pennsylvania, read SET APART: RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES IN PENNSYLVANIA.  It is a very good introduction to the many religious communities that found freedom in Penn's Woods.

For another good source of quality academic information regarding the religious lives of the early German Americans, I recommend THE WILLIAM AND MARY QUARTERLY published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.  It is free to register and read articles online, but does cost money to purchase downloads.

Now, let's get to the hows of the system........   

It is a traditionally-held thought that in order to become a powwow, one must be taught by a Braucher/Powwow. It is an oral tradition, passed from one person to another; typically cross-gender. Historically, Powwow was passed down through families from father to son and so on, through the male line. Or it would be passed from mother to daughter and so on, through the female line. But to teach outside the blood line meant teaching cross-gender. In modern times, information is shared more freely, and so we have easier routes by which we can learn things. There are many powwowers who learned most of the practice on their own.  I was fortunate in that I had a happy blend of research, books, and real-world practitioners to guide me. However, as stated above, a majority of the charms I use were never taught to me by another person.

If you are lucky enough to have a real life teacher, then he or she will most likely determine the method by which you learn your powwowing. 

For example, my first teacher provided me with actual paper lessons and assignments so that I could learn about powwowing and its history, etc. I later realized that this information was unreliable and severely lacking in actual cultural/historical substance, so I reached out on my own to learn more. 

The second person I learned from was definitely more traditional. I learned of her through someone who contacted me through my website ("I know a woman in my neighborhood...I should introduce you..." etc. etc.). So she set up a meeting for me with her. When I showed up at her house, she didn't invite me inside at first, she made me wait on the porch while she finished up whatever she was doing inside. After about 30 minutes, maybe longer, she let me come in. She offered me a cup of water then wanted to know why I was so interested in powwowing. I talked to her for a few minutes, it wasn't long. Then she said she would teach me one of her charms that she learned from her dad. She recited that one charm to me, one time. She told me that if I learned it, that was good. If not, oh well... I didn't ask her to repeat it, I committed it to memory. She didn't ask me to repeat it back to her. I guess she figured I'd either learned it or not, but it wasn't her concern. The second charm she taught me was written on a slip of paper which she handed to me as I was leaving her home. She didn't provide me with history lessons or a wide variety of charms and cures. She didn't give me a lengthy lecture about how I should conduct myself with potential clients. She taught me one charm verbally and the other was just handed to me on a piece of paper. She knew that I was researching the tradition in an effort to gather information and share it, so after I thanked her for sharing her time and information with me, she said "don't give this to anyone and leave me out of it". She was very direct with me and I've respected her wishes since then.  

A teacher like mine might be rare and difficult to find, so in the meantime I recommend you read as much as you can.  Find websites, read articles, and get some books.  Read the various points of view.  This will give you a good foundation of knowledge to build upon, and the academic stuff is important to have as a foundation if you really want to gain a proper understanding of powwowing and its place in PA German society.

 

"In the earlier ages, religion was closely interlocked with mysticism and magic.  Today, in this country it is the religious people who believe the more strongly in the power of pow-wowing; and pow-wowing derives it's power from the Christian religion and the Bible.  Both depend for their success upon faith and are in sympathy in many ways."  -The Pow-Wow Book, A Monroe Aurand, 1929

 

Since powwowing is a system derived from Christian folk tradition and faith in Christ, you should seriously devote some time to your own faith and questioning what you actually believe, exploring your current religious/philosophical/spiritual views, and so forth.  You don't need to become a hardcore churgh-goer in order to powwow, but you do need to be a Christian.  In addition to this, an understanding of astrological influences as well as the history of mysticism in Pennsylvania will be beneficial.  You will also need to reconcile your practice of magic with the false idea that Christians should not practice magic.  Many Christians take a literalist view of the Bible (which doesn't really work in modern times) and many do not.  You must come to terms with this on your own. 

 

"If pow-wowing is healing by Divine power, it might be well to inquire into the methods of the Master, who cured many persons, and who said John 14:12-"He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also." - A Monroe Aurand, 1929

 

 I believe a quote from the great mystic, Jacob Boehme, is appropriate here.  Although he was referencing the words found in his book, The Way To Christ (1647), his words are more than perfect for the instruction of powwowing: "God-loving reader:...if you want to use this...properly, and if you are in earnest, then you will surely experience its worth.  But, if you are not in earnest, I would have you warned that you let God's dear Name alone - (the name) by which the Highest Holiness is called, denounced and mightily desired - so that God's wrath be not enkindled in your soul.  For man is not to misuse God's holy Name."

 

Finally, it is crucial that you have sympathy for your fellow man.  Compassion is a trait that many simply do not posess.  I believe that God wants us to help others.  I believe He wants us to use the power of healing to improve the quality of life for our fellow human beings.  I believe the most noble goal we can reach for is to have everyone enjoying good health. I don't believe we need to be love, light, and butterflies 24/7 in order to bring healing to the world. That sort of lifestyle is so unrealistic and, quite frankly, irritates the heck out of me.  However, a certain level of compassion and a desire to actually use the gifts and talents God has given you are a good foundation for your own practice of the tradition.

The following model is taken from David Kriebel's well-known article "Powwowing: A Persistent American Esoteric Tradition (LINK to article

 

WHY SO HARD TO BE A POWWOW, CANT JUST ANYONE DO IT?

This is the number one question that I get asked.  The short answer is...I don't know. I believe that Powwow is a calling, it is using our God-given abilities to bring healing (and other things) to those in need.  It is a call to serve others, do good for others, and act selflessly, forgetting your own needs at times in favor of other's needs.  A Powwow is on-call all the time, every day, for whoever needs him.  When people know you are a healer, they want your time and energy.  You get requests all the time for prayer and healing. Most people believe that it is a gift from God if you have the 'healing touch', and not everyone is given this particular gift.  Others believe that anyone with enough faith in God is able to powwow.  Ultimately it is up to you to figure it out for yourself. 

Most of us specialize in just one or a few areas of specialty.  For example, my one friend is great with charms to relieve physical pain.  Another is good for removing negative energies and spiritual entities from your environment.  My own skills are stronger in the areas of protective charms.  We all have our specialty.  There are some Powwows who never learn more than one or two healing charms and that's the extent of their practice.  Others, like myself, delve into the study and practice of a whole array of things; from healing to protection to dispelling curses and so forth.   

When you are called to be a Powwow, you will find your strengths and you will find your weaknesses.  You learn that you are not all things for all people...you do have your limits.  However, ultimately it is up to God to effect the changes that He sees fit, and all you can really do is the best that you can with the understanding that it is not your will, but the will of God, that will ultimately prevail.  And this is the key to being a successful Powwow...realizing that your will is not the ultimate power in the universe.  Magic and change do not happen in accordance with our own wills, but by the grace and will of God.

 

DO POWWOWS WEAR SPECIAL COSTUMES?  DO THEY WEAR HATS?

Somewhere along the way, the image of a Powwow has become blended with the image of an Amish or Quaker man.  It is understandable how this came to be; after all, many aspects of PA Dutch culture are often blended together with the practice of Powwow.  But in reality, a Powwow is a regular person, just like you.  Just like me.  There are no costumes in Powwow because Powwow is not a spectator-oriented show.  It is typically one-on-one or, in most cases, private.  It is not a group effort.  The idea of a Powwow wearing a black suit, black hat, sporting a Biblical name like Abraham or Jacob is a tempting image, but not the reality.  As a Powwow, it is entirely up to you which type of image you will convey, but please don't be insulting to the Amish community (or the PA Dutch) by making your Powwow into some type of silly parody of Pennsylvania Germans. 


I DON"T LIKE THE BIBLE AND I DON"T WANT TO USE IT, CAN I STILL BE A POWWOW?

Then Powwow is probably not for you.  A serious academic study of European folk magic or English Cunning Craft and the American folk magic traditions; such as Powwow, Hoodoo, and even the Mexican practice of Curandero, will reveal the Judeo-Christian foundations of all of these systems.  Without a belief in God or the Bible, your Powwow isn't the real deal.  Our cultural ancestors brought their various forms of Christianity to the new world with them.  It is this melding pot that the Powwow tradition is born from.  But don't take my word for it, let history and academia be your guide.  Search out old newspaper articles about Powwow, read the old grimoires (Long Lost Friend, Romanusbuchlein, Albertus Magnus, Keys of Solomon, TSSBM, just to name a few.....).  Then read Aurand's Powwow Book.  Then read The Red Church.  Then go to the Kutztown University Library, they have loads of information to work with.  Then study the history of the Lutheran church here in Pennsylvania.  Then research the immigration waves of the early German settlers.  I provide links to all of this information, in various places throughout this website.  Without the Bible, your Powwow just isn't Powwow.  That's really the bottom line.  Certainly you may try to piece together a Powwow practice by removing all the Christian elements, but then you've got very little left and your practice is a pale and false reflection of what our cultural ancestors, as well as modern practitioners, practice.  Without the Bible, you deny a very crucial and important piece of our ancestral lineage.  I recommed reading THIS LINK.  It is the wikipedia information page about the early German Americans.  It gives an historically accurate portrayal of the religious persuasions of our ancestors.  Very informative! 

 

Consider for a moment.....

 

Let's say your great Grandmother has a recipe for apple pie.  It's wonderful, it's delicious, and she shares the recipe with her daughter (your Grandmother).  Your Grandmother loves the apple pie and shares the recipe with your mother, who then eventually teaches that recipe to you.  You now have your great Grandmother's apple pie recipe.  It has been passed down, unaltered, to you.  But you don't like apples.  So instead you take out the apples and replace them with blueberries.  You make the pie, with your alterations, and announce to everyone that you are serving your great Grandmother's family apple pie recipe, just as your great Grandmother made it, because you respect your ancestry.  Except it's not really her recipe, is it?  No.  It's blueberry.  It's no longer your great Grandmother's apple pie.  You can no longer, in good faith, state that you are carrying on the tradition of your ancestry, as you are not making the same recipe that your great Grandmother passed down to you.  Certainly your version is inspired by the original, but it's not the same thing...

 

Changing the very foundation of Powwowing literally attempts to rewrite hundreds of years of history.  And that is what it is; a rewrite.  The tradition never existed in any other form.  Removing it's foundation and reworking it to fit a modern non-Christian or neopagan mold completely alters the tradition and it is no longer Powwow as the Pennsylvania German culture knows it.


"All magical traditions in Europe (and many beyond) were in some way impacted by Christianity.........for the last thousand years the vast majority of European magicians, sorcerers, conjurers and cunning folk where Christian. The same holds true in America. Alchemists, root-workers, pow-wows, and mystics have been overwhelmingly Christian since the days of the Puritans." -excerpt from article at Balkan's Arcane Bindings READ MORE HERE

 

 

HOW DO I FIND A TEACHER?

That's the tricky part.  There are so few of us these days, and I think it's fair to say that we aren't all that interested in taking on students.  But if you are really and truly interested in practicing Powwow, then my advice is to learn as much as you can.  Read through this site, all the links, and the recommended reading materials.  Remember that to be a Powwow is to carry on an aspect of a culture that is deeply rooted in the founding of our country.  To become a Powwow is to take up the job of preserving that culture and remaining true to it.  For this reason, I cannot stress enough the importance of study.  Immerse yourself in the culture to get a feel for it.  Only then can you truly understand why and how the tradition came about and it's proper place in the community. 

If you are just primarily interested in learning a system of magic, but aren't really the Christian type, then there are far easier things you can study, like some of the modern magical schools of thought like wicca or neopagan spellcraft.  I might recommend a stroll around the New Age section of your local bookstore for this type of information. 


CAN I LEARN POWWOW BY READING BOOKS?

Yes, you can learn about powwow by reading books, but one thing I have found over the years is that most books are severely lacking in the HOWs of the charms and others, like Long Lost Friend, have the instructions hidden throughout that you must piece together.  For more specific instruction, you will probably need an actual teacher (in the real world).  I offer as much as I can here on this site to get you started, and it's a pretty big start actually.  This site has more information about Powwow than you'll find anywhere else, so don't disregard it.  I've included all the movements and gestures as I've learned them from various sources over the years.  

There are some within the academic community that feel Powwowing absolutely MUST be learned in person, and passed down in the traditional manner.  However, much (if not the majority) of Powwowing in Pennsylvania is based off of charms found within The Long Lost Friend.  That book has been in continuous print since the beginning of the 1800's.  In the past two hundred years, it has sold over half a million copies.  There is no evidence in Pennsylvania of there being over a half a million lineaged practitioners of Powwowing.  However, there are many practitioners.  It simply does not make sense that all Powwowers are lineaged.  The reality is that people buy the book, like what they see, and some of the charms work for them.  That's probably how the vast majority of Powwowers learned their trade.

I learned a few charms from my original teacher.  A few years later, I met another woman who taught me two charms.  That's it, just two.  Since those days, I met countless Powwowers from all over the state who have shared bits of information with me.  When I started piecing together information for this website, I wanted to focus on as much academic work as I could, so I studied and learned more on my own.  It would be impossible for me to claim that my Powwowing was a lineaged practice because only a small handful of charms were passed onto me.  I've expanded my practice tremendously since those early days. 


WHY IS POWWOW FOR CHRISTIANS, CANT NON-CHRISTIANS DO IT TOO?

Powwow, as we know the system, did not exist prior to the coming of the German-speaking immigrants to the state of Pennsylvania. Here, in the culture that was forming that would become known as PA Dutch, some of the old magical grimoires (like Albertus Magnus, for example) would become a part of the early settler's attempts at medical work. When Hohman wrote The Long Lost Friend, this began the actual tradition that we call Powwow, but only after later editions of his book were published and the title renamed to "Powwows"(although there are at least two claims that the word "powwow" - or something similar - was used as early as the late 1700's, but it's hard to verify since they are written after the fact) It was a simple system based on the older grimoires that taught Christian-based charms and cures for common household ailments and troubles.  So contrary to common misconception, the magics used in Powwow did not necessarily stem from pre-Christian pagan magical systems (at least, there's no evidence to suggest this) but rather they come straight from Judeo-Christian mysticism and Christian folk magic.  There are two charms known as the Merseburg Incantations that are sometimes believed to be the ancient roots of powwowing, but all they really are are examples of ancient healing charms.  There is no evidence to support that these have become the powwowing tradition, as some like to suggest.  Indeed, ALL cultures have healing techniques and home remedies and folk magics in their history.  Powwow's roots stem from Judeo-Christian roots. 

History and culture are the real teachers here and, in my personal opinion, there is no Powwow quite like the real thing; here in Pennsylvania within the PA Dutch culture. There are still quite a few older folks who remember Powwow. In my church, an old PA German Reformed church, Powwow is discussed quite a bit. Many of the congregation can remember Powwow in their families and/or local communities; which is no surprise really because almost all communities had a Powwow in those days.

For the best research on Powwow, I recommend looking directly to the source of Powwow's traditions; Albertus Magnus, Hohman, Romanusbuchlein, and the Bible.

 

DO I HAVE TO BE PENNSYLVANIA DUTCH TO BE A POWWOW?

No, you do not, although it's hard to have an appreciation for the history of powwowing without some attachment to the culture from which it comes.  I myself have Pennsylvania German blood (from my paternal grandparents--Henne's from Berks County and Koenig's and Hausers from Austria) by blood, and remember my upbringing in Pennsylvania right in the living culture of the PA Dutch.  As a child, me and my brother and sister spent almost every weekend at my grandparent's home and we were lucky enough to be exposed to all the PA German cultural lingo and cooking and traditions, so the progression into Powwow was actually quite natural for me.  However, it is not necessary that you be of PA Dutch lineage in order to be a practitioner.  It is important, though, that you help maintain the integrity of the tradition and the culture from which it came, by being truest to it's roots.  Please read carefully through this site then get your hands on as many books, websites, newspaper articles, and real life practitioners as you can in order to flesh out your learning experience.


HOW DO I DO THE HEALING CHARMS? THE BOOKS AREN'T VERY CLEAR...

No, the books aren't very clear, but the techniques are scattered throughout and you really have to dig.  Many of the charms have a spoken component, a gesture or movement, and are to be repeated for a total of three times.  The standard is two times in one day then the third time the next day.  Then you make the sign of the cross over the wounded area "in the three holy names" (father, son, holy ghost).  There are variations, and the charms will give you those variations in the instructions.  


ARE THERE RULES IN POWWOW ABOUT WHAT I SHOULD OR SHOULD NOT DO?

Yes. Sort of. Actually, there are a few taboos to consider.

One taboo states that we should not reveal the name of the person who taught us to powwow if they request that we do not. The theory is that if we break this taboo, we lose our ability to powwow. I don't like to take chances, and I also respect the wishes of my second teacher, so her name and the two charms she taught me will stay with me until I'm dead and gone.

Another taboo is that you absolutely MUST teach cross-gender. Personally, I don't see the spiritual logic behind this. I can't imagine that it would be breaking anyone's trust to teach to the same gender. Certainly God wouldn't care about such a petty rule. It certainly doesn't hurt our cultural ancestors to teach someone of the same gender. So I can't honestly find justification for this one. Still, tradition is tradition, and some people are very strict with this taboo.

A third taboo I heard of (or maybe I read it somewhere, I don't know) is that you must never stand behind the person you are trying for. I don't know the reasoning behind this, and I truly don't know if I've ever stood behind someone or not while trying for them. I've never paid that much attention to it, nor have I, or the individual I was trying for, suffered any negative flak from the experience.

Another taboo is that you must wash your hands in running water immediately following the session. I believe the theory here is that the illness or malady somehow "sticks" to the powwower and you need to wash it off right away. I can sort of understand the concept of this, although I don't actually believe in it. I have never experienced any symptoms from powwowing. Some have told me that they take the illness into themselves when they are healing. This is alarming to me because powwowing is like petitioning God on behalf of the afflicted. I have never personally taken on any of the illnesses that I've tried for. I don't know why this would occur in some and not others. Some powwowers claim their hands get hot when they powwow and they can somehow feel energy radiating from themselves into their client. Others don't have this experience. I suppose powwowing is different for everyone. But, for me, it is not an energetic healing process. There is no mention of energy manipulation or warm hands in any of the foundational works of powwowing. I believe this is a modern super-imposition of reiki practice into powwowing. I am in no danger of extracting the illness from someone and taking it into my own body. I simply work the charms and leave it up to God to do the rest. If you feel you would like to wash your hands afterward, then by all means do so. However, I don't believe it is necessary.

The final taboo concerns the acceptance of payment for powwowing work. The idea is that if you accept payment, you will lose your ability to powwow. I have never tested this theory as I have never accepted any sort of compensation for work I've done. However, there are some historical mentions of powwowers making quite a business of powwowing, charging hefty fees, etc. I would look at these individuals with suspicion as it exploits powwowing in a way that it was not meant to be used. Personally, I think the ability to work some charms successfully is a gift from God and I would not want to jeopardize that by cheapening it with the charging of fees. 


MY FINAL ADVICE...

Just try it. The next time you are near someone who has a headache, try the headache charm. Try a burn charm if the situation arises. The charms will either work for you, or they will not. There is no way to know unless you try. Even the most practiced of powwowers are not guaranteed 100% success. There are no psychic skills to master, no lesson plans to work through, and no tests to take. If you feel called to do powwow, then just try it and see how it goes. 

 

An excerpt from The German Pietists of provinicial Pennsylvania: 1694-1708

 

This excerpt is taken from the ship's diary that set sail from Germany to Philadelphia in the year 1693.  It speaks of the great faith of the passengers and Captain, and how that faith saved them more than once on their long and dangerous journey to Pennsylvania.

 

The first mishap 
came at the very outset when they ran into a furious gale
in the channel. The pilot, taking his course close to the
English coast for fear of French privateers, was forced to
steer between cliffs and sand-banks. As the storm increased
in fury, fearing for the safety of the vessel, they cast their
largest anchor. When the gale was abating, the ship drifted
against the anchor ; it broke, knocking a hole in the ship,
which, however, caused no leak. Towards night another
storm arose, and the vessel was driven by wind and waves
against a hard sand-bank. 15 There was a crash as if every-
thing in the ship was turning topsy-turvey, and as two more
thumps followed, the cry was raised, " Commend your souls
to the Lord ; we shall go down."

The passengers and crew now gave themselves up as
lost, and all threw themselves on their knees and prayed
for about an hour, expecting the vessel to go to pieces every
moment ; when suddenly Johannes Kelpius, the leader of
the party, upon a " third inward prompting," told Captain
Tanner that the Lord had promised deliverance, that more
dangers were impending but Divine Providence would grant
a safe arrival. 16 Falkner in his account writes, " Here
Faith, which conquers the world and its elements, proved
so strong and heroic in some of the passengers, that they
forgot the danger, went to the captain and told him to be
of good cheer : the danger was not meant for destruction,
but for testing the belief and the love of many. This
proved to be true, for when the prayers strove most earn-
estly against the wind and waves, the most powerful waves
came, as it were, to the support of the prayers, and at the
behest of the Creator, whom they obeyed, lifted the ship
and carried it over the bank into a safe depth, contrary to
all experiences upon sea and to the surprise of the crew."
 
This is the strong faith that came to Pennsylvania by the ancestors of the people that
would become known as the Pennsylvania Dutch.  The founders of our tradition knew the
value of faith in God.  I believe as Powwows in modern times we must adhere to this
tradition of faith and remain true to the powers that literally saved our ancestors from
almost certain death.  Had it not been for their strong faith in God, many of us today
would probably not be here...