Before I get into the hows of brauche work, I think it's important to put a little bit out there about cultural respect and the honoring of our ancestors ways. In modern times it's very chic to believe that the best way to honor one's ancestors is to go way way way back to pre-Christian times and try to resurrect a romanticised version of 'paganistic' religious practice. For some this works. Within PA German culture, this is becoming increasingly more common amongst those who are trying to fit the brauche tradition into a neopagan praxis. While efforts like this are interesting, and certainly they have a unique energy all their own, and can even provide spiritual fulfillment to those who create these systems, they hardly give a good picture of the Pennsylvania German culture or it's people. 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 the religious beliefs..that is, the CHRISTIAN 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. Pre-Christian beliefs are so far back in history and time that it is virtually impossible to trace our family lineage back that far; let alone know or prove exactly what it is our blood ancestors believed and/or practiced. It would be an injustice and, in my opinion, an insult, to deny that my ancestor's Christian religion was important, or somehow a lie that was covering up a romanticized ideal of hidden pagan worship. 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 PowWow 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. History and academia are not the enemy, neither is the Christian church. Let history be your teacher, forget the romanticism, and immerse yourself in the real history and culture of the Pennsylvania Germans. That is the first step to becoming a Powwow.
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 Doctor, 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. And so there are many powwowers out there in modern times 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.
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 Powwow. But don't limit yourself to just that. Nowadays there is more information available from a number of different practitioners and we all have our own unique twist on the system, so you have lots of room for personalization.
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.
"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 mysticism 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 is essential. 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 enkindles 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. 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.
If it is your sincere wish to become a Powwow, a real and true Powwow, then your road ahead is not easy. It is a testament of faith and unconditional love and compassion that will determine your success as a Braucher. It is my opinion that to become a PowWow, you become a servant of your fellow man, and of your community. It is no easy task to take upon yourself, and it is not to be taken lightly and dabbled at or played around with like a silly game. It is a calling and if you hear the calling, I hope you take it up with respect, because that's what Powwow needs to survive and be a credit to the wonderful Pennsylvania Dutch community it has come from.
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...probably not. Why can't everyone do it? 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, unlike other more modern magical traditions, 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 living.
Those of us who practice forms of folk magic have historically always been considered as 'fringe' members of society. Look at the English Cunning Men....(I say men because men moreso than women took up this profession)... they were generally seen as odd or strange, and yet respected at the same time by members of the community. Often they were feared as much as respected. Did they dress oddly or differently? Generally, no. But that doesn't mean local legends didn't spring up about them.
So to wrap up this train of thought, I would advise you, if you plan to take up powwowing or any other type of folk magic, to take it seriously, but don't let it define your manner of dress in such a way as to make you an outcast. The world is vastly different now than it was two or three hundred years ago, and expectations are much stronger that we at least try to conform to our society in some way. In other words, don't be a weirdo...
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, mostly on the main page of 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, are trying to preserve. 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!
Here is an example of the importance of keeping powwowing what it is.
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 neopagan mold completely alters the tradition and it is no longer Powwow.
"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 powwow by reading books. However, 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 teachers over the years. I've been fortunate enough to get in contact with just the right people at just the right times, and they've shared a wealth of information with me. While I can't reveal all that I've learned, I have shared more than anyone else who publishes on the subject, so take it while it's here! :)
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 and how to work them. That's it, just two. Both charms are found in the Long Lost Friend, although the wording is not quite the same. 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". 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. Throughout history, some individuals who observed the workings of powwows have even dubbed them "witch doctors" but this is more a title given out of ignorance, and in PA German culture the word "witch" has definite negative connotations. The belief in witchcraft was very strong in those days, but not in the sense that it's known nowadays. Witchcraft was the enemy; the bane of existence; as it still is in much of the world today. Sometime around the 1970's, the New Age 'eclectic' movement began, and that's when the relatively new spiritual movement of 'witchcraft' started absorbing as much as they could from every culture and every magical system they could get their fingers on. By the time the 1990's rolled around, it was almost too late for PowWow thanks to new agey authors staking claim to it as some form of Germanic/Heathen religious system disguised as Christian. This is false and irresponsible teaching, and an insult to the Pennsylvania German culture as it falsely represents the sincerely held religious faith of our ancestors.
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, 6th and 7th Books of Moses, 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. For a more complete breakdown of exact directions, see my book The Powwow Grimoire.
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 Pow-wows 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...
Here are a few books you should have in your collection if you are serious about studying, learning, and practicing PA Dutch Powwow. There are others, of course, but these offer the most solid foundation of the tradition and are, in my opinion, the best to get you started.
The Pow-Wow Book by A Monroe Aurand
This book takes a neutral, but favorable, approach at Powwow and gives us better insight into the mindset of the early settlers far better than any modern book can. I love this book because the author paints an amazing picture of the lifestyle of the early Pennsylvania Germans and how crucial their faith was to the success of Powwow.
The Red Church is by far my favorite work on Braucherei. It is both an academic and a practical look at Braucherei in a historical and modern context. I have the pleasure of being acquainted with Chris and he's a good friend for putting up with my constant questions. :) I really cannot recommend this book enough.
If you are not using this book in your Powwow, then you are not practicing Powwow. 'Nuff said!
The precursor of Long Lost Friend. Another essential book for the Braucher.
You will not find a traditional Braucher who doesn't utilize the bible in their Powwow. It seems to trump all other books in the practice of Braucherei. Without an understanding, acceptance, belief, and love for the Bible, it's words are meaningless and the power to heal is simply not there.
Tools of the Powwow
Most Powwows agree that the only tool one really needs is belief in God. Some maintain that their bible is their key tool and they might never need anything else. In modern times, we like to have stuff to play with, and so to that end I have compiled a list of tools that one might see being utilized in the practice of powwowing. These are all tools that I myself use in my own practice. You may have other things, you may use less.
We can trace the use of red string in magic and healing way way back to the pre-Christian Judaic mystic practices. Remnants of this are found within the Kabbalah and modern Jewish religion and even Italian Catholicism. Red string is utilized for both it's color and it's ability to bind. In Braucherei, string is used to take the measure of a sick individual, scrape the aura of an individual to remove an influence, bind, and protect.
The common books are the Bible, books of Psalms, and Hohman's Long Lost Friend, to name just a few. Books are used not only for their written content, but also as protective amulets and talismans and also as actual tools in the healing work. The Bible especially can bring healing just by holding it. The word of God has a power all it's own.
I lump all the paper charms into one category because there are just way too many to list separately! There are Letters of Protection, protective charms and talismans, healing techniques requiring the drawing of a person or the writing of their name, prayers, petitions, and so forth. In my old hometown there is a local church that, to this day, still gives out Letters of Protection to it's congregation every year. Paper is readily available and it only takes a moment to write up a charm, which is probably why this is such a popular method in Powwow.
I've seen people use pennies, safety pins, clothes pins, radishes, rattles, and all sorts of nifty little baubles in the practice of powwowing.