Pennsylvania German Powwow

Faith healing and folk magic of the Pennsylvania Germans


Even though this entire website is technically my "blog", this page will hold my extra articles that don't really fit in well on the other pages, or maybe there will just be ideas that jumped into my head that I wanted to share here. Some of the older blog entries are helpful and so I recommend you scroll down and look through the entries from 10 years ago or so...

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Powwow in the garden

Posted by Rob Phoenix on May 16, 2021 at 5:20 PM

Bill and I have many flower gardens on our property. I also have a large vegetable garden and I grow herbs in pots on one of the patios. This year, I added a few herbs to the actual garden because they were growing so large they could no longer fit in the pots. 2020 was a bad year for the veggies and herbs (and life in general) but this year things are growing with a vengeance, and I'm really excited to see our stuff growing!

As a Powwow, my connection to my property is extremely important to me. I feel great pride and happiness when my land is doing well and the life is flourishing. I mourn the loss of plants or animals on our property and I celebrate when things are growing healthy and strong. I say prayers for my plants and add blessings to the vegetable garden and read bible verses to my herbs. This is how I incorporate my spirituality and my Powwow into the work I do here at home.

I know my vegetable garden doesn't look like much right now, but in a few weeks it will be lush and full.

My potted herbs are doing very well this year. Herbs are tricky for me. Sometimes they grow, and other years they are more stubborn.

As a folk healer, I think it's extremely important to care for our land just as we care for our clients. When we can love our plants and our native flora and fauna, we can also learn to love and respect those who come to us for healing. Many people have commented on how peaceful and lovely it is to spend time on my property, and I hope they carry that feeling with them. I do believe it adds to the healing process. And I always recommend to my clients that they start a garden if they are able to do so. There is so much healing power in connecting with your land, cultivating your gardens, and creating a beautiful and spiritual place of healing.

The Roadside Apothecary

Posted by Rob Phoenix on April 25, 2021 at 1:40 PM

Yesterday I wrote a blog post about finding Stickyweed (Sticky Willy) on the side of the road near my house. This morning I walked back up to that hillside to check out what other treasures I might find, and I was NOT disappointed!

Here is a picture of the hill (upper left hand side of the picture with the house and barn-like shed on top). The view is from the bar on my patio.

So far, I've come away with Creeping Charlie, which is extremely beneficial in fighting against lung issues, sinusitis, and ear/nose/throat illnesses. I found garlic mustard, which is primarily an antiseptic. I found Dead Nettle (purple nettle), which is astringent and anti-inflammatory. I found Speedwell, which is an expectorant but can also relieve stomach upsets. In addition, I found dandelion and plantain, which are good blood cleansers. I also found yellow mustard seed which is anti-inflammatory and a good pain reliever. There are a bunch of other plants that I cannot yet identify.

Your neighborhood can be a veritable pharmacy of herbs and plants. Many of these grow like weeds and are generally treated as such. The hill where I found most of these is technically my neighbor's property, and once or twice a year they take a weed trimmer and hack it all to the ground. Now that I can idenitfy the benefits to many of these plants, I will do my best to harvest them before they go all scorched earth.

Take a walk around your neighborhood. Pay attention to what is growing alongside the roads. What may first appear to be normal roadside weeds can actually be powerful healing medicine in the right hands. Powwow teaches us to live with our land, so access to these healing plants is such a God-send for me!

Sticky Willy: a super healer and cocktail mixer

Posted by Rob Phoenix on April 24, 2021 at 3:20 PM

I love plants and their medicinal and folklore uses. Today as I was walking my dog near my house, I noticed an entire lovely hillside along the road that was positively covered in stickyweed (AKA Sticky Willy)! This is a lovely plant that has a sticky, almost velcro-like quality to it due to the tiny hair like growths along the stem. Sticky Willy grows like a weed and wraps around and climbs on whatever it touches, including itself. It can grow alongside most roads, so it's likely you've seen it or have it near you.

The beauty of this plant is that the leaves can be infused with vodka or gin (clear is best) to give them a lovely cucumber, honeydew, herbal flavor. The stems can be cut up into small bits and added to some water then blended in a blender. Then strain a bit into your cocktail. You can soak the leaves in water for a few hours to use as a facial cleanser. Folklore states it will make you beautiful!

Sticky Willy has powerful antioxidant properties, so the infused water can be drunk when needed. You can make the stems and leaves into a healing poultice for wounds, as well.

I don't recommend growing Sticky Willy in your garden because it spreads quickly and will make your other plants extremely unhappy. But once you find a local place to cut some, that supply will likely return for many years!

A means of binding one who has wronged you

Posted by Rob Phoenix on April 22, 2021 at 8:10 PM

In folk magic, to "bind" someone is to cause them to be unable to cause harm or mischief until they are brought to justice. It is a means of bringing down divine intervention upon a criminal so that they are unable to take any type of action; leaving them vulnerable to capture by proper authorities. Imagine the thief being unable to flee....or the murderer to be unable to move from their hiding place... those are the ideas behind the old binding charms.

Such charms can also be used to cause a magically-oriented individual to be unable to take magical action against you. There are various methods within the Powwow tradition to aid in such endeavors, including the use of wormwood, Solomon's Seal, blessed salt, and binding charms like the one found in this blog post.

To work a binding charm, often you will need to write the name of the offending person on a slip of paper and nail it to a tree with three iron nails. As you nail each one into the tree, repeat the following:

Ye thieves, I conjure you, to be obedient like Jesus Christ, who obeyed his Heavenly Father unto the cross, and to stand without moving out of my sight, in the name of the Trinity. I command you by the power of God and the incarnation of Jesus Christ, not to move out of my sight, + + + like Jesus Christ was standing on Jordan's stormy banks to be baptized by John. And furthermore, I conjure you, horse and rider, to stand still and not to move out of my sight, like Jesus Christ did stand when he was about to be nailed to the cross to release the fathers of the church from the bonds of hell.. Ye thieves, I bind you with the same bonds with which Jesus our Lord has bound hell; and thus ye shall be bound; + + + and the same words that bind you shall also release you.

You are able to substitute the word "thieves" for whatever is troubling you, such as "bad neighbors", "witches", or whatever.

Once the charm is complete, the only way for the individual to be released is by you. You will remove the nails from the tree while saying three times:

You horseman and footman, whom I here conjured at this time, you may pass on in the name of Jesus Christ, through the word of God and the will of Christ; ride ye on now and pass.

You should only release the individual once justice has been served.

The Farmer and the Hex Man

Posted by Rob Phoenix on April 20, 2021 at 8:50 PM

This story is taken from Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Spirituality by Richard E. Wentz, 1993 published by the Pennsylvania German Society. I highly recommend this book! I've added my own commentary after the story....

....In Lebanon county when I was a boy there were two farms side by side where Trout Run slides along under Second Mountain.The richer farm, of course, was in the valley, the poorer up on the side of the mountain. The hill man worked for the valley man at most seasons of the year. They had a disagreement finally, not a very serious one, the valley man thought, but serious enough to make the hill man throw up his job and to refuse to come back to it even after a rather humble visit of his old employer.

Shortly after this, hogs of the valley man sickened and dropped off one by one until six were dead. Meanwhile one of his mules was mired, and broke his leg and had to be shot. A cow died of milk fever after calving. The valley man went over the mountain to consult a famous powwow man in Schuylkill County. The powwower told the valley man that the hill man had bewitched his stock. That was what the valley man had expected to be told, for the hill man had been regarded by some of the neighbors as having certain ways of a "hex". The witch doctor told the valley man that if he went to one of the great wooden uprights in the underground stable of his barn he would find a hole in it with a wooden plug and hair of the pigs and mule and cow behind the plug. He found a hole bored out with an auger, and plugged, of course, and a wad of hair at the back of it. After the removal of the hair no more of the stock died.

The valley man had no more bad luck that winter, but by spring he was so uncomfortable living there under the "hex's" eye, with the water from the "hex's" place running down through his pasture, that he sold out and moved down into the Tulpehocken valley. What really drove him out was the light he saw every night in the hill man's attic. The valley man thought there was magic being made there that would end in more trouble for him and his. Just before the light appeared the hill man had gone to Reading, and on his way back home he had shown at the last tavern a copy of Albertus Magnus. In his cups he had boasted of the great power of witchcraft in the book. Then came the light in the attic window. The richer and stronger and better man thought it the part of discretion to move. That was more than thirty years ago, but the hill man "hex" still lives, and still at night you can see the light in his attic, certainly up to and past twelve o'clock. Neighbors who have sat up to watch it say that sometimes it is not out until three o'clock in the morning...

This story is fascinating to me for several reasons. First, the hill man uses Albertus Magnus to cause misfortune to the farmer. This shows that the same information that powwowers use to heal is also used to verhex. Secondly, it is incredible that the powwow in Schuylkill County was able to see exactly the charm the hill man had used against the farmer and his livestock. And finally, it made me chuckle how the hill man boasted of his "witchcraft" in a tavern, while actually brandishing his copy of Albertus Magnus!

Powwow's history is a colorful one, that's for sure. Sometimes it can be tricky to discern fact from fiction, or history from myth. But part of the mystique of the tradition is the stories such as the one shared here. In some parts of Pennsylvania, Powwow was so revered that the practitioners became legends in their own way...their sagas told as local myths.

I hope you enjoyed this story, I certainly do! PLEASE check out the book as I mentioned above. It is worth your time in tracking down a copy.

Mustard and folklore

Posted by Rob Phoenix on April 18, 2021 at 8:00 PM

Take a look along the road near your house, or maybe in your own weed-infested garden.. See some bright yellow flowers growing on a weedy stem? You might have mustard seed!

Mustard seed is used to make, you guessed it, Mustard. Typically, the seeds are soaked in water overnight, pulverized into a paste, then added to some powdered turmeric and white vinegar and you have America's second favorite condiment!

But mustard seed has some folklore and faith healing properties as well.

For example, in the 500's, mustard seed was believed to cure the bite and poison of a Scorpion! The seeds were also chewed on to releive toothaches. A plaster made of pulverized mustard seeds could aid with congestion by smearing on the bare chest. Even Saint Matthew knew the inherent powers of mustard seeds when he compared faith in Heaven to that of the mustard seed.

In Powwowing, a plaster of mustard seeds and horseradish is a VERY effective remedy to releive chest congestion and coughs. To make your own mustard, simply soak the seeds overnight, pulverize and blend with a dash of salt, a teaspoon of turmeric powder (for color) and white vinegar. Then strain it through a metal sieve and you have homemade mustard! It might be a little spicey the first few days, but eventually the vinegar takes the edge off the spice and it tastes like regular store-bought yellow mustard!

Healthy Citrus Water

Posted by Rob Phoenix on April 17, 2021 at 2:25 PM

Water is so crucial to our health and well-being, and we don't seem to drink enough of it! Part of the reason might be that water is, well, boring. So I like to flavor it up while at the same time making it healthy and delicious.

For Citrus Water, all you need is a 2 Quart pitcher, 3 oranges, 2 lemons, 1 lime, and about a tablespoon of crushed spearmint.

Slice up your fruits into half slices. This gives them plenty of opportunity for the juice to really pour out all over the place.

Put your fruit into the pitcher and add your crushed spearmint in a disposable tea bag.

Then add ice and cold water, give it a few stirs, and you're ready to go!

For a different flavor, and a healthier experience, toss a few tea bags in the pitcher of Green Tea, Echinacea, and Elderberry! These extras are especially delicious when you use this as a cocktail mixer.

I like to add prayers for good health while I'm mixing this because I'm a Powwow and that's what we do... Also, this makes a fantastic mixer for plain vodka!

Elderberry syrup

Posted by Rob Phoenix on April 3, 2021 at 2:10 PM

My son and I were feeling extra kitcheny today, so after I finished making jam, he made Elderberry syrup! My son is 10 years old and fancies himself something of a "Green Witch". It's fun watching him work on remedies. I oversee just to make sure he doesn't set the house on fire, but mostly he can do it all on his own.

You start by getting some dried elderberries, about two full cups. Add a few cloves, one or two cinnamon sticks, a few bits of fresh ginger, and two cups of water. 

After everything is boiling nicely, reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook for about 30 minutes. During this time, you'll need to remove about half of the liquid from the pot and discard it, unless you plan on making several bottles, then keep it all. But for a small syrup jar, you should discard about half the liquid.

When it's all ready to go, strain the mixture through a coffee filter (or cheesecloth if you have it) into a container. Then you will add one full cup of honey.

The honey and the elderberry liquid should be mixed well then left to set. Once it's all cooled down and set, you may have to play around with the consistency a bit to get it how you like it. For this particular batch, we ended up using the whole jar of honey, which is about two full cups. Then just put it in a sealable bottle or jar and put in the refrigerator! It will last a few months. Take a teaspoon everyday to help prevent flu viruses and allergies.

Homemade berry jam!

Posted by Rob Phoenix on April 3, 2021 at 10:10 AM

For an extra Easter treat this year, I decided to make jam. My son found this recipe on his favorite You Tube channel" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">The Green Witch! I couldn't settle on the type of berry I wanted to use so I decided to make a mixed berry jam using blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.

It's a little early in the year so the berries aren't at their sweetest, but that's ok.

For this recipe, you'll need about 4 or 5 cups of your chosen berries, 1 lemon, and about 1/2 to 3/4 cups of sugar. You'll also need a nice pot to cook it all up in, a jar to store it in afterward, and a knife and cutting board to cut up the berries.

Start by roughly cutting up the berries. No need to get too detailed on this, just chop a little bit. It can be messy, but it's still satisfying!

Then put the berries in the pot with the sugar and the juice from your lemon. 

Because my berries were on the tart side, I added extra sugar. I might regret that, we'll see. But the recipe isn't carved in stone so feel free to add or subtract as you like.

Now cook the mixture on the stove on medium heat until it starts boiling, then reduce to a simmer and cook for about an hour, stirring often.

You'll have to watch your jam closely to see when it starts to get that jam consistency you are looking for. You can put a teaspoon on a plate and let cool then test it to see if it's the consistency you want. This is probably the trickiest part of the process, knowing when it's done. Just watch it carefully and you should be fine!

When it's all cooked, add it to your clean jar and let it set and cool.

This should stay good in the refrigerator for a few months. But hopefully you'll enjoy it so much you'll be making fresh every few weeks!  Enjoy!!!!!

April Fool's Day, the day of Eileschpiggel!

Posted by Rob Phoenix on March 29, 2021 at 6:25 PM

April Fool's Day is a day of trickery, traditionally devoted to "trickster spirits" like Loki in Scandinavian folklore, for example. An entire day filled with tricks and pranks to satisfy the child within us all but to also appease the trickster spirit that lurks behind the doors, ready to trip us up at first chance!

In Pennsylvania Dutch folklore, we have a trickster character that goes by the name of Eileschpiggel. Eileschpiggel is often seen as either a young man or a spry older Pennsylvania "Dutchy" man who delights in tricking that one character we'd all love to steer clear of.... the Devil himself..

Eileschpiggel is a brave soul, and not afraid to take chances. He loves nothing more than to make a fool of the 'ole Devil and show him up every chance he gets.

The following is an excerpt from Folk Religion of the Pennsylvania Dutch by Richard Orth:

One day Eileschpiggel and the Devil were talking, and the Devil baosted of how hot it was in Hell. Eileschpiggel retorted to the Devil that the hotter it was, the better he liked it. The Devil then made a challenge with Eileschpiggel to see which one of them could stand heat the best. The challenge was accepted, adn the two of them went off to a nearby bakeoven. They fired the bakeoven, and then both of them crawled inside. After a very short while, Eileschpiggel feared that he would soon burn up, and he started to crawl out the door. The Devil yelled at him, "Where are you going?" Eileschpiggel replied, "It's too cold in here, I am going to put more wood on the fire!" At that instant, the Devil quickly followed him out and said, "You win, you can stand the heat better than I can."

In another wager, the Devil challenged Eileschpiggel to a swimming match to see who could swim the farthest. They decided to meet at the Schuylkill River; the Devil showed up on time, but youn Eileschpiggel was late. When the Devil was just about to go look for him, he saw Eileschpiggel coming down the dirt road dragging a calf. As he got closer he said to the Devil, "Go get some wood for a fire." The Devil, Puzzled, asked "Why?" Smart Eileschpiggel then replied, "You don't expect me to swim for forty days and nights without first having a good meal!" With that reply, the Devil considered Eileschpiggel the better swimmer without even getting in the water.

This April Fool's Day, raise a glass to the cleverness of our own Pennsylvania Dutch trickster, Eileschpiggel!