Pennsylvania German Powwow

Faith healing and folk magic of the Pennsylvania Germans


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.

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