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 4 or 5 years ago. 

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folk magic vs ceremonial magic

Posted by Rob Phoenix on November 18, 2017 at 4:10 AM

Sometimes people are surprised to find out I have a few ceremonial ritualistic elements to my powwowing. The surprise is understandable because powwowing is fairly simplistic no-frills sort of folk magic. So what's the difference between folk magic and ceremonial magic? And how can the two work together?

Folk magic is, for our purposes, the simple day-to-day magics of the powwow. These would include the removal of warts using a potato or apple or penny, the soothing of a burn from the stove, the stopping of blood from a minor scrape or cut, and other such cures and charms that one might find a use for throughout the course of his day. Folk magic is just a part of your every day life. It is an extension of your faith, and therefore could be called 'folk religion'. It need not be complex, it requires little or no preparation or props, and it serves a function in daily living.

Ceremonial magic, on the other hand, is a set of intentional and ritualistic actions that are coordinated to achieve a specific goal. For example, ceremonial magic could include the setting up of a work table or special altar, the creation of a ritualized space either through creating a magic circle or defining the space in some other way, such as with candles. Ceremonial magic often includes invocations and/or prayers to God. The ritual is generally worked during a planned time, such as during a specific phase of the moon or planetary hour. And the work done during the ritual is often the creation of talismans or the removal of hexerei or some other such complicated matter.

Generally speaking, a powwow need not ever concern himself with ceremonial magics as they typically fall outside the normal realm of practice for a powwower. However, the ceremonial elements can be added if you are the type of powwower that finds himself trying for frequent cases of verhexing. I suppose this depends on the area where you live. In my area, it seems that verhexings are common. Or, at least, many people believe they are common. Because of the frequency of requests I get for this type of work, I've created the ceremonial ritual elements that I wrote about in The Powwow Grimoire. They function as a means for me to bring my religious practices into my home and increase my own sense of protection while I'm working for clients with complex issues.

Ceremonial magic is really a way for you to have a religious foundation for your folk magic, if that is your preference. Since powwowing is a Christian practice, the ceremonial elements are really good for people like me that no longer regular attend a bricks and mortar church. Ceremonial magic is a way for me to have that experience at home while making it more to my religious liking, as opposed to sitting through a church service that may or may not bring me spiritual fulfillment.

Whether you choose to just stick with the folk elements of powwowing or flesh out your personal practice with some ceremonial stuff, I would advise you to stick with what you know, don't try to call up or conjure something you are unfamiliar with, and always keep your faith as your foundation. Learn to feel the words you are saying, rather than just memorize them for the sake of memorizing them. Make sure you understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. 

basic tools of powwowing

Posted by Rob Phoenix on September 3, 2017 at 5:10 PM

Powwowing is a no frills tradition. It requires little more than your faith in the Holy Trinity and knowledge of a few tried and proven charms. You could spend your entire life powwowing with nothing more than your hands and your trusty dusty old family bible. 

But there are a few bits and bobbles that have found their way into the practice of powwowing that you may want to experiment with. The list I've created here contain the extras that I use or have used in the past. This is by no means an all-encompassing list of all things that can be used in powwowing. But it's a good place to start.

Bible. Of course. This goes without saying. Your bible may function as an actual working tool for your powwowing (I have used mine to beat out a verhexing, rub away pain, etc). Or you may just have your client holding your bible while you are powwowing them (Ive done this too). In my opinion (as well as many others) powwowing just isn't powwowing without the holy Bible.

Stones. I have three stones that I use in my powwowing. One is a smooth black river stone that I use for removing pain. Exactly HOW I use it for pain relief is my own secret, but I've been using this same stone since the 1990's and it's never failed me. The other two stones I use come from the Nelson Rehmeyer property, which is fairly close to my home. Nelson Rehmeyer is a bit like a martyred saint in powwowing, so the stones from his property have great meaning to me. One of the stones is used for marking circles and/or other marks or symbols. The other stone is used exclusively for anti-hex work.

String. Some like to use exclusively red string, others aren't so fussy. It's up to you. String is used to "tie off" certain illnesses so they can be removed from the afflicted person. You can also scrape off an illness or verhexing with string then burn the string to remove the influence.

Coins. Pennies are used to remove warts. The wart is rubbed with the penny and then the penny is either spent or discarded in some way. You can also remove a verhexing with a penny then 'gift' that penny to the hex who cast the curse so as to return it to them. This is tricky business, so please exercise caution if you do this.

Potatoes. Much like coins, potatoes are generally used for wart removal. You cut the potato in half, rub the wart, put the potato back together, and bury it on the corner of your property. Well, that's one version. There are a number of different potato/wart charms that you may come across.

Over the years I've learned about powwowers using herbs, little pouches, safety pins, and whatever else they may have laying about the house. The beauty of powwowing lies in its simplicity. The tools you may use are plain and unassuming and can literally be kept in plain sight with no one being any wiser of their purpose. 

A world away. In memory of my grandparents, Arthur and June Whitley.

Posted by Rob Phoenix on August 20, 2017 at 6:05 AM

As is often the case when my mind is focused on research into powwowing, I find my thoughts drifting to my grandparents. Born of immigrants from both Austria and Wales, my grandparents, Arthur "Red" Whitley and June Betty Whitley (formerly Bankes)  built their home with their own hands in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. My grandfather worked at Atlas Power Co. his entire life while my grandmother worked as a clerk in Mitchell's Furniture Store in Tamaqua, Pennsylvania. They were members of Zion's Stone Church, a German Reformed Church which later became United Church of Christ. I always remember them as old people, but I suppose that's how most of us remember our grandparents.

Almost every weekend, my grandfather would drive to our house and pick up me, my brother, and my sister and take us to his home for three days. There was a set schedule to the weekends, which in my adult years became a part of the fondness I miss about them. Saturday mornings we would drive my grandmother to the hairdresser and drop her off. Then my grandfather would take us kids to the newspaper store for his paper. Each of us would pick out a pack of gum to chew on for the weekend. Then we'd go to the hardware store, or perhaps to the bakery for a cruller. On occasion, we'd visit our Great Uncle John and Aunt Sarah. In later years, after Great Uncle John passed away, we'd visit Aunt Sarah in her eclectic loft apartment. She had traveled the world and always had interesting things to look at and touch around her apartment.

Our grandparent's home had several acres of land, both wooded and open, and the Appalachian Trail ran through their property. My siblings and I would pick wild strawberries, play in the woods, swing on a homemade swing my grandfather hung from an oak tree, watch my grandfather burn paper trash... we'd play in my grandfather's garage, or throw balls up to bounce off the garage roof. Year round we'd sled down the grassy hill next to their house. For a few years, we had a tree house to play in. There was a small creek that separated their property from the neighbor, who we remember being named "Rolly". My grandmother had a small vegetable garden where she grew her own lettuce and, just outside the kitchen she grew the most delicious tomatoes I've ever tasted.

My grandfather was a hard worker, always on the go, and quite impatient at times. I like to think I'm just like him. He had a good sense of humor, liked to intersperse German words with his English, and he loved us tremendously. My grandmother was very loving and 'grandmotherly', always in the kitchen or working on crossword puzzles in her favorite chair in the television room. In the evenings she would watch Love Boat and Murder She Wrote and Wheel of Fortune.

On Saturday nights, my grandparents would play cards at the local Rod and Gun Club while we kids ran around the bar, drawing on a large chalkboard that hung on the wall, or playing outside in the fields with other kids whose parents were members.

Every year, on Labor Day weekend, my grandparents would take us to Ocean City, Maryland for vacation. My memories of these vacations are endless and there wouldn't be enough room here for me to elaborate.

Needless to say, I have nothing but fond memories and love for my grandparents.

My grandfather passed away in the late 1990's followed by my grandmother in the early 2000's, but I am still saddened by the loss. I often wish I had been older when I knew them so I could have asked them more questions about their lives, about what life was like for them when they were young... I'd ask them what they did as children and what their parents were like. I'd want to know more about what they had hoped their lives would be like and what dreams they may have had. There are so many questions I could come up with, but the opportunity to ask them has long passed.

When I look at my life today and compare it to the life my grandparents gave me, I find myself feeling both pleased because I have brought some of their values forward and passed them onto my own son, and ashamed because I have allowed myself to become quite 'modern' and fixated on worries over financial matters as opposed to allowing myself to enjoy the simpler things the world has to offer.

I still visit the local bakery on occasion, this time with my son. I let him pick out a treat and I always tell him how my grandfather (my pop pop) did this with me. I still like to go on Sunday drives with my family, just like my grandfather did with us kids back in the day. I point out the cows and barns and horses to my son and reminisce about things I saw or did as a little kid. I suppose this behavior speaks of my increasing age, but I'm ok with that.

When my work week begins again and I'm back in the modern office building with things like "fiscal year" and "ledgers" and "reconciliations" on my mind, it's so easy to forget where I came from. Because my grandparents are gone, the life they shared with us seems a world away. And this makes me sad.

But when I see my son playing in our garage or prodding something in our pond with a stick or picking out a treat at the bakery, when I see his eyes light up at his first sight of the ocean at Ocean City, Maryland, I realize that little bits and pieces of my grandparents are still with me today, and maybe they aren't so far away from me after all.

My Great Aunt Sarah (on the left) and my Nana and Pop pop, June and Arthur Whitley.


Playing Card divination

Posted by Rob Phoenix on August 13, 2017 at 11:15 AM

About twenty years ago, I visited a local powwow who offered card readings. It was an interesting experience, to say the least, as she was very much a no-nonsense kind of woman. She wasted no time on pleasantries and literally didn't ask me a single question. She just started tossing playing cards on the table in front of her while reciting prayers and incantations to God, interspersing advice and predictions while doing so. She spoke non-stop for several minutes. When she stopped speaking, I was sort of caught off guard. She swept the cards off the table and declared the reading "over", so I left. 

While her abrupt method made it difficult, if not impossible, to remember everything she said to me, I've always been inspired by how confident she seemed with what she was doing, and how flawlessly she switched back and forth from prayers to advice to prayers to predictions and so on and so forth. Then, when the last card was tossed onto the table, she stopped. And it was over.

Here is my own method of playing card divination, taught to me by a powwower several years ago and slightly modified by me a few times. I don't use this very often. However, it is effective enough (and simplistic enough) that you can use it in a pinch for yourself or someone else. You don't need to have a special set of playing cards set aside to do readings, although you can if you want. My own cards have been used for solitaire on occasion. As I type this blog entry, my six year old son is attempting to shuffle my cards and make up games for us to play.

When reading playing cards, the two most important things to look at are the suit and the number of the card. The four suits each represent different things:

Hearts - relationships, love, family, friends, partners, things you care about.

Clubs - represent where your (or your client's) focus is, whether for good or ill.

Spades - hidden or unknown forces at work in your (or your client's) life.

Diamonds - finances, money, things you place value on.

So, for example, if you toss a Club card out, you know that this represents what your client is fixated on at the moment. If it's a heart, you know the issue is related to relationships or other things the client cares for. If a Diamond, it's a finance issue. If a Spade, it's something going on that your client probably isn't aware of, for good or bad...

The number of the card further fine tunes the meaning.

Aces - the beginning of something, a new start, an idea or inspiration (ex. Ace of Diamonds might be a new job or a new idea for a business)

Twos - the things we are attached to, the things we care for (ex. Two of Hearts could be our children, our possessions that we love, our pets, etc)

Threes - people in our immediate life, our siblings, our friends (ex. Three of Clubs could be a focus on siblings or too much time with friends)

Fours - our home, our memories, our mothers (ex. Four of Spades could be us subconsciously being held back by past events)

Fives - things which bring us pleasure (ex. Five of Diamonds could be enjoyment of shopping or over indulgence of spending)

Sixes - our health (ex. Six of Spades could be a health issue the client is not yet aware of)

Sevens - intimate relationships whether good or ill (ex. Seven of Clubs could be intense focus on your marriage or obsession with an enemy)

Eights - things we don't want to face (ex. Eight of Diamonds could be a warning that we must face our debts or find a new job)

Nines - things we learn about and/or pray about (ex. Nine of Spades could be study of spiritual or mystical things)

Tens - our goals, our ambitions, our fathers (ex. Ten of Clubs could be overly-ambitious or very career focused)

Jacks - people in our direct lives that influence us (ex. Jack of Diamonds could be a co-worker or business partner)

Queens - people in our lives that are focused on us, for good or ill (ex. Queen of Spades could be a malicious, vengeful woman)

Kings - people in our lives that have authority over us, for good or ill (ex. King of Hearts could be a husband or father, kindly or controlling)

The cards are laid out one at a time. As you set down each card, you declare its meaning. Then move onto the next card and say its meaning. Repeat this until you've laid out nine cards total (you can do more, if you feel so moved, but do at least nine for a good view of your client's current situation). If a particular card seems difficult for you to interpret, flip over another card and lay it on top to help clarify. 

There is no need to set up any type of atmosphere with things like candles or incense. There is no need to make the experience spooky or mysterious or weird. Just lay out the cards, state their meanings, and that's it. If it helps you to intersperse prayers into your interpretations, then by all means, go for it.

The warning with doing card readings is that, once people know you do it, they don't leave you alone. That's why I strongly support charging a few dollars. 

December 6th, Saint Nicholas Day

Posted by Rob Phoenix on December 4, 2015 at 6:25 PM

For those of us with European ancestry, which is many of us I imagine, Saint Nicholas need not be forgotten in December in favor of good old reliable Santa Claus.  What many don't realize is that Santa Claus is a relatively modern mis-pronunciation of the name Saint Nicholas.  I believe we can thank the Dutch for this, but don't quote me on it...


Saint Nicholas was an actual, real life person that lived about 300 years after Christ, give or take...  He is recorded as being the youngest (or among the youngest) Bishops in the Christian church and has so many miracles attributed to him that history often identifies him as "Nicholas the Wonder-Worker".  Nicholas was born in Myra but his legends traveled the world.  He is most known for the time he saved a poor man's three daughters from an undesirable fate by secretly providing the family with enough gold to marry off the daughters.  These sacks of gold are believed by many to be the precursor of the gifts we find under the tree on December 25th.



Nicholas died on December 6th and it wasn't long before people started doing good works in his name.  In many European areas, it is tradition to acknowledge Saint Nicholas on the eve of December 6th.  Children will leave their shoes out overnight with the expectation that Saint Nicholas will leave a little something for them inside the shoes...usually candies, fruits, and such.  Depending on the European location, Saint Nicholas may be accompanied by a companion.  Whether Krampus, the demon who punished naughty children, or Black Peter, or Knecht Ruprecht, Saint Nicholas is an interesting fellow!


In my home, as in many homes of those with European ancestry, Saint Nicholas Eve is a time of expectation for the arrival of the Wonder Worker.  On December 6, we awaken to treats in our stockings... candies, toys, and other fun things. 


If your family celebrates the feast day of Saint Nicholas, may it be filled with wonder and blessings! 



November 28th, Nelson Rehmeyer Day

Posted by Rob Phoenix on November 1, 2014 at 7:15 PM



As a powwow doctor in south central Pennsylvania, November turns my thoughts to Nelson Rehmeyer.  In 1928, long before my time, a local Powwow Doctor was murdered by three men who believed Nelson had placed a curse on them.  As a Powwow, Nelson provided healing services to his community.  However, a few local young men who seemed to have nothing but bad luck needed answers.  As the story goes, a local witch named Emma Knopp (Nellie Noll), revealed to the men that Nelson was the cause of their misfortune--and only by collecting a lock of his hair and Nelson's copy of The Long Lost Friend, a Powwow manual, could the curse be lifted.  The men visited Rehmeyer on the night of November 28, 1928.  By the end of the night, Rehmeyer was dead and the men felt vindicated, despite being unsuccessful in obtaining Rehmeyer's copy of Long Lost Friend.   While there is a possibility that a curse may have been to blame for the men's misfortune, it has been determined that Nelson Rehmeyer would not have had any interest in verhexing the men, as they were his friends. 


The home of Nelson Rehmeyer, now maintained by his descendant Rick Ebaugh.


Shank's Tavern in Marietta, Pennsylvania, is reported to be the former home of the Witch of Marietta, Nellie Noll.


Photograph of the investigation at Nelson Rehmeyer's home, 1928.


The murder of Nelson Rehmeyer brought the practice of powwowing out into the open and put a national spotlight on an otherwise quiet community.  Because of this, a concerted effort was undertaken by the scientific community to stamp out all traces of powwowing.  People became suspicious of powwow and it almost faded into complete obscurity.  However, some practices and beliefs can survive even the harshest times, and powwowing continued, although without the popularity it once enjoyed.  Now, almost 90 years after the murder of Nelson Rehmeyer, powwowing survives in local memory as well as practice and has gained a place of respect in the minds of those still connected to the Hex Hollow murder.


In 2013, Shane Free began piecing together the complex story of Nelson Rehmeyer and the three men who murdered him.  The movie was released in November 2015.  The documentary he put together, Hex Hollow, tells the story of the Rehmeyer family and the story of the three men accused of the murder.  It successfully clears away misconceptions about powwowing and explores the belief in witchcraft and curses.  For more information about this amazing project, go to



Nelson Rehmeyer is something of a patron for me and my powwowing.  I have great respect for Nelson because he was well-known as a powwower in the York area and seemed to be well-liked by all who knew him.  What happened to Nelson was unfortunate and tragic but a sobering reminder that no matter how good your intentions, there will always be a certain level of fear and suspicion when you choose to live on the fringes of society and practice folk magic traditions. 


On November 28th, I set aside a moment or two to honor Nelson and say a prayer for him and all involved in the tragedy that ended his life.  I am very blessed to be a part of the Hex Hollow documentary and I hope my contribution will help to dispel misinformation about powwowing for another 90 years to come!




The grave of Nelson Rehmeyer and his wife.

Conception Billet: the power of the written word

Posted by Rob Phoenix on August 24, 2014 at 1:35 PM

One of the common identifying traits within Powwowing is the use of himmelsbriefs, or Letters from Heaven.  Dating back hundreds of years, himmelsbriefs were believed to be penned by God, Himself, and given to humanity to use for protection against all sorts of misfortune; poverty, illness, accidents, witchcraft, and even Satan.  Hand-written notes of protection date way back to ancient Egypt.


During the 15th and 16th centuries, Letters from Heaven, known then as Conception Billets, were a product of the clergy.  Monks would create and sell Conception Billets to those who could afford them-often made as gifts for nobles.  Later, Cunning Men would create Conception Billets for the common folks in their communities.  And, in more recent centuries, himmelsbriefs are created by the Powwow for the same reasons.


The style of Conception Billets has varied through the centuries, but the common points shared with all of them is that they are created on paper, contain prayers and petitions to God, and promise to protect the bearer against specific incidents.  From the extremely artistic and elaborate to the simple handwriting on a sheet of paper by a barely-literate farmer, Letters from Heaven have been a piece of the magical and religious community for hundreds if not thousands of years.


This Conception Billet, copied from The Cunning Man's Handbook (Avalonia, 2014) can be carried by an individual or buried at the edge of a property.


"I conjure thee, paper, thou which servest the needs of humanity, servest as the depository of God's wonderful deeds and holy laws, as also according to divine command the marriage contract between Tobias and Sarah was written upon thee, the Scriptures saying: They took paper and signed their marriage covenant.  Through thee, O paper, hath also the devil been conquered by the angel.  I adjure thee by God, the Lord of the Universe (sign of the cross), the Son (sign of the cross), and the Holy Ghost (sign of the cross), who spreads out the heavens as a parchment on which he describes; as with divine characters, his magnificence.  Bless (sign of the cross), O God, sanctify (sign of the cross) this paper that so it may frustrate the work of the Devil! "Ye who upon his person carries this paper written with holy words, or affixes it to a house, shall be freed from the visitations of Satan through him who cometh to judge the quick and dead."

"Let us pray, Mighty and resistless God, the God of vengeance, God of our fathers, who hast revealed through Moses and the prophets the books of they ancient covenant and many secrets of they kindness, and didst cause the Gospel of thy Son to be written by the evangelists and apostles, bless (sign of the cross) and sanctify (sign of the cross) this paper that thy mercy may be made known unto whatsoever soul shall bear with him this sacred thing and these holy letters; and that all persecutions against him from the devil and by the storms of satanic witchcraft may be frustrated through Christ our Lord.  Amen." 


The paper is to be sprinkled with Holy Water.


Hex Hollow Documentary - the story of Nelson Rehmeyer

Posted by Rob Phoenix on July 19, 2014 at 8:10 AM


In the Spring of 2013, I was asked to be one of many individuals interviewed for the Hex Hollow Documentary film, put together by filmmaker Shane Free.  This documentary was to tell the real and complete story of powwower Nelson Rehmeyer, who was brutally murdered in the 1920's near York, Pennsylvania.  His assailants were told by a local witch that Nelson had placed a curse on them, and so they took matters into their own hands. 


The filming began in the summer of 2013 and my piece was filmed at my home in mid July.  This was a very cool experience,  unlike anything I had ever been asked to do before. 


My good friend, Chris Bilardi (author of The Red Church) was also there that day for his interview.  We really did not know what to expect in our interviews, so instead we sat in front of the camera and just answered questions as they were presented to us. 


Over the past year, I have heard from the filmmaker periodically about the progress of the documentary.  I never realized what a huge undertaking it could be to put together a story utilizing over 20 different people's input.  My piece was only a tiny fraction of the story.  But combined with all of the other folks who were interviewed for the movie, we are telling the story of Nelson Rehmeyer, his reputation in the community, his practice of Powwowing, and the events leading up to (and including) his murder.  It's an important story to tell, and never before has it been told by so many people who covered many aspects and angles of the incident.


One year after the initial filming, the movie crew returned to Pennsylvania to get more footage.  This time I wasn't interviewed, but rather asked to perform various powwow-related techniques for the camera, and film what is known in the movie industry as "B Roll"...  It was another exciting experience and I can't wait to see the finished product.


According to the filmmaker, the movie will hopefully be released by the Fall of 2015, which means one more year.  But a project this important can't be rushed, and I can wait patiently. 


As I get more information, I will update this website accordingly.  In the meantime," target="_blank">there is a facebook page for the movie. 






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. 

The study of Pennsylvania German powwowing, and any other American Folk Magic tradition, 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. 

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.  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, Phoenix 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. 

der Belsnickel

Posted by Rob Phoenix on December 26, 2013 at 9:20 AM

Before our much Americanized, and commercialized, version of St. Nick, kids growing up in Pennsylvania Dutch homes were taught the Belsnickel story, said Zach Langley, director of education at the Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center at Kutztown University.

Really, the Belsnickel was the ultimate judge of whether kids were being good or bad, Langley said.

Europeans who immigrated to America from the Alps brought with them the legend and tradition of the Belsnickel, Langley said.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas in rural Pennsylvania, a man from the town would dress in dirty clothing to take on the character of Belsnickel, Langley said. In many cases, he'd ask kids to recite a Bible verse or some other question to gauge their disposition, he said.

Children were rewarded with nuts, fruit or some other small trinket. But the kids who erred would get a rap on the knuckles, or worse.

"The classic Pennsylvania German image is a fur-covered guy walking around with a switch," Langley said.

By the early 20th century, Pennsylvania German families began to assimilate into American customs and the Belsnickel fell out of fashion.

And around that time, the familiar version of Santa Claus that we've come to know and love was developing. His image, Langley said, is due in no small part to advertising and the popular media of the day.

Nowadays, the Belsnickel makes appearances during depictions of early Pennsylvania German life at museums and historical societies, Langley said.

That's not a bad way for the Belsnickel to be remembered.


This story originally appeared in The Reading Eagle, December 30, 2010.

Read the original article HERE.