While reading the 30 April 2009 issue of The Pendleton Times, my home county newspaper, I came across a news item from the Sugar Grove news titled "German Folk Culture Still Lives Today". This got me to thinking about this topic, and using some information from the aforementioned The Pendleton Times article, I came up with today's post.
When immigrants came to America, their cultural contact was usually broken with the mother country. In the case of many of my ancestors, that mother country was Germany. Within a few generations, the knowledge of the German language and the ability to read and write it waned, and soon a folk culture developed, which encompassed the world of the proverb, superstition and folk medicine. In many parts of the country, “progress” so slow in coming, so this folk culture flourished and became part of everyday life.
While many ways remained that came over from the mother country, most of them were meshed with the new folk culture to form an amalgamation of cultures that, in some areas, remain to this day. While it is beginning to be lost, my home of Germany Valley in Pendleton County is one of these last remaining pockets to cling to the old ways that have been practiced since the early 1700’s.
There are old bits of German poetry that was passed on by word of mouth from generation to generation, sometimes forgotten, sometimes altered. Counting out rhymes were and to an extent, still are popular with young children. As you can see, they are a mesh of the old German language and the newer folk culture. While most (I’d say all, but when a person says all, they can usually be proven a liar) who teach these rhymes have no idea what the German words mean, they have never-the-less remained for around 300 years.
Eins, zwey, drey.
Mommy caught a fly!
The fly died,
Eins, zwey, drey!
Hex foot, hex foot;
Toad foot, toad foot!
Long snout, long snout!
Nothing out, nothing out!
Dibble, dobble, thimble head!
Set the farmer on his head;
Who must out, I or thou—
Or miller’s old brown cow
And that are Thou.
Folklore was commonly passed onto the next generations by an elderly member of the family, as in the following:
Hoppi, hoppi, hoppi,
Pony goes galoppi,
Over stock, over stone
Never crack the left shin bone;
Always at a galoppi,
Hoppi, hoppi, hoppi.
Local hexmeisters and powwow doctors provided most of the medical attention in the Pennsylvania Dutch settlements. Hexmeisters cured by using chants and incantations; and by using the power of hex symbols. Many of these hex signs can still be seen today, painted on barns and houses. Many people still believe in the power of the hex signs. (Also, you may not know this, the reason most barns are painted red with white trim, is a direct result of the hexmeister. Red is a power color, and the white trim around doors, windows and openings protected against witches. Also, if you see a barn or outbuilding with white trimmed windows, those are known as “Witch Windows” in Pennsylvania Dutch communities).
An old barn with hex signs on it. The big white circles have a symbol painted on them in case this photo doesn't show it. This symbol is called a rosette, and a sign for basic good fortune and prosperity. This barn is located near Circleville, Pendleton County, WV.
Powwow doctors used a combination of herbal cures and faith healing. Don’t confuse the Pennsylvania Dutch Powwow Doctor with the Native American dance. They are not the same at all. Most powwow doctors used a combination of folk medicine and the Holy Bible. If you believe, there is a multitude of cures for just about any disease or ailment in the first and second books of Moses. The first book of Moses (Genesis) and the second book of Moses (Exodus) can be found in every Holy Bible. That is no secret; the secret is in knowing how to use them. Most powwow and hexmeister secrets were passed on by word of mouth and were kept secret from the masses, lest their powers be used for evil.
Here is a common powwow cure to ease the pain in a child who has hurt himself:
Owley, Owley, keeley hay!
Tomorrow morn it’s all away.
To cure more serious pain, a powwow might use a healing stone on you and repeat three times, starting and stopping each time with the trinity:
Hair and hide,
Flesh and blood,
Nerve and bone,
No more pain than this stone.
Powwowing also assisted in matters that were of importance to the community. Topics of the weather, livestock, gardening and an array of other topics were all in the repertoire of the powwow doctor. Here is another example of something a powwow doctor could assist with:
To keep a bee from stinging you, repeat in an even tone:
Do not sting
The following cure was used to stop bleeding:
Auf Christi grab wachsen Drei Rosen,
Die erste is gutig,
Die ander ist nach herrschen viel,
Blut steh still, und wunde heil.
Three roses grow on Christ’s grave;
The first is gracious,
The second would rule.
Blood stand still,
And here is how to get rid a hex or witching that has been placed upon you or your property:
Take an unwashed jar; take thread spun by a maiden not yet seven years of age; put water (urine) from an animal in the jar. Then take an egg from a black hen, wrap the thread around the egg three times, and speak “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” while doing it. Then put the egg in the water, close the jar, turn it upside down so no moisture escapes and set it near the fire, saying: “Get rid of the witch in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”