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I wrote my dissertation on hex signs, co-wrote a book on them with Dr. Don Yoder of the University of Pennsylvania, and had a traveling exhibit of (mostly) my photographs of hex signs with the Museum of American Folk Art in New York. This article needs to be completely re-written, something I don't have the time for right now. The term "hex sign" arose out of travel literature of the early twentieth century and is not a native term for the designs. The designs as seen on barns are not there for magical reasons but were, instead, a show of ethnic/national pride at a time when there were strong anti-German feelings and movements in Pennsylvania in the early nineteenth century. It was at this same time that the Amish and other plain groups codified the plain version of dress into a standardized fashion still worm today.
However, the same designs used as barn decorations were used for magical purposes in other contexts. When used for magical purposes, the designs were usually hidden: stuffed in couches, put on the bottom of chairs or the backs of mirrors. The designs themselves are neutral - it is the context in which they are used that gives them meaning.
Also, the traditional designs found on barns are all geometric designs. The birds, tulips, hearts, etc., found on contemporary hex signs were first painted when painters started painting on rounds of plywood rather than directly up on the barns.
Yoder, Don, and Thomas E. Graves. Hex Signs: Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Symbols and Their Meaning, Second Edition, Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 1999.
Graves, Thomas E. The Pennsylvania German Hex Sign: A Study in Folk Process. 1984. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation in Folklore & Folklife, Univ. of PA.
There were certain POV statements of an extremely negative kind in this article. I have now fixed these, but included a section on the reaction to these hex signs by other members of the local community. Paula Hay's comments below are correct and worth taking note of in revising this article. [Dr Leo Ruickbie]
- I find no evidence to suggest Paula Hay's comments should be accepted as "correct" - there is just as much evidence that the Hex signs have absolutely nothing to do with "folk magic" at all. This article is still very heavily biased towards the neo-pagan POV. Paula Hay's comments state that she is no expert - yet we should assume her stance is correct? In the face of scholarly evidence stating otherwise?
- Re: the occult-or-not nature of hex signs and Anabaptist objections to same, isn't it as plausible that those cultures, which are so opposed to ostentatious adornment in general, oppose them simply because of their nature as nonfunctional decorations? ("The decorative arts play little role in authentic Amish life [...] and are in fact regarded with suspicion, as a field where egotism and a display of vanity can easily develop." Wikipedia: Amish)
- Koikuri 01:50, 11 January 2007 (UTC)
This article needs help - it feels like it was stolen from somewhere. Who is the "I" that is speaking in the last half of the article? If it's a quote, use proper citation. If it's stolen, delete it and add real wiki-worthy content.
Since this is an article about a visual object, a picture would go a long way. A reader of this article wouldn't know what a hex looks like even after reading all the way through... Mr.Logic 20:40, 27 September 2005 (UTC)
1) I agree with you, and I will be attempting to get some camera pictures of Hex Signs next month as I hope to travel to the Pennsylvania Dutch area known as Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, some 11 Hours from where I'm located.
2) Don't forget to sign your posts, there is an easy way on Wikipedia to do so, just hit the ampresand key, upper left keyboard ~ four times after your text paragraph. Not sure if this is what you call it but it is indeed ~ (Four times) Try it here at your convenience. Thanks,Scott 16:57, 27 September 2005 (UTC)
Scott 21:31, 27 September 2005 (UTC)
- Congrats to you sir, Please let me know if I can help you with any wiki stuff, If I don't know, there are real people here that will! It'll be some time for hex pictures, however the most common is called the disstlefink. You can also build your user page and discuss things on your discussion page, Hopefully I'll be the first. Four curly's Tilde's to you! Thanks Scott 21:31, 27 September 2005 (UTC)
This article is wrong.
The term "hex" in "hex sign" does not come from "hexagram." It comes from the German "Hexe," meaning "witch," and "hexen," meaning to practice witchcraft or sorcery.
Additionally, I can't imagine ANY scholar worth his or her salt that would try to assert that hex signs originated as anything other than folk magic. The purpose of a hex sign is to "ward" (protect) the building on which they are painted or hung from evil spirits; the images and patterns used in the hex signs have specific meanings that correlate to such things as "good luck," "good fortune," "fertility," "prosperity," etc.
Pennsylvania's round barns mostly date from the early- to mid-1800s, and are similarly intended to ward evil spirits -- there are no corners for the hellish little buggers to hide in. Pennsylvania Germans are some very seriously superstitious people, even to this day.
If you have actually found someone who asserts hex signs are something other than "witch signs," a citation would be good to see, since the historical record of Pennsylvania German immigrants and their ways is rather large.
I'm not an expert on any of this, just a Pennsylvania local with some interest in local culture. It would be worth tracking down someone who actually knows about this stuff -- there are lots of historical societies and such in York and Lancaster Counties where you could find the proper information.
-Paula Hay, Centre County, PA
Commercialism and magic controversy
Article still needs help. I've removed some commercial links, but left in Zook. Perhaps as a working definition we might use "Fraktur commercialized for the tourist trade." Well that's about 90% of what people see anyway. As far as the witchcraft controversy, it seems to be of longstanding - see the Googlebook link - so it should be mentioned, but why dwell on it? Smallbones (talk) 20:48, 19 November 2008 (UTC)
The "Derivation" section asserts that
- "However, a six-sided design said to offer protection against hexes was commonly placed on early Germanic homes - it can still be found above the entraceway to some residences. The design was used to thwart negative rune workings and represented a positive charm."
Is there a reliable source to back up this claim? The link goes to the article for the rune Hagal, which is apparently an invention of an early 20th-century occultist, who based it on the authentic but not-very-hexagonal *Haglaz rune. Neither the Hagal article nor the Haglaz article mentions anything about the rune being placed above doorways in early Germanic homes.
I'd suggest that if nobody comes up with a reliable source within a resonable time (Six months? A year?), we should delete this passage from the article. 126.96.36.199 (talk) 19:41, 26 January 2009 (UTC)
- German de:Hausmarke are sometimes mistaken for rune-symbols and assumed to have mystical significance. They are really symbols to mark property, and while some resemble Germanic runes, this is likely as not coincidence. A vertical line with a hook on it, for example, looks like a rune but is an easy enough symbol to create by random chance. I will boldly delete the rune paragraph since it seems to be based on a misunderstanding of house marks. Fishal (talk) 16:21, 24 August 2009 (UTC)