Pow-wow (folk magic)
Origin of the name and practices
Its name comes from the book Pow-wows, or, The Long Lost Friend, written by John George Hohman and first published in German as Der Lange Verborgene Freund in 1820. Despite the appropriation of "pow-wow", taken from an Algonquian word for a gathering of medicine men, the collection is actually a collection of European magic spells, recipes, and folk remedies of a type familiar to students of folklore. The formulas mix Christian prayers, magic words, and simple rituals to cure simple domestic ailments and rural troubles.
Early Pennsylvania was a melting pot of various religious persuasions, as William Penn's promise of religious freedom opened the doors for many Christian sects: the Anabaptists, Quakers, Lutherans, German Reformed, Catholics, and all manner of religious mystics and free-thinkers. It is from this blending that the Pennsylvania German Pow-wow tradition was born.
The tradition is also called braucherei or Speilwerk in Pennsylvania Dutch; its adepts are sometimes referred to as hexenmeisters or braucher, though this is not common for all practitioners. The tradition of Hex signs painted on Pennsylvania barns in some areas is believed by some to relate to this tradition; the symbols were pentagrams, thought to have talismanic properties, though many current hex signs are made simply for decoration. Many scholars disagree with this claim, however, and generally the hex signs are believed to be the natural progression of German fraktur art.
The Bible is considered the most important book of the Pow-wow, and no practitioner would work without his Bible on hand. In addition, several popular grimoires are also utilized, primarily the Romanus-Buchlein and Egyptian Secrets of Albertus Magnus. Important to some practitioners was the work The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, a magical text attributed to Moses and claimed as an esoteric sequel to the Biblical Five Books of Moses, or Pentateuch. Various versions of the work can be traced to 18th and 19th century German sources, while an English translation was published in New York in 1880 by the German antiquarian, Johann Scheible. However, the majority of practitioners were superstitiously fearful of this work and believed it invoked all manner of evil and devilry, as explained in the academic work The Red Church by author and Braucher Christopher Bilardi.
An excerpt from The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, which many Pow-wowers find as justification for the Christian practice of Pow-wowing, reads:
One thing must not be omitted, in conclusion, and that is, we must first become Christians before we can perform cures by Christian methods. Very few are really Christians who call themselves such; they are only Christians in name and appearance. The art of healing, according to scriptural principles, deserves special mention in this place, in more than one respect, not only because something truly magical takes place therein, but because scriptural healing is often regarded as the only true one. The principles of this art of healing have been fully established according to certain declarations and doctrines of the Bible.
It is primarily understood by practitioners of the Powwow tradition that Powwow is an Americanized version of English Cunning Craft:
The Pow-Wow practitioner is more closely allied with theology than medicine and feels he is a mediator between the patient and God. Among the Pennsylvania Germans, the 'plain folk', such as the Amish, Dunkers, and the Mennonites, as well as among the Lutheran and German Reformed church members - Pow-Wow and the Pow-Wow doctor has a significant following.
Another characteristic practice of pow-wow magic is the Himmelsbrief or "heaven's letter". Significantly, the Long Lost Friend assures its owner that:
Whoever carries this book with him, is safe from all his enemies, visible or invisible; and whoever has this book with him cannot die without the holy corpse of Jesus Christ, nor drowned in any water, nor burn up in any fire, nor can any unjust sentence be passed upon him. So help me.
A 1988 film, Apprentice to Murder, stars Donald Sutherland as "Pow-Wow" doctor John Reese, and Chad Lowe as his young apprentice Billy Kelly. Reese practices the folk magic rituals in a small Pennsylvania town whose residents believe they have fallen under a curse. The film makes use of the Pow Wows or the Long Lost Friend cited above.
A Sure Means to Staunch Blood
It is helpful, though the person is far absent, if the one who uses this means for him, pronounces his name aright.
Jesus Christ, Precious blood! Which soothes the pains and stops the blood. Help thee (name) God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen
Cure For The Headache
- Tame thou flesh and bone, like Christ in Paradise; and you who will assist thee, this I tell thee (name) for your repentance sake. + + + This you must say three times, each time lasting for three minutes, and your headache will soon cease. But if your headache is caused by strong drink, or otherwise will not leave you soon, then you must repeat these words every minute. This, however, is not necessary in regard to headache.
To Remove Bruises and Pains
- Bruise, thou shalt not heat
- Bruise, thou shalt not sweat;
- Bruise, thou shalt not run,
- No more than Virgin Mary shall bring forth another son. + + +
To Pull the Heat from Burns
- Two angels came down from the north;
- one named Fire, the other Frost;
- Frost said to Fire go away, go away;
- in the name of Jesus go away.
- Barnstar, Pennsylvania Dutch good luck charms
- Pow-wow, a gathering of Native Americans
- Brown, C. F.; Hohman, J. G.; Hohman, J. G. (1904). "The Long Hidden Friend". The Journal of American Folklore 17 (65): 89. doi:10.2307/533169. JSTOR 533169.