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”Your Great-Grandfather was a Pow-Wow Man”

When my father died I returned to my ancestral stomping grounds in Carbon County, Pennsylvania , the Lehigh Valley towns of Lehighton, Palmerton and “Mauch Chunk” (now "Jim Thorpe", Pa.) to take care of his effects and affairs. Friends and family took me aside to tell me stories about my family. The ancestor who clearly made the biggest impression on the folks back home was my great-grandfather John.

John (or “Hans”) emigrated from Germany in 1890. John, they told me, had been a “pow-wow” man, a sort of faith-healer and herbalist. Everyone who told me this (and I heard it several times) seemed both proud and ashamed at the same time.


Pow-wow, or brauche in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, is a magick practice, primarily for healing humans and animals, though it can have other aims as well, such as conferring protection from physical or spiritual harm, bringing good luck, and revealing hidden information. It has existed in North America since the first German immigrants settled in Pennsylvania in the 17th century.

Up until the 1930’s, Pow-wow was fairly widespread among the Pennsylvania Dutch. (I mean the "Dutch" --deutsch -- in the broad sense of peasant German immigrants in Pennsylvania, not just minority religious sects like the Amish and Mennonites. Mennonites oppose Pow-wow as a satanic practice.) Pow-wow practitioners view themselves as Christians, and consider their powers spiritual gifts from God.

The name “pow-wow” may have been adopted after the early German immigrants came into contact with the Lenni Lenape Indians, but the actual practices all seem to derive from European folklore and esoteric traditions.

Pow-wow spells, amulets and chants and prayers are passed down orally in a “crossways” fashion (teacher and student must be opposite gender). There are also several written sources of spells, notably the Christian Bible. Other than the Bible, the most common source of pow-wow spells was a book called The Long Lost Friend, or Der lang verborgene Schatz und Haus Freund, in the original German. The Long Lost Friend, written by John George Hohman in 1819 and first published in 1820 in Reading, Pennsylvania, is a collection of recipes, spells, and procedures. Hohman, an 1802 German immigrant who was himself an occult healer, borrowed heavily from other sources, especially the German charm book Romanusbuchlein, the “Romanus” book, Albertus MagnusEgyptian Secrets , and The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, by Johann Scheibel (Stuttgart, 1849) which was a collection of Talmudic and Kabblistic writings.

Hohman also claimed that the book itself could serve as an amulet of protection for its possessor and in one case (the York Witch Trial) its destruction was supposed to lift a hex placed on another by its owner.

The York Witch Trial

In 1928, pow-wow figured in a murder case in York County. A pow-wow man by the name of John Blymire seemed to lose his ability to heal, and suffered a series of personal calamities. Another pow-wow practioner, a woman called "the River Witch," convinced him that his troubles were a result of a hex put on him by Norman Rehmyer, a farmer who lived in Rehmyer's Hollow, south of York.  To remove the hex, "the River Witch" told him, Blymire must get a lock of Rehmyer's hair and his Hex Bible (Hohman’s The Long Lost Friend).  Blymire, with the help of two teenage apprentices, went to Rehmyer’s house with the intention of getting the hair and Hex book. Things got out of hand, however, and the attackers strangled Rehmyer.

The murder of Rehmyer touched off a major anti-pow-wow reeducation campaign in Pennsylvania (why it died out in my family).

Hollywood and New Age Witches

Today, herbalism, the use of Hohman’s Long Lost Friend, and the use of pow-wow for anything other than healing have all fallen into disrepute. Contemporary pow-wow is prayer and faith-healing.

Some pow-wow practices were appropriated by Jenine Trayer (Silver RavenWolf) for Wiccans. The York Witch Trial inspired a book, Hex (Lewis, 1969) and a movie, Apprentice to Murder (1989) starring Donald Sutherland.

A Couple of Hohman’s "Spells"


You must mention the name of the horse, and say: "If you have any worms, I will catch you by the forehead. If they be white, brown or red, they shall and must now all be dead." You must shake the head of the horse three times, and pass your hand over his back three times to and fro. + + +

( Note: “+” here means make the Sign of the Cross, not "increment"!)


If you call upon another to ask for a favor, take care to carry a little of the five-finger grass with you, and you shall certainly obtain that you desired.

(That one really works!)


Kriebel, Donald; “Pow-wowing: a Persistent American Esoteric Tradition” (See esp. “Select Bibliography”) http://www.esoteric.msu.edu/VolumeIV/Powwow.htm

Facsimile of title page and text of Hohman’s Long Lost Friend: http://www.sacred-texts.com/ame/pow/pow.htm

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