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An Introduction to the World of American Folk Magic

Folk magic comes in many forms. Depending on your location you could know folk magic as Hoodoo, Mexican folk magic, the magic of the Pennsylvania Dutch called Pow Wow magic or other names. The pow wow magic was a type of folk magic practiced by people known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. It comes from the book written by John George Hohman called Pow Wow's ,The Long Lost Friend. This book was first published in German as Der Lange Verborgene Freund in 1820. The Pennsylvania Dutch practiced a type of magic that was rich in hexwork, curses, healings, blessings and tha Bible. One of their most treasured books were the sixth and seventh books of Moses, believed to contain cabalistic magic. These books were claimed to be the books in which Moses gained his power to command spirits. They were actually compiled by Johann Scheibel in Germany around the 18th century. There are quite a few characteristics of Pow wow magic such as the power of the spoken word. Many would cure using an incantation said over and over. Others would write words of blessing or protection and tell the person to keep it with them at all times. Many but not all rhymed. Most contained references to the Bible or biblical characters. Pow wow magic has a close relationship with the Bible. The use of talimans, amulets and incantations were used widely among them. Many communities even had talismans on their barns to ward off evil or bad luck.

Most of the early Pennsylvania Dutch were German. Once some of their books become translated they lost much of their information but it would help to create modern practices of magic today. We can still see the old charms and hexes of Pow Wow magic even in practices today.

Hoodoo was a form practiced widely among the southerners. It refers to the African American traditional folk magic. It can be used as both a noun and a verb. In this form of magic actual spells are not used. The hoodoo practitioners would use herbs and roots to make mojo bags. The bags would be filled with items like, lodestones, roots, coins or herbs. It is a small sack that is filled with items of magical power to protect, heal, bless or remove curses. People who practice hoodoo many times will not curse someone themselves. They believe this is bad mojo for them. The have a set of ethics in place that keeps them from doing harmful magic. The hoodoo practitioner is the person you would go to when you need to remove a curse. Like with the Pow Wow magic they can offer you protection or a hex breaker to aid you. It is a very spiritual practice that many people do not understand. As can be expected many people who practice hoodoo are African- Americans but white and Native americans can also be found practicing.

The practice of Hoodoo is to allow common people access to the Ancestors of the spirit world to improve their daily lives. Hoodoo contains within it divination, conjuring of spirits, magic for gambling and luck, amulets, talisman, and necromancy. They also use bodily fluids like saliva, blood or even semen to add potency to their magic. At the same time they also believe reciting psalms is an effective magical practice. As you can see the practice of folk magic is very complex with many layers. One should take care to learn them before entering into practicing this art form.

By now you can see the use of amulets, charms, and incantations in both of these practices. You can see the similarities in both forms of practice. It is easy to envision how the practicing Pow wow magic was influenced by the Hoodoo practice and vice- versa. There is also Mexican folk magic which is close to the same but culturally different. The spirit of this magic is the same with all of these practices. Although the heritage or culture may be different. Folk magic has no hierarchy system so it depends on the people to teach the next generation. Folk magic is practiced as a family tradition and handed down from person to person. It is often times hide behind more accepted belief systems such as Christianity
. They are parts of the community and have very spiritual beliefs. They don't have to be feared. You never know who is right around the corner conjuring a little protection mojo or a blessing.


Pow-wow (folk magic)

Pow-wow is a system of American folk religion and magic associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch. It 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 Native name, the collection is actually a very traditional collection of European magic spells, recipes, and folk remedies, of a type familiar to students of folklore. They mix Roman Catholic prayers, magic words, and simple rituals to cure simple domestic ailments and rural troubles. Once these charms and spells were written down in English, they escaped the Pennsylvania German community and influenced hoodoo and other forms of folk magic and folk religion in the United States.

The tradition is also called hex or hex work, or Speilwerk in Pennsylvania German; its adepts are hexenmeisters. The tradition of hex signs painted on Pennsylvania barnss in some areas originally relates to this tradition, as the symbols were pentagrams thought to have talismanic properties; though many current hex signs are made simply for decoration.

Also important to the pow-wow practitioner were the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, books brought to the United States from Germany, containing cabalistic magic, claiming to be the magical arts by which Moses obtained his powers and commanded spirits. Actually, the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses were apparently compiled by Johann Scheibel in eighteenth century Germany.

Another characteristic practice of pow-wow magic is the Himmelsbrief, a "heaven's letter" which are basically engrossed letters containing Bible verses and other charms which contain assurances that their owners would be protected from death, injury, and other misfortune. The text of these letters is occasionally reminiscent of some contemporary chain letters. Pow-wow practitioners charged handsome sums for these magical letters; the price they commanded depended on the reputation of the practitioner. Other sources mention a Teufelsbrief, a "devil's letter," which presumably is meant to bestow a curse. 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.



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.


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. + + +


Take a handful of hops, five or six gallons of water, about three tablespoons full of ginger, half a gallon of molasses; filter the water, hops, and ginger into a tub containing the molasses.