Monday, December 28, 2015

Hex Signs Vs. Werewolves

Hex signs are a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition.  They have been found on barns and in homes in the region since at least the 1850s.  There is some controversy about them as some scholars insist the signs are purely artistic.  Hex signs did indeed become a popular folk art tourist item in the 1940s and since then, they can be found for sale at craft stores and shops around the state.

However, a lot of interesting bits of information can be found in traditional folklore indicating an older magical, or superstitious tradition connected to the use of the signs.  Many families have record of specific designs being used for defined purposes such as warding off evil.  Author Lee Gandee describes Hex signs as "painted prayers."  Indications are that the designs themselves originated with Alpine Germans.

Here's an interesting record of hex signs being used in an attempt to ward off werewolves in Pennsylvania's logging region.  No date is given on this report, but indications are that it is pre-civil war.  The account was published in an issue of Keystone folklore.

"The wolfish creatures which infested Elk Creek Gap in Centre County, between Throne's Farm in Brush Valley and Millheim, were probably werewolves.  There was twenty-four-hour hauling of lumber through the gap, and at night what seemed to be gigantic dogs or wolves came off Hundsrick Mountain and got on the loaded sledges; they were of such weight that they bogged down the horses, making hauling an almost impossible task.  Others put their front paws on the backs of the sleds, holding them down as if they were made of iron, and making the horses balk after their frantic efforts under the drives' cruel sjamboks or blacksnake whips.  Once they got out of the hollow gap, the runners slid over the icy surfaces, but the horses were always badly spent.  Hechs (or hex) signs were chalked on the gears and six-inch breechings but had little or no effect, and gradually the hauling to sawmills at the Blue Rock and L & T R.R. at Coburn slowed down at sundown.

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