Traditionally, magickal systems would be learned from another person face to face. As I have discussed before, information available from print and online sources have enabled the seeker to learn without a teacher, although it is of great help to have other Pagans for learning and discussion. One tradition that still places emphasis on in person learning is variously known as Braucherie, Powwow, or Hexerie.
Braucherie originated among German immigrants to the US in Pennsylvania; erroneously called “Pennsylvania Dutch” because they referred to themselves as Deutsch (German). The practice of magick was shunned by the Amish and Mennonites, who were among these immigrants, but considered it evil. These immigrants brought with them a system of folk magick in the form of chants both spoken and written, actions performed with household objects such as ribbon, yarn, pins and eggs, a specially selected stone, use of herbs, and talismans. They also brought a grimoire called The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, which contrary to claims of antiquity, was actually compiled in Germany in 1849 by Johan Scheible. This soon became secondary to another book of magick called The Long Lost Friend by John George Hohlman, first published in 1820, whose secondary title was The Powwower, a term often applied to this tradition. Personally, I prefer not to use the term to avoid confusion with Native American traditions.
The primary focus of Braucherie has always been healing and this is one of the main reasons I was attracted to it as well as my mainly German ancestry. I have used it quite a few times to stop minor bleeding (a common use) as well as to help heal sprains, sore muscles and burns. My first use of it in healing occurred when my dad burned his left hand improperly mixing fireworks chemicals. I broke the rules by “trying”, as working magick is known in this system, for my dad without his permission, but I believe the Gods allowed it because of the close relationship. Practitioners did not discourage their clients from conventional medical care and normally accepted only donations. My dad went to the ER and followed up by seeing a dermatologist and applying a prescribed salve and I’m glad to say that his hand healed completely with no scars or loss of use.
Some other applications for this variety of folk magick were overcoming adversity, gaining luck, protection against negative magick, animals and natural disaster. The most famous form of protection was the Himmelsbrief, literally meaning “Heaven’s letter”, elaborately worded and decorated documents, many of them never opened by the bearer, which implored protection against war, fire, flood, deadly disease and other disasters. Their use almost certainly peaked during WW I when perhaps tens of thousands of soldiers and sailors carried one.
The most famous magickal symbol and the only aspect of Braucherie familiar to most people is the hex sign. These round colorful designs were first seen painted directly on barns and later became popular as signs that were often displayed on or by front doors, sheds, garages and inside homes. Some people say they are “chust for fancy”, meaning merely decorative, but many of them incorporate magickal meanings in symbols such as the distelfink (finch), tulip, heart, geometric patterns and color correspondences. In German, the word Hex means magick without a negative connotation like in English.
A tragic chapter in the history of this tradition occurred in November 1928, when John Blymire and two accomplices murdered braucher Nelson Rehmeyer in his home in rural York County, Pennsylvania. Blymire had become convinced that a personal run of bad luck was caused by a curse placed on him by Rehmeyer and it could only be broken by cutting off a lock of the braucher’s hair and burning his magickal book, but sadly, while attempting this, they killed him and unsuccessfully tried to burn down his house. The subsequent trial, which was well publicized, dealt a serious blow to the practice of magick in Pennsylvania, causing many to see it as a dangerous superstition and those who kept it alive to practice quietly. (1)
As with many other systems of folk magick, Braucherie practitioners insisted that it did not conflict with them being Christian and resented being called witches. Often, chants include references to Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the Trinity as well as drawing equal armed crosses in the air. Some practitioners also included Bible verses or used the book as a magickal tool. While Christian practitioners have a monotheistic theology that recognizes God and Satan, Heathen practitioners call upon Germanic gods and goddesses, particularly Frau Holda, and draw upon Northern European myths and folklore. Many of these prefer the term Hexerie, which comes from the German word for Witch, “Hexe”. It is only been in recent years that it has been studied and practiced from a Pagan perspective, leading to Urglaawe which is the study of Germanic spirituality, myths and folklore by those who call them the first ways. (2)
Whether one desires to learn Braucherei as the primary focus of their spiritual path or as a useful art to add to their magical practice, one needs to address the question as to whether it must be learned in person or if self study is valid. Like any other question, there is more than one viewpoint worth considering. I am thankful to several members of the Yahoo group Hexenkunst for their input.
Like I said at the beginning, traditionally the only way to learn was in person, normally from someone of the opposite sex who was often a blood relative. I heard from members who told me they were taught by relatives and one said he was the apprentice of Jesse of The Three Sisters, an educational foundation dedicated to the teaching and preservation of Pennsylvania Dutch folklore, spirituality and traditions. He added that traditional practitioners took a dim view of learning only from books. Jesse also wrote me explaining that it would be difficult to learn energy manipulation as well as the correct pronunciation of Deitsch (local German dialect) words used in chants without in person contact. She added that her and her husband learned from older brauchers as well as gaining much information through interviews with them. One Wiccan tradition, Black Forest, incorporates this magickal practice and its founder learned it the traditional way.
However, for many who desire to learn, in person training is not possible. In recent decades, this magic has mainly been practiced by seniors, many of whom passed without finding an apprentice even among their relatives. I heard from someone who wanted to learn, but the only brauchers in her family were great-grandmothers who were deceased. Since this tradition is quite local, mainly south central Pennsylvania, living outside this area would require travel to learn in person or attend festivals. I heard from a man calling himself Oracle from Bucks County Pennsylvania who explained that he learned from books because he felt quite drawn to this practice and German spirituality in general, but could not find a teacher, although he later found his brother, a former student of a hexenmeister who became his mentor. He figured he must be doing something right as his magick had been successful, as mine has been. My learning has also been through books and the only German I speak is what little I remember from high school, which I never use in magick and is High German anyway.
A good compromise would be an online course and one is offered by The Three Sisters, lasting a year and requiring minimal travel. Personally I believe that in person learning is best, but there is nothing wrong with book learning or distance learning, in my opinion, if the student is sincere and has accurate information as well as the dedication to learn then apply it. I believe that initiation comes from the Gods who teach and guide all who are willing and listen with their hearts. Requiring lineage raises the inevitable question of who initiated the first magickal practitioner. While I respect and agree with those who desire to keep this practice traditional in both its form and teaching, I feel it needs to respond to the needs of those who sincerely desire to follow it but do not fit the traditional mold. As the Three Sisters Center says on its website, ” We believe that this living being of culture and tradition must be continuously nurtured and allowed to evolve, recognizing that otherwise it would stagnate and die.” (3)
(1) “History of Rehmeyer’s Hollow” http://rehmeyershallow.com/?TabId=57
(2) “Urglaawe” http://www.thortrains.com/utmo/Urglaawe.htm
(3) “Three Sisters Center” http://www.threesisterscenter.com/