Pow-Wow, Psalms, and German Magical Folklore
by Mark Stavish
As many of you know the Pennsylvania German tradition of “pow-wow” has a special place in my heart and practice. The first article I ever published shared the same title as this one, “Pow-Wow, Psalms, and German Magical Folklore” and was published in MEZLIM almost a quarter century ago. It was a very fortuitous set of circumstances that led me to submit that article, a story I will explore at another time, suffice to say, the tradition of the old schools of magic is something that has always been a part of me. Over the last few months I have been receiving emails from readers of The Inner Way – The Power of Prayer and Belief in Spiritual Practice regarding the use of Psalms, basic theurgy, and questions related to pow-wow, or braucherei as it is often called. Readers mostly are interested in where they can get more information. To this end I can only refer people to what I am directly familiar with, and have knowledge about. This sounds strange as today it is very common for authors and other ‘authorities’ to write endorsements for books they have never read – simply as a marketing device for themselves. This is something I have never done, and never will.
So, back to pow-wow. One of the most comprehensive books you can read on the subject is The Red Church – Or The Art of Pennsylvania German Braucherei by Christopher Bilardi. I wrote the Introduction for this book as well as supplied a modest amount of the research material used in its creation. Originally published by Pendraig Publishing it is currently only available on the second-hand market. Bilardi will be releasing a revised edition at some point and we will let you know how this progresses.
There is also Powwowing Among the Pennsylvania Dutch: A Traditional Medical Practice in the Modern World (Pennsylvania German History and Culture) by David Kriebel. I have had some email communications over the years with Kriebel and deeply enjoy this book. Signs, Cures and Witchery – German Appalachian Folkore by Gerald C. Milnes is very insightful into the Appalachian branch of powwow and why we often confuse the old practices of the ‘hollow’ with Scotch-Irish when it really is German in origin. For some more background on that it is important to read the wonderful pleasant book edited by Richard Wentz, Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Spirituality (Sources of American Spirituality). While all of the aforementioned books contain information on the practice of pow-wow, one of the few specifically modern practical manuals (The Red Church being an exception) is Karl Herr’s fine little tome, Hex and Spellwork: The Magical Practices of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Now many people have asked me if I am Karl Herr, and the clear and unambiguous answer to that is no, I am not Karl Herr.
However, no discussion of pow-wow would be complete without a mention of The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, by Joseph Peterson. Long held as a sort of magical textbook of the most powerful and respected of pow-wow practitioners, this book of magical formula has found its way deep into the American magical psyche. Its influence can be found in not only pow-wow, but also hoodoo, Caribbean, and African practices. Joseph Peterson edited a version of The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, published by IBIS Press, for which I wrote the back jacket copy. To my knowledge, this is the finest edition of the book one could want as either a scholar or practitioner of both the angelic and Faustian arts it contains.
In more general terms I would be remiss if I did not mention a book containing a fine series of vignettes, American Shamans: Journeys With Traditional Healers by Jack Montgomery. There is a great deal of fine information in there, as well as an interview with Christopher Bilardi. You can also see Chris, along with Robert Chapman in a new documentary entitled, “Hex Hollow” at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jELBQVvmrBs&feature=youtu.be
Chapman has an extensive series of videos on powwow that can be found on YouTube, as well as several publications.
For those of you unfamiliar with this notion of Christian magic rooted in the Psalms, and used for the ‘healing of man and beast’ information on this tradition can be found in [my own recent book] The Inner Way -The Power of Prayer and Belief Spiritual Practice