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While thinking about my now late Grandmother, I remember as a baseball player growing up, she looked at me with a critical eye when I practiced superstitious baseball “rituals” i.e. always same wristbands for arms, same socks doing hitting streaks, sometimes without washing, etc., as former ball players can only, truly understand.
Furthering this article formulation, while breezing through this past year’s Kutztown Folk Festival program, my attention was drawn to an article about folk medicine in which the author, a contributor, W. J. Bryan, referred to the PA Dutch/Germans as being superstitious, as well as using Indian remedies to cure themselves. Not totally buying in with his frame of reference, folklorists usually do not make judgments on superstition or folk beliefs of ethnic people other than themselves.
Since most of our native books and local newspapers are written in a German language compatible to the Deitsch language, I would imagine there is a great deal of misinformation handed down about our Dutch people, besides the imaginative oral gossip spread about every ethnic group in America. But professional folklorists know that the word “superstition” has no place in scientific anthropological or sociological writings; less one might be suspicious of every religion in the world. Besides herbal folk medicine practiced among our folk people there is a faith healing practice, for the lack of a better term, is described by outsiders as, “Powwowing.” Not at all related to North American Indian medicine, Powwowing in the Deitsch dialect is called “Braucherei,” which often involved a religious prayer of sorts to cure the patient by an individual who possessed the power to cure another Christian.
Unfortunately, because some early articles on hex signs of the PA Dutch accused farmers of using them to prevent witches from entering the barn, these colorful, fictitious hex signs have caused the public to think the PA Dutch are superstitious immigrants, without any real proof that they believe witchcraft; when in fact they are very religious, humble people who have a strong belief in God. When, however, the opposite is true, these true grit farmers who rely on the Lord to guide their Bible and plow are one of the most devoted Christian groups since their ancestors made their pilgrimage to the New World and established a Christian utopia after leaving war torn Europe in the 16th and 17th Centuries. These extremely religious people whose positive belief in a Christian God is recorded in their Bibles, and Birth and Baptism certificates in a very religious art form known as “fraktur,” and in their house and barn blessings to praise the Lord. They are not superstitious, but humbly follow a very Christian life, which has made other Americans envious of their belief in God and the American way of life.
Richard L.T. Orth is assistant director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.