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Its name 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 appropriation of "pow-wow", taken from an Algonquian word for a gathering of medicine men, the collection is actually a collection of European magic spells, recipes, and folk remedies of a type familiar to students of folklore. The formulas mix Christian prayers, magic words, and simple rituals to cure simple domestic ailments and rural troubles. Full text of Long Lost Friend HERE
Early Pennsylvania was a melting pot of various religious persuasions, as William Penn's promise of religious freedom opened the doors for many Christian sects: the Anabaptists, Quakers, Lutherans, German Reformed, Catholics, and all manner of religious mystics and free-thinkers. It is from this blending that the Pennsylvania German Pow-wow tradition was born.
The tradition is also called braucherei or Speilwerk in Pennsylvania Dutch; its adepts are sometimes referred to as hexenmeisters or braucher, though this is not common for all practitioners. The tradition of Hex signs painted on Pennsylvania barns in some areas is believed by some to relate to this tradition; the symbols were pentagrams, thought to have talismanic properties, though many current hex signs are made simply for decoration. Many scholars disagree with this claim, however, and generally the hex signs are believed to be the natural progression of German fraktur art.
The Bible is considered the most important book of the Pow-wow, and no practitioner would work without his Bible on hand. In addition, several popular grimoires are also utilized, primarily the Romanus-Buchlein and Egyptian Secrets of Albertus Magnus. Important to some practitioners was the work The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, a magical text attributed to Moses and claimed as an esoteric sequel to the Biblical Five Books of Moses, or Pentateuch. Various versions of the work can be traced to 18th and 19th century German sources, while an English translation was published in New York in 1880 by the German antiquarian, Johann Scheible. However, the majority of practitioners were superstitiously fearful of this work and believed it invoked all manner of evil and devilry, as explained in the academic work The Red Church by author and Braucher Christopher Bilardi.
An excerpt from The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, which many Pow-wowers find as justification for the Christian practice of Pow-wowing, reads:
One thing must not be omitted, in conclusion, and that is, we must first become Christians before we can perform cures by Christian methods. Very few are really Christians who call themselves such; they are only Christians in name and appearance. The art of healing, according to scriptural principles, deserves special mention in this place, in more than one respect, not only because something truly magical takes place therein, but because scriptural healing is often regarded as the only true one. The principles of this art of healing have been fully established according to certain declarations and doctrines of the Bible.
It is primarily understood by practitioners of the Powwow tradition that Powwow is an Americanized version of English Cunning Craft Cunning folk in Britain
The Pow-Wow practitioner is more closely allied with theology than medicine and feels he is a mediator between the patient and God. Among the Pennsylvania Germans, the 'plain folk', such as the Amish, Dunkers, and the Mennonites, as well as among the Lutheran and German Reformed church members - Pow-Wow and the Pow-Wow doctor has a significant following.
Another characteristic practice of pow-wow magic is the Himmelsbrief or "heaven's letter". 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.
A 1988 film, Apprentice to Murder, stars Donald Sutherland as "Pow-Wow" doctor John Reese, and Chad Lowe as his young apprentice Billy Kelly. Reese practices the folk magic rituals in a small Pennsylvania town whose residents believe they have fallen under a curse. The film makes use of the Pow Wows or the Long Lost Friend cited above.
In recent years, a new non-Christian religious movement blending elements of neo-pagan philosophy with braucherei charms, labeled Urglaawe, has rewritten much of the traditional work to be appealing to non-Christian practitioners of healing and magic (see below).
The Deitsch Heathen religion of Urglaawe derives many practices and lore from the Heathen elements of Braucherei. Included among these elements is a knowledge of the old Teutonic deities and other spirits. The oral traditions of Braucherei also carried myths regarding the interactions of the deities with enemies, such as the Reifries (Frost Giants, Reif-Riesen). Certain deities, most notably Holle, Wudan (Odin), Dunner (Thor), and Ewicher Yeeger (Eternal Hunter), have played an ongoing role in the evolution of Braucherei. Some practitioners have historically appealed to these entities, whether in the context of deities or as saints or compassionate spirits, for help in their healing work. Urglaawe practitioners utilize solely Heathen imagery and references in their work.
It is helpful, though the person is far absent, if the one who uses this means for him, pronounces his name aright.
Jesus Christ, Precious blood! Which soothes the pains and stops the blood. Help thee (name) God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen