Today we’ve got Part II of the question-and-answer article by Chris Bilardi. I won’t spend a lot of time introducing it, as I think Chris does a marvelous job of presenting his information without all of my gum-flapping beforehand 🙂 Onto the article!
How important is God in braucherei healing?
God is of paramount importance in braucherei. There is no real healing outside of God. Those two statements, I know, sound horribly pious. But, I cannot change the fact of who the real Source of this work is. Before a powwow session the braucher will ask every new ‘patient’ if they belief in God. If the response is ‘no’ the appointment ends right there. There has been some disagreement if one needs to be specifically Christian in order to be treated, or if one only needs to accept the God of the Bible. It is difficult for some to grasp the importance of this. Today we live in a very secularized, humanistic culture. Man has become the measure of all things in an imperfect existentialist universe of largely impersonal forces. Even “spiritual” power, when acknowledged, is made palatable by putting ‘it’ on the same level as electricity, for example. The healing power is “orgone”, “vril”, “animal magnetism”, “chi” – it is anything but God Almighty. But, that is not the world of a traditional braucher. This is not to say that there are no such energies, but in the view of traditional powwowers, it is the Holy Ghost that directs all power. In the Christian belief, the Holy Ghost is not a “what” but a “Who” — the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. The Pennsylvania Germans have traditionally been mainly of the Lutheran and Reformed confessions (although there are many other denominations as well), and it is within that ‘universe’ that old time practitioners had (and have) their foundation and points of reference. Therefore, it is important to note that braucherei is not a religion, but simply a multi-rooted, varied set of folk practices that have grown out of medieval Central European Christian culture. The roots of braucherei practice are many, indeed, and do have some pre-Christian antecedents. But, these pre-Christian bits and pieces are all operative, or practical. All pieces are subsumed in Christ.
Can you give the history of braucherei in a specific location?
Yes, Williams Township, Pennsylvania, specifically around the area of Easton and Raubsville. During the 18th and 19th centuries, braucherei in this area was dominated by two families of powwowers: the Wilhelms and the Seilers (Saylors). The patriarch of the Seilers was Johann Peter Seiler (1721 b. – 1803 d.). He and his wife Margaret (nee Maurer) were the parents of Johannes, Daniel, Frederick and Peter. Johann Seiler was a braucher and passed the practice to his youngest son Dr. Peter Saylor (1809 b. – 1868 d.). Dr. Saylor and his father, in turn taught powwowing and general medicine to John Henry Wilhelm (1816 b. – 1886 d.), who was much loved in his community and sorely missed when he passed away. At one point in his career as a braucher, a disgruntled local had Dr. Wilhelm arrested for practicing medicine without a diploma. Around this time Jacob Saylor (1793 b. – 1865 d.), grandson of Johann Peter Seiler, was practicing powwow as well. Prior to John Henry, his grandfather, Jacob Wilhelm (1744 b. – 1821 d.) was a braucher from Germany who passed along his book of charms, which remains to this day with his descendents. John Henry’s son Eugene Wilhelm was equally loved by his community and practiced until his death in 1905. The interesting thing to note about Dr. Eugene’s practice is that he incorporated magnetic treatments into his powwowing. It was not unusual for powwow doctors to add new fads, trends, or advances in “alternative medicine” to their powwowing. When Mesmerism was the rage, many powwowers would borrow from the Mesmerists. Dr. Arthur Wilhelm (1879 b. – 1950 d.), Dr. Eugene’s son, incorporated orthodox, allopathic medicine with homeopathy, powwow, and other “alternative” methods in his practice. One of the many things that is interesting about these two families is that the practice of braucherei has had same-gender transmission – not only among blood family members, but between families. Of course, the Saylors and the Wilhelms are related by marriage, which may have accounted for this. This method of teaching powwow differs from most noted traditions that insist on cross-gender transmission: that is, male to female; female to male. Another interesting note is that Dr. Peter Saylor began the tradition of transferring illness, curses, and evil entities to a local peak called “The Hexenkopf” (which means “the witch’s head”) where it was believe that demons dwelled and evil witches held their Sabbaths. Usually powwow doctors will transfer illness, and other maladies, to smaller objects such as trees, rocks, pieces of metal, etc., making Dr. Henry’s receptor unique. All of the above information regarding these families can be found in Ned Heindel’s excellent book Hexenkopf: History, Healing & Hexerei. I have chosen to highlight this particular area and set of families to illustrate the consistency and persistence of powwow’s transmission as whole lineages.
Is there any difference in the healing of animals vs. the healing of humans?
There is really no differences beyond the types of illnesses – for example, humans don’t get “windgalls” – cysts in horse legs. However, many of the same charms used on humans are used on animals. There are general forms of powwow practice that can cover any illness for man or beast, such as was taught to me that I call “The General Brauche Circuit” in my book. A notable difference in powwowing animals is that they can be nervous and wiggly and not stay still for longer sessions of powwow work – the same as human children. However, many brauchers have a knack at calming down nervous animals, so there are often no issues to be had.
How can a person get started learning braucherei?
Reading and researching is the first way to begin, unless one knows of someone who powwows and is willing to teach. By researching and keeping an ear to the ground, one will create a network that will make finding an established practitioner easier. However, once a braucher is found there is no guarantee that she or he will take on apprentices or students. Get the old powwow manuals: The Long Lost Friend, Egyptian Secrets of Albertus Magnus, Secrets of Sympathy, just to name three. Also, find books, magazines, and articles on Pennsylvania German (Dutch) folklore, such as issues of “The Pennsylvania Dutchman” (long out of print). My own book, The Red Church, contains much information and a large bibliography for those who want to go farther and do their own research. Despite all of these written sources, nothing can ever take the place of having the tradition passed on by a live human being. That last comment reminds me that spirits can, and do, teach people much when they begin this work. Sometimes this sort of teaching is not always obvious. In other cases it can be more dramatic where a braucher can have ‘visions’ or dreams where they obtain spirit guides, ‘Indian’ guides, and such. I, myself, have received some teaching at this level in the form of highly lucid dreams. Last, but certainly not the least, the Holy Bible is of paramount importance in braucherei practice. Many powwowers will not use any charms other than lines taken directly from Scripture. I highly suggest that a person who wants to be a braucher get acquainted with that book. If one does begin to practice, what s/he will notice in time is that one has a knack for certain types of healing or activity over all others. Really read up on Pennsylvania German culture and try to immerse oneself in it as much as possible. For those who are outside of the cultural areas, which are mainly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and certain parts of Carolinas, West Virginia, and Canada, it will be more difficult to do this. For those who live in or near North Dakota, there are the so-called “Volga Germans” or Germans from Russia (who are not Pennsylvania Germans), and have braucherei in their culture which is virtually indistinguishable from the PA German variety. Take the time to get some familiarity with the German language, both the standard usage, and the Deitsch dialect; this will make it easier to understand the things found during research work. One last suggestion: pray for guidance, this is probably the most important of all.
I hope y’all enjoyed that! I know I did. Many thanks to Chris for contributing to us here at New World Witchery. He’s a real friend to us here, and we’re immensely grateful that he took time out of his life to put together this phenomenal essay. If you liked what you read here, please head over to Amazon (or to your book dealer of choice) and pick up a copy of his master-work on braucherei, The Red Church.
Thanks for reading!