Posted tagged ‘chris bilardi’

Podcast 49 – Powwow and Braucherei

February 25, 2013


Today we’re taking a brief look at the folk magical system of the Pennsylvania German (or “Dutch”) community, known as Powwow or Braucherei. We’ve got an interview with braucher Robert Schreiwer, several readings on the topic, and some charms, spells, and songs, too.


Download: Episode 49 – Powwow and Braucherei

Books mentioned within the show

  1. Discovering American Folklife: Essays on Folk Culture & the Pennsylvania Dutch, by Don Yoder
  2. The Long Lost Friend, or The Pow-wow Book, by John George Hohman
  3. American Shamans: Journeys with Traditional Healers, by Jack Montgomery
  4. The Red Church, or The Art of Pennsylvania German Braucherei, by Chris Bilardi
  5. Hex and Spellwork, by Karl Herr
  6. Buying the Wind, by Richard Dorson
  7. Strange Experience: The Autobiography of a Hexenmeister, by Lee R. Gandee

Additional Sources

  1. Signs, Cures, & Witchery, by Gerald C. Milne
  2. Ozark Magic & Folklore, by Vance Randolph (section: “Power Doctors”)
  3. Powwowing Among the Pennsylvania Dutch, David W. Kriebel
  4. Hex Signs: Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Symbols, by Don Yoder
  5. New World Witchery Podcast 29 featured an interview with author Jack Montgomery, who presented some good information on powwowing


  1. Urglaawe – Braucher Rob Schreiwer’s site on Heathen braucherei
  2. Three Sisters Center for the Healing Arts – A place to learn more about braucherei & associated practices
  3. Braucher.webs – Braucher Rob Chapman’s site for powwow and braucherei
  4. New World Witchery posts on Braucherei: Intro Part I, Part II, and Part III (also see our page Resources:  Magical Systems, under the heading “Braucherei, Hexenmeisters, & Pow-wow”)
  5. We have a great written interview with braucher Chris Bilardi here: Part I & Part II
  6. An online essay on Powwow by David W. Kreibel is available here

If you have feedback you’d like to share, email us or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to follow us at Twitter!

 Promos & Music

Title music:  “Homebound,” by Jag, from Cypress Grove Blues.  From Magnatune.

German folk songs came from the site The songs played in this episode were:

  1. Winter, Ade!
  2. Taler, Taler du musst wander
  3. Meine Hande sind verschwunden
  4. Rolle, Rolle, Rolle
  5. Handewaschen
  6. Guten Morgen ruft die Sonne

Incidental music was Johannes Brahams, Symphony No. 4, found at

Promo 1- Lamplighter Blues


Blog Post 36 – Questions to a Braucher, Part II

March 25, 2010

Hello again!

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!


Blog Post 35 – Questions to a Braucher, Part I

March 24, 2010

Greetings, all!

This week, we’re very lucky to be able to host a new article by the rather brilliant author of The Red Church, Chris Bilardi.  The article will be put up in two parts over two days.  It’s a thoughtful and well-composed question-and-answer session from a traditional Pow-wow practitioner’s (or braucher’s) perspective.  If you enjoyed my introduction to Pow-wow series, have been looking for straight answers on the magical traditions of the Pennsylvania Germans, or just have an interest in folk magic and healing in general, I think you’re in for a real treat.

Now, without further delay, the article:

Questions to a Braucher

Below is a list of questions regarding the present-day practice of Pennsylvania German Braucherei, or otherwise known as Pow-Wow.

How does one find a braucher nearby and contact them?

Traditionally, one finds a braucher by word of mouth. Prior to the so-called York “Hex Murder” of the braucher Nelson Rehmeyer in 1928, there were many full-time, professional powwowers who hung out a shingle and advertised. After Rehmeyer’s murder, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania began a sever crackdown on the practice of braucherei. With that stated, it must be said that even prior to the shocking events of 1928, most practitioners did not advertise, charge, or hang out a ‘shingle’ that they were in practice. In fact, the norm was, and still is, that of the private individual, the knowledge of whose powwowing activity is passed by word of mouth, and who practices mainly among family, friends, friends of friends, and so-on. At this point, there are still very few publically known powwow doctors. One who wishes to go to one must still keep an ear to the ground, and then make discrete inquiries. Pennsylvania Dutchmen tend to be shy (or even in some cases hostile) when the subject is broached. These reactions are a mixture of embarrassment (for fear of being seen as “backward”), and disbelief (such as some who see the practice as devil’s work, or just superstitious nonsense). It would also be accurate to say that there are many ethnic Dutchmen today who have never heard of powwowing. Reticence on speaking of a known powwower is also a way of protecting a practitioner’s privacy (and ensuring their safety).

What kind of services does a braucher perform?

What services one can get depends upon the individual practitioner. The way it tends to work is like this: each powwower finds that s/he is particularly good at one sort of activity, and then specializes in that type of activity. For example, some are only good at removing warts; others have a knack for getting rid of inflammations, and so on. There are others who will try their hand at any sort of powwowing with the belief that it does not hurt give it a whirl. Some types of powwowing, such as I was taught, in a way fall into the latter category; in this case, there is only one method that is applicable to all conditions. Services have traditionally included any of the following: pain-relieve, inflammatory problems, colic, fever, warts and other lesions, folk-illnesses such as abnemmes or opnema (“the take off” – a wasting disease), aagewachse (“Livergrown”) and rotlaufa (which falls under red inflammatory conditions); also sore throats, heart disease, persistent cough, and any other physical ailment one can think of. Some brauchers believe that they cannot ‘try’ for congenital illnesses, only those acquired throughout life. Other services can include the preparation of charms and talismans, such as the himmelsbrief or a “fire and pestilence letter” (both are written talismans that bless and ward away illness, evil spirits and catastrophes).  Some brauchers are also exorcists; they have the ability to banish ghosts, hauntings, and demonic entities. The reasoning behind these activities is that all Christians are called by Christ to do these things to the glory of God and the good of His children. Not the least of this sort of activity is the breaking of a ferhext (cursed) condition, and the destruction of all acts of witchcraft. Some powwowers have “the sight” and are able to foretell events and find lost objects.

Is this stuff witchcraft?

Short answer: no. Long answer: it depends upon what a person thinks “witchcraft” is. Braucherei is a spiritual, energetic folk practice or modality of healing; traditionally, hexerei (i.e. “witchcraft”) has always been seen as a harmful practice. This is not the witchcraft of Neo-Paganism, or Wicca. The hexe was seen as one whose main purpose for existing was to make life miserable for others: “far die leid gwele”. Fundamentally, hexerei is an abuse of spiritual power. To some people braucherei with all of its seemingly ‘odd’ prayers, hand movements, herbs, and mysterious objects is nothing but dyed-in-the-wool witchery.   For the Neo-Pagan it looks from the outside like what they’ve come to know as “witchcraft”; for the Christian who is turned off by powwow, it equally looks from the outside as what they’ve been told witchcraft is supposed to look like. The common denominator in both of these superficial views is powwow’s “shamanistic” approach to the spiritual world. One of the reasons that Dutchmen have been cautious about helping others get involved in powwow is the very real danger of someone getting tangled up with black magic. It is far too easy for a poorly trained person to use their new-found knowledge abusively. Powwow does demand a good degree of spiritual discernment.

Does one need to pay for braucherei treatment?

Another short answer: no. Unfortunately, there is a long answer here too. In the past there were practitioners (the “professionals” with their shingles hanging outside) that did charge a set fee for healing, despite claiming that their power came “from Jesus”.  Some readers of this article will doubtlessly know of some folk healing traditions that demand the exchange of money (“crossing the palm with silver”) in order for it to work. In no uncertain terms, please understand that braucherei is not one of these traditions. By tradition, if one goes to a powwow doctor, s/he might leave a donation. The powwower will not ask for a donation. I was taught that a person can leave some money underneath the powwower’s Bible. Some practitioners will, in turn, not keep this money, but donate it to their church or to a charity.  As I made note of in The Red Church, there are some activities to which there are legitimate charges, such as the creation of a himmelsbrief or fire and pestilence letter – especially if it entails calligraphic fraktur work. In other words, any activity that demands the time and resources of the powwower can be legitimately charged to the client. However, the bulk of a powwower’s time is spent in healing work, and one is to never charge for healing. It is God who is the real doctor on these occasions, and no human being can take credit (or remuneration) for that work.

That’s it for Part I.  Tomorrow I’ll put up the rest of the article, which will deal a little more with the philosophy of the practice, and advice on getting started.

Thanks for reading!


Blog Post 16 – An Introduction to Pow-wow, Part III

February 18, 2010

Hi folks!  Here is the final installment in my introductory Pow-wow series.  I hope you’re enjoying them!  Now, on to the magic!

Where can I find out more about Pow-wow?

There are many phenomenal resources on this subject.  Here are some of the books I like:

The Red Church, by Chris Bilardi
American Shamans, by Jack Montgomery
Signs, Cures, & Witchery, by Gerald C. Milne
Buying the Wind, by Richard M. Dorson (chapter on “Pennsylvania Dutchmen”)

And, of course, Pow-wows; or The Long Lost Friend, by John George Hohman (also available free at

Additionally, I like this website and its accompanying newsletter:
Three Sisters Center for the Healing Arts

There are other books and resources which I’ve encountered either by proxy or by reputation which I’d also recommend seeking out, though I cannot give a strong opinion on their validity myself, yet:

Strange Experience: The Autobiography of a Hexenmeister, by Lee R. Gandee
Hex and Spellwork, by Karl Herr
The Pennsylvania German Broadside, by Don Yoder
The Pennsylvania German Society

Some Pow-wow Charms & Proverbs

Finally, as promised, here are some Pow-wow charms you can try out yourself.  I’d love to hear how they work for you, so please feel free to leave comments or email us about your results!  Please also note that I provide these for cultural, spiritual, and magical value.  They do not replace conventional medical or legal advice; please see a professional if you have needs in those areas.

First, a few from Hohman’s book:


Write the following words upon a paper and wrap it up in knot-grass, and then tie it upon the body of the person who has the fever:

Potmat sineat,
Potmat sineat,
Potmat sineat.


I walk through a green forest;
There I find three wells, cool and cold;
The first is called courage,
The second is called good,
And the third is called stop the blood


Bruise, thou shalt not heat;
Bruise, thou shalt not sweat;
Bruise, thou shalt not run,
No-more than Virgin Mary shall bring forth another son.
+ + +

(The three “+” signs at the end indicate making three crosses in the air over the patient or afflicted area, also sometimes saying the three High Names of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost)


Ye thieves, I conjure you, to be obedient like Jesus Christ, who obeyed his Heavenly Father unto the cross, and to stand without moving out of my sight, in the name of the Trinity. I command you by the power of God and the incarnation of Jesus Christ, not to move out of my sight, + + + like Jesus Christ was standing on Jordan’s stormy banks to be baptized by John. And furthermore, I conjure you, horse and rider, to stand still and not to move out of my sight, like Jesus Christ did stand when he was about to be nailed to the cross to release the fathers of the church from the bonds of hell.. Ye thieves, I bind you with the same bonds with which Jesus our Lord has bound hell; and thus ye shall be bound; + + + and the same words that bind you shall also release you.

(The conventional wisdom on releasing the thief is that the entire spell must be read backwards.  It’s nice to hold all the cards sometimes.  This charm is almost entirely lifted from entry #22 of the Romanus Buchlein, or Little Book of the Roma, a late 18th century grimoire and prayer book).

Here is a pair of charms which I am citing from Jack Montgomery’s American Shamans, but which he cites from an article entitled “Magical Medical Practice in South Carolina,” from Popular Science Monthly, 1907:


Christian Version

“Our Lord rode, his foal’s foot slade [slid],
Down he lighted, his foal’s foot righted,
Bone to bone,
Sinew to sinew,
Flesh to flesh,
Heal, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  Amen”

Pagan Version

“Phol and Woden went to the wood, there was Balder’s colt his foot wrenched,
Then Sinthgunt charmed it and Sunna her sister,
Then Frua charmed it and Volla her sister, then Woden charmed it as he well could,
As well the bone-wrench,
As the blood-wrench,
Bone to bone,
Blood to blood,
Joint to joint,
As if they were glued together.”

(Montgomery, American Shamans, p. 102)

A classic Pow-wow blood-stopping charm, also from Jack Montgomery (and derived from a passage in Ezekiel, I believe):

And when I passed by thee and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live. (p. 253)

Here’s a more modern charm for protection during automobile travel:

“This is a written prayer that is used for protecting cars and other vehicles.  It can be simply folded and placed in the glovebox.

Our Heavenly Father, we ask this day a particular blessing.  As we take the wheel of our car, grant us safe passage through all the perils of trouble.  Shelter those who accompany us and provide us from harm by Thy mercy.  Steady our hands and quicken our eyes that we may never take another’s life.  Guide us to our destination safely, confident in the knowledge that Thy blessing be with us through darkness and light, sunshine and showers, forever and ever.  Amen.” (Bilardi, The Red Church, p. 284)

And I’ll conclude with a few proverbs from the Pennsylvania Dutch, as recorded in Buying the Wind, by Richard M. Dorson (pp.138-141).  Note that “German” here connotes the Pennsylvania-German dialect, not necessarily European German.

-German:  D’r hammer wert aus faerm ambos.
-English:  The anvil outlasts the hammer.

-German:  Waers erscht in di mil kummt grikt’s erscht gimale.
-English:  He that cometh first to the mill, grindeth first.

-German:  En blini sau finnt a alsemol en echel.
-English:  Even a blind pig will sometimes find an acorn.

I hope this series has been informative to you!  This won’t be the last time Pow-wow comes up here, of course, but I think it may be enough to get your feet wet on the subject.  If you try out any of these charms and have results to report or have any thoughts on the different folklore and opinions recorded here, I hope you will leave a comment or send an email and share them with us.

Thanks for reading!


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