Posted tagged ‘guest’

Blog Post 188 – Visitors, Guests, & Strangers

May 8, 2014

Abraham and the Three Angels, by Gustave Dore (via Wikimedia Commons)

And Moses was content to dwell with the man: and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter. And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land. (Exodus 2:22)

And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant: Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree: And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said. And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes upon the hearth. And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it. And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat (Genesis 18:2-8).

Southerners are famous for their hospitality, so much so that the words are coupled together idiomatically in the phrase ‘Southern hospitality.’ Leaving aside potentially ironic implications of that expression (let us not forget that the ‘genteel’ South also maintained a bevvy of Jim Crow laws aimed at making life inordinately inhospitable for Southern Blacks), the concept of being a good host and treating those who arrive at one’s doorstep with dignity, warmth, and grace does have strong roots in American soil. Those roots are not exclusive to that soil, of course; the Ancient Greeks placed a tremendous value on the guest/host relationship, evidenced by numerous ancient writings and even the term the Greeks used for the practice of being a good guest/host, ghosti. Likewise, Hebraic culture values the right treatment of the stranger or alien in one’s land, as in the scriptural passages which launched this article, as well as dozens of other examples throughout the Bible. On American ground, however, this relationship found a variety of expressions among numerous peoples. While the performance of hospitality is inevitably different depending on its cultural context, the surprising homogeneity of value placed on hospitable action speaks to a core of humanity.

The practice of hosting and honoring the unknown guest also appears in a number of folk narratives with a distinctively supernatural bent—hosting angels unwares, so to speak, although in some tales the beings hosted are decidedly non-angelic. In this article we shall see some examples of these supernatural interactions, the rewards and risks involved, and some potential interpretations of the practical application of unearthly hospitality. We will also look at some of the rituals and traditions surrounding hospitality towards mortal beings, which is where we shall begin our examination.

In the Appalachian Mountains, traditions of hospitatlity are very strong, of course, but often mountain people might not see much of others except at major events. Being a good host extends to some of the most private moments in life, including the first night of marriage. The concept of a spontaneous wedding reception, called an ‘infare’ can be summed up thusly: ‘The word infare comes from Old English: in plus faran, to go in. It was a reception held in the home of the newly-married couple. Word was ‘spread around;’ no invitations wer issued, but people in the community knew that they were invited. Refreshments were served and games were played very much as at the play-party [essentially a bridal shower]. Neighbors often brought gifts of food and other things to be used in the home of the newly-wed couple’ (Gainer 32-33). The infare is a concept similar to the charivari or shivaree, which involved friends and neighbors of the newlyweds waking them the morning after with banging pots and pans, bells, whistles, hoots, and a number of innuendos about the wedding night. The function of these hospitality rites centers on a few concepts: celebration of a new union, blessing the happy couple, and community integration.

Sometimes extends to the idea of hospitality as an aspect of place versus people: ‘When you return to the house for something that has been forgotten, sit down in a chair before leaving again to avoid bad luck’ (Gainer 127). In a story from Hoosier folklore, it is neither a person nor place with an expectation of hospitality, but an object—a stove, in this case:

An old lady in St. Francisville sold her cookstove to a man who promised to pay her funeral expenses instead of giving her the price of the stove in ready cash. He didn’t do as he promised. Every time his wife tried to get a meal and cook on the stove, the stove lids would fly off. So he went to the priest and told him about it. “Have you made any promises lately?” asked the priest. Then the man had to confess that he had promised to pay the old woman’s funeral expenses in return for the stove but that he hadn’t done it yet. Then the priest told him to go right away and pay off his debt as quickly as he could. So the man did this and after that he and his wife had no more trouble about being able to cook on the stove, and the stovelids never flew off again (Smith 50).

This last example is essentially a haunting tale, although the aspect of returning a promised favor lets me slip it in edgewise to this look at hospitality. Weddings and ghosts aside, many examples of good housekeeping between the mundane and supernatural realms do follow the ‘angelic’ mode more closely.

In folklore from Mormon sources in the western United States, several stories center on visits from saints and angels. One of the best known versions of such tales is that of the “Three Nephites.”

According to the Book of Mormon, Christ, upon his coming to the American continent, had twelve apostles. When it came time for him to leave, he asked them if there was any wish that he might give them. Nine of them asked to go with him. The other three remained silent. They were told that they would never suffer death. Since then they have roamed the earth in a sort of immortal state. They appear at frequent intervals to give aid to those in distress or to give advice. Mormon literature is full of accounts concerning the mysterious appearance of one of these men and the wonderful things that they have done…Oral versions can be heard in almost every Mormon community (Dorson 500-502).

Dorson then recounts two different versions of the Three Nephites tale. In one, a sick brother is brought back from the brink of death on an isolated plot of land by a wandering stranger, who disappears almost the moment he leaves the house. Other Mormon tales include “The White Bread on the White Cloth,” in which an angelic visitor cures a sick baby from a hospitable household and “The Hungry Missionaries,” which tells the story of a pair of missionary Mormons near starvation who are gifted bread by a kindly stranger, only to find that their parents had given bread to a needy stranger that same night hundreds of miles away. Another version of the visitor tale that pops up frequently in Mormon lore involves the appearance of a “wee small voice” which provided emergency guidance in spiritually challenging situations. Some folklorists have equated the wandering Nephite tales with the tales of the “wandering Jew” found in some European legends (see Gustav Meyrink’s The Green Face for a fictionalized version). While the “wandering Jew” tales frequently bear at least a small amount of anti-Semitic language or tone, Jewish custom also has its own version of the guest, with the empty plate set for Elijah during holy meals. My wife and I adopted a similar custom after seeing Christmas Eve practices in Prague.

Returning to the South, there are a few other places where strangers traveling in strange lands find succor among the locals. In Southern Protestant church circles, there are frequently tales of the wandering preacher being hosted by congregational family members, particularly for meals after Sunday service, often dining with a family while sharing extended prayers, blessings, and occasional sermons. Eventually, he becomes something of a comic character, giving rise to the popular proverb: “When the preacher come by for Sunday dinner it make[s] the chickens cry” (Courlander 500). In some versions, the preacher’s role can be turned into an abuse of power, even something evil or diabolical. Literary examples include Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People” and Randall Kennan’s Let the Dead Bury Their Dead. In addition to men (and occasionally women) of the cloth, African American communities put emphasis on the value of storytellers who would move between communities sharing lore and news. In this way, they were similar to a wandering bard figure, but more often the storytellers would be found in a centralized location (porch of a local mercantile—also becomes a literary figure, and a central piece of the narrative in Hurston’s Mules & Men).

The traditions surrounding hospitality, whether Southern or more broadly interpreted, form a core piece of American cosmology. Since one never knows just who one is hosting, graciousness is always a wise decision.

Thanks for reading!

-Cory

 

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NWW on IAR

March 9, 2011

Hi everyone,

If you’ve not seen already, I was recently featured as a guest on Fire Lyte’s show, Inciting a Riot.  The focus was on the African Diaspora traditions like Lukumi, Palo, Candomble, and Vodoun (he jokingly referred to me as an “expert” on these, which I am NOT; but I did do a good bit of research for the show so I think it’s still a good overview).  We also wet our feet in topics such as the ongoing debate on “pre-natal murder” in Georgia and weighed in on the recent kerfuffle with Z. Budapest at Pantheacon. We had a bit of a gripe with Pagan media grabbers in general, and learned about an old word, “cockalorum,” which was particularly apt.

I hope you’ll check it out, and feel free to leave me a comment here or send me an email if you want to talk about anything we mentioned on the show.  It’s definitely not my usual format or subject matter, but I had fun doing it, and I think you might like it, too!

All the best,

-Cory

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!

-Cory

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!

-Cory


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