The Hex Signs
Assorted round magical signs and symbols used by the Pennsylvania Dutch, principally for protection against heverei (Witchcraft) but also to bring about spells. These signs serve both as amulets and talismans. Traditionally, hex signs are painted on barns, stables and houses for protection against lightning, to ensure fertility and protect animal and human occupants alike from becoming ferhexed, or bewitched. The hex sign are also painted on candles; household goods such as kitchen utensils and racks; and on wooden and metal disks which can be hung in windows.
Various hex signs have a distinct meaning. Some of the symbols and designs date back to the Bronze Age – such as the Swastika or solar wheel, symbol of the Cult of the Sun – and to the ancient Crete and Mycenae. Most of the common designs or symbols are enclosed in a circle, such as stars with five, six or eight points which are trudenfuss or pentagrams; variations of swastikas and hearts. The six-petaled flower/star, a fertility hex sign, is painted on utensils and tools related to livestock, especially horses, on linen, on weaver’s tools, mangling boards and other items. Pomegranates also are use for fertility; oak leaves for male fertility; an eagle or rooster with a heart for strength and courage; hearts and tulips for love, faith and happy marriages.
Other hex signs are designed for healing, the accumulation of material goods and money, starting or stopping rain and innumerable other purposes. A charm or incantation is said during the making of the hex sign. There is very little information concerning hex signs because it is considered taboo for the Pennsylvania Dutch to talk about them to outsiders.
The custom for using hex signs was derived from the Old World, brought from Germany and Switzerland by German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania during the 1700s and 1800s. In the old Saxon religion it was customary to paint protective symbols on barns and houses. In Germany, tradition calls for the hex signs to be placed on the frames of barns, but not houses; in Switzerland, it was customary to place the sign on houses. The Pennsylvania Dutch adopted both practices developing regional customs in style and placement of hex signs.
The signs proliferated the Pennsylvania Dutch area throughout the 19th century but began to wane in the 20th century as belief in magical arts declined.