OK, let’s put Halloween behind us, enough with all that Druid-inspired mumbo-jumbo . . .
Or . . .
Take a drive through Pennsylvania farm country. It was settled in the 1700’s by Germans who came in search of cheap land and religious freedom. These “Pennsylvania Dutch” (er, “Deutsch,” actually) were of two types: Amish and Mennonites who moved west, and Lutherans who stayed in the east. They were all pressured to give up their old-country ways, speak English, and integrate into their new country. You know, be good church-going Americans.
Yeah, well, some traditions die hard, and some come back to life. During the Industrial Revolution, canned paints became available and affordable to the mass market, which allowed farmers to color their barns for the first time. Almost overnight, boring brown farms became red, green and white. And many of them were also given a curious decorative element: large circular emblems filled with colorful agrarian symbols. They might have a Sun to represent warmth. Stars are for harmony. A Goldfinch means luck, a Dove means friendship, and an Eagle is for strength. Tulips are for faith, Wheat is for abundance. Oak for long life, Rain for fertility. And the circular Wheel of the Seasons turning around it all.
Ask the locals what they are all are about and they’ll smile and say they look good and are amusing to the tourists; they’re “chust for nice.”
But the symbols are commonly known as “Hex Signs,”- from the German word “hex” which means “witch” – implying they might have a deeper, perhaps darker, significance. They commonly feature pentagrams, and elements in multiples of six, a number associated with the occult. Lutheran farmers integrate them extensively, while more old-school Amish and Mennonites shun them.
So what the hex do we have here, harmless folk art or dark magic? Maybe a little of both. Perhaps Hex Signs can change the weather, protect a building from lightning, and keep the cows healthy. Or maybe a little superstition just makes for good marketing.
Either way, they’re worth a look if you are passing through. But if you go, just leave your itinerary with a loved one…and make sure your cell phone is charged…and your car battery is in good shape…full tank of gas…
Because, well, you never know…
(insert scary music here)
– Mike Keeler