The Hex Factory
Address to the 20thAnniversary Meeting for the Institute for Hermetic Studies
I was born and raised in Berks County on a farm . And farm life is farm life, its probably the greatest education you can possibly get. There’s constantly life and death and fornication. You see the strangest stuff at a very early age. I remember the veterinarian coming over to implant the cows. He puts on a really long elastic rubber glove all the way up to his armpits and then he got the selected sperm from a jar with his gloved hand and then just voom right up into the cow’s vagina all the way up in there, and that’s how they do it So at a very age I became knowledgeable in selective breeding. I raised bees. I learned how to hunt, fish and trap as a kid. Your playground is a couple hundred acres with your dog as your playmate and they are always getting into trouble. So you see the strangest things, chickens running around for hours with their head chopped off. I remember coming home with the family from Sunday school, just out of Church and the dogs are fornicating on the driveway.
I expressed an interest in painting, interested in being an artist. So my Father said well, if you want to be a painter here is a paint brush and a 40’ ladder, go paint the barn. That was his take on being an artist.(laughter) So that’s what I did, I painted the barn for Dad. And when I got up close, I saw these things, it was almost like a relief into the wood that were Barnstars, an eight pointed Barnstar it was due to weathering or what not. They had been painted over and so they weren’t visible unless you got up close. So I asked Dad, ‘I want to paint the Barnstars.’ Well he grumbled abit, he didn’t like the extra cost. But I did it anyway and have been hooked on it ever since.
It was an eight pointed what is called a ‘earthstar’ it has the cardinal directions so that refers to the earth and of course it also has the appearance of the sun, and in between the rays are the droplets of rain, the earth, the sun, and the rain, a fertility sign.
So that was the sign I cut my teeth on, I guess I was sixteen years old.
I went to school with the sons of the leading Hexologist, Johnny Claypoole. There was a great deal of marijuana smoked and long hair. Johnny used to travel around to shows in a psychedelically painted VW microbus. This was the late Sixties, he would go to the Philadelphia Folk Festival and all the other festivals he would go on television, he was quite the character. Now he had originally bought the business from a Johnny Ott, of Lenhartsville who ran the hotel there. Johnny Ott basically invented the idea of painting circular disks with hex signs on them. Around late forties early fifties, there was a Milton Hill of Virginville who actually did the first ones. But it was Johnny Ott and Jacob Zook out your way that really commercialized it. But Johnny Ott had a really Folk magical aspect to it, he called it the Jinx. He knew exactly what he was doing with the symbols in the Hex signs. And that was later lost when he passed on the business to Johnny Claypoole. Johnny was Irish Catholic from the Upper Darby with a lot of kids. His son now has continued and is the big barn star painter in Berks County. But the magical aspect was lost. And it was quite frankly at the time it was not smiled upon as it was considered as a form of witchcraft. That’s why the Plain people don’t do this because it’s a form of witchcraft and that’s not xtian. And from the more secular Dutchman it’s not good for business with their largely xtian clientele. So they eliminated that part of it.
Back in 1968, way before most of you were born my mother apprenticed me out to a certain 'Bumbaugh' He had a used bookstore in Kutzeschtettel on East main street not too far from the Saucony Creek bridge. Yeah, the wrong part of town back in those days. My Mother was known as the 'Purple Lady' back then, well because she was alway dressed only in purple down to the eye shadow. Anyway she stopped into his place looking for antiques, another one of his sidelines. I guess he made a pass at her, which happened alot with the 'Purple Lady', ha ha ha but it was 'Nix so gut' and instead he got stuck with a fourteen year old kid to help him out around the store and gather herbs on field trips. Bumbaugh had several of these storefront used bookstores throughout Barricks kaundi including one in Niantic which I think was his old stomping grounds. he was also a fixture at the Saturday markets such as Renningers in Kutxtown and down there in Adamstown. This was common back then, all the "Dutchy operators" were into antiques, herbs, hex signs and whatever there was an interest in. He was also a fixture at the Kutztown Folk festival where they put together a replica of one of his bookstores for the tourists. He also dealt in 'pelts' Yeah he'd buy muskrat, raccoon, fox, and deer pelts. Sometimes we'd sell to him or there was another buyer out at the junkyard at the 'three mile house' He also bought and sold ginseng which was a big cash herb as it still is. He also was into goldenseal and was always recovering from some health issue or another, probably more like recovering from a hangover..
Around the same time, I was apprenticing in a way to my older brother Russell Yoder who was in a constant state excitement about one thing or another. The writings of Swedenborg, the Rosicrucians, Alchemy and Jacob Boehme were of great interest right around that time, late Sixties. He had me doing portraits of Boehme and I recall doing a woodcut of a Green Lion devouring the Sun…. I was 14 years old.
My interest and specific position in the art of Hex Sign painting, or Hexology was independently self acquired but directly akin to what my late distant cousin, the brilliant, Dr. Don Yoder, referred to as the Pan Germanic Symbolist movement of the first half of the Twentieth Century. He concludes in the Forward of Donmoyer’s book regarding the intention of this Pan Germanic Symbolist movement:
“The apparent, not so hidden agenda as we realize it now, was to discredit European Christianity and its connections to Judaism, by substituting for Christian symbolism pre-Christian, pagan, “Aryan,” and “Germanic” symbolism including the Runes”*
*Hex Signs: Myth and Meaning in Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Stars, Patrick Donmoyer with a forward by Dr. Don Yoder, 2013 page 12.
Dr. Yoder was in effect putting the cart in front to the horse. The pre-Christian signs and symbols including the Runes were historically discredited, destroyed and transmogrified to fit the new Universalist religion, Christianity, a monotheism parented by Judaism, over a thousand years ago. It is important that we realize this and honor our pre-Christian ancestry and put these signs and symbols within their proper and honorable context. They have endured!
However, his view was and still is the acceptable position of the scholarship on die Scheier Schtanne un Blume (barn stars and flowers) of the Pennsylvania Dutch to this day.
The geometry and numerology of a Christian sort as is explored in Donmoyer’s book, thanks to in large part to master barnstar painter, Eric Claypoole. The division of the diameter of the Hex Sign into sevenths could be a reference to the seven days of Creation. The usage of the number 22 in the scalloping could be a reference to the number of books in the Bible. The use of twelve pointed stars could refer to the twelve apostles. There is no
question however that they have been replaced here with a very intentional magical alphabet, the Germanic Elder Futhark of Runes . Fully present are the Gods and Goddesses of the Germanic North. The ‘signs’ are executed ritually with full intent encoded within the geometry and numerology. The results are astonishingly powerfull. This folk art form has been reanimated
Originally, the book, “Nine Worlds of Hex Magic” was to be titled, “6 Interviews, 66 Hexes” referring to 666. This in part was because I wanted to expand on an essay I had published in the Fall 2011 Hex Magazine issue under the title, “666, Six Questions to Six Hexologists and their Six Hexes” There is discussion on that particular number/configuration in the Jack Montgomery, Adel Souto, Patrick Donmoyer interviews and elsewhere throughout. The reason for this was the frequency that the configuration geometrically cropped up in traditional Hex Werk. The interest here has nothing to do with the Christian/Satanic ‘Mark of the Beast’ but rather the use of the number six three times for charms. Numerologically, 666 adds up to 18, 6+6+6=18, 1+8=9. Nine is the special number in Northern Germanic magic and mathematically/ numerologically it is the ‘perfect’ number. All multiples of which always add up to nine. Such as
1x9=9 2x9=18, 1+8=9 3x9=27, 2+7=9 4x9=36, 3+6=9
and so on 74x9=666, 6+6+6=18, 1+8=9
To give an idea of the depth and power of applying Runic knowledge in Hex Magic which like metaphysics creates a map of the cosmos as its core, in a recent thread on using the tally a form of numerology with the Elder Futhark, Paul Waggener of the WoV revealed that tallying the entire Futhark would add up to 300, which is 3, the third Rune, the Thorasaz. As kenning for the Cosmos, the Thorasaz can be seen in this light as a bindrune, a
combination of Isa (ice) and Kenaz (fire) or Fire and Ice. The Norse creation myth tells how everything came into existence in the gap between fire and ice, the Nine Worlds.
Interestingly enough, Hex Signs were referred to as “Hexefuus” or witch’s feet. (Wallace Nutting, Pennsylvania Beautiful, 1924) Hexefuus, however refers specifically to Hex Signs with the Algiz Rune as the central figure. (Patrick Donmoyer, at the 2013 Pennsylvania German Cultural Heritage Center’s Heemet Fescht) because of the similarity of this configuration to a bird’s foot. So it seems that the Runes have been incorporated into Hex work all along.
I have been the unique position of combining the knowledge of the Hexenmeister with that of the Rune Magician, as in the following conversation with noted Rune Magician Robert Blumetti, on my work on a “9 Worlds Hex”
Hey Robert, I am in the middle of a nine worlds Hex, I have the Runic equivalents as indicated, I was wondering if you agree or have any thoughts on the subject? Asgaard-Ansuz Alfheim-Wunjo Midgaard-Gebo Svartalfaheim-Kenaz
Hel-Hagalaz Jotunheim (East)- Raido Muspellsheim (South)- Fehu Vanaheim (West)-Uruz Niffliheim (North)-Thorasaz
Based on a model of the Yggsdrasil as the Eihwaz Rune, Asgaard as the end of the top hook, Hel as the end of the bottom hook.
Hope all is well! Wunjo!
I would make three changes. For Niflheim, I would use the rune, Isa, the ice rune because Niflheim is the realm of ice. Remember my formula for Vril? V=Fehu for fire. R=Raidho for divine, correct pattern. I=Isa for ice, and L=Laguz for water, which is symbolic of the life force. For Jotunheim, the realm of giants, I would use Thurisaz, which is the Giant (thurs) rune. Gebo for Midgard is okay, but you might want to replace it with Mannaz, which is the “human rune.”
"Nine Worlds Hex," 2013
Let us not so quickly forget that the vestiges of pagan religion in Christian symbology and doctrine are undeniable. The pre-Christian, God Mithras was called the “Son of God and the Light of the World” centuries before Jesus Christ. He was born on December 25, died and was buried in a rock tomb and then resurrected in three days. Christianity’s weekly holy day was stolen from the pagans. Originally, Christianity honored the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday, But the Roman emperor Constantine shifted it to coincide with the Pagan’s veneration day of the sun, “Sunday.” Constantine further shaped what today is called Christianity. He called for the now famous ecumenical gathering known as the Council of Nicaea. Christians today recite the Nicene Creed as a declaration of their beliefs. It was there that the Christ Jesus was deified and established as the “Son of God.” Before that he was a mortal prophet.
This was about the time when the Divine Feminine was removed from Christian doctrine. Mary Magdalene’s role was marginalized and she was recast as a reformed prostitute, not as Jesus’s wife. Her gospels were not included in the New Testament. Sexuality was evil, the work of the Devil, the forbidden fruit. Jesus was conceived “immaculately” and he lived a celibate life till the end. There were no more gods and goddesses, that had all been replaced with a single male father god, his son and a nebulous ‘Holy Ghost’
My work is and always has been a reaffirmation of European Symbolism and my Germanic ancestry. This has until relatively recently been a forbidden position in this country and is still forbidden in Germany. In researching for this book I found I had to go back over sixty years to find the work done by scholars on both sides of the Atlantic whose views resonated deeply with my own. This foremost included the work of Preston Barba’s Pennsylvania German Tombstones, A Study in Folk Art, 1954 published for the Pennsylvania German Folklore Society. He references stone carvings made into the walls of the ancient Roman stone quarries of Bad Durkheim in the Palatinate, the carvings are of Germanic sun wheels or Sonnenrads. This is the region from which my ancestors emigrated from and from which as Dr Michael Werner describes in this text, the Deitsch dialect evolved. Barba also discusses in his Tombstonesbook, the Ur-Bogen, or the Sun rising or setting half eclipsed by the horizon. Ur refers to the second letter of the Elder Futhark, Uruz, which is associated with the now extinct bison of Northern Europe, the Auerochs. This symbol is frequently found in conjunction with the tree of life in Pa Dutch Folk Art. The Hexologist, Don Greth picked up on the Ur-Bogen and used it extensively in his work. Greth, now an obscure Hexologist was closely associated with Johnny Ott and Jacob Zook and also once owned the famous Deitsch Eck Hotel in Lenhartsville.
der Urboge: The shortest path of the sun in the sky, occurring close to the winter solstice (Winkler, Pennsylvania German Astronomy and Astrology V, 38).
As a practicing Sun worshipper, I can say there is no more sacred moment then watching the Sun rise or set at some high place, as it becomes increasingly or decreasingly eclipsed by the Earth’s horizon. God is Red.
Another of these older scholars was August C. Mahr, who wrote Origin and Significance of Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Symbols, 1945. Like Barba he traces the origin of the Barn Stars back to Europe and then back to Mycenaean culture. However, it was a motif carved into another tombstone from District of Herford, Westphalia Germany that caught my attention. It featured what he calls a “Club-armed Swastika” set on a nine pointed star. He attributes this uniquely Pa Dutch form of the Swastika to Sun Cults throughout Bronze Age Europe and again to ancient Crete. I use this motif with great success on my contemporary Hexes. This particular Swastika is one of the Pa Dutch Folk Art favorites. What makes this particular tombstone carving unique is it’s usage of a nine pointed star which is rare in Pa Dutch Folk Art but of special significance to Germanic prextian symbolism as it refers to the Nine Worldsof which we humans live in just one, Midgard.
Tombstone, Westphalia, Germany
In visiting many of the sites in the Oley Valley and neighboring Montgomery County, I was fascinated with the old stone houses and barns of my Colonial era ancestors. Both cut stone and field stone walls were combined to make these enduring structures. The oldest ones used red brick arches over the windows and doorways as well as red tile roofs. This combination of the warm colored terra cotta and the cooler field stone look I found to be satisfying in a very visceral way. The enormity of these houses and the addition of surrounding buildings, referred to as Ancillary Houses as well as barns and in many cases older log structures are evidence of the great prosperity my ancestor’s enjoyed. It also speaks to the enormous labor that went into their construction that probably went on over the course of several generations. Of particular interest to me were the Ancillary Houses such as the one found at the Jacob Keim Farmstead and the Johannes Deturk Ancillary House. These much smaller structures combined all the elements I found so viscerally pleasing and so European. The small windows placed asymmetrically, exquisite stone walls highlighted with the old brick over all windows and doorways combined with the terra cotta tile roofs which still endure after nearly three hundred years capture the Volksgeistof these people, my ancestors. To me they still live there.
This is of course true of the landscape with its distinctive features some of which are included in this volume, IE The Pinnacleand the Sacred Oak of Oley. Both places are magical and the author has experienced very strange occurrences at both. They exist as places that no one individual owns, although the new owner of the property the Sacred Oak grows on has not quite grasped that yet. The Pinnacle is quite a distinctive feature on the the Appalachian Mountain ridge that passes through Berks County to the North. It juts out several miles practically perpendicular to the Ridge and forms what is locally known as the Eyckor corner. Nearby lies Lenhartsville, the birthplace of Hexologyand the Deitsch Eyck Hotel made famous by the original “Professor of Hexology” Johnny Ott, who is featured several places here. Both myself and my wife, Rachel Yoder, a skilled volkskunschtlerin her own right had the pleasure of speaking to a Mervin Smith, Jr who grew up as a small boy in Lenhartsville in the Fifties and still vividly recalls Johnny Ott and was member to many a fishing trip and adventures with this well known, local, colorful character.
Unfortunately, Ott has been largely ignored by recent scholarship on the subject of Hex Signs in favor of the work done directly on the barns, this could be said of the work of Ivan Hoyt as well, both true masters of Hexology who worked on circular disks and in doing so elevated Hex Sign painting into a sophisticated and more articulate art form. I am heavily in debt to both. And speaking on the subject of true masters we cannot fail to mention Lee R. Gandee who is included several places here as well, especially in the chapter which juxtaposes him with Ott, The Hexenmeister and the Hexologist. Curiously, Gandee has been inserted into recent scholarship of Hex Sign painting, see Patrick Donmoyer’s classic book on the subject included in the Bibliography. This is in part, due to my introduction of his work to the group founded by Dennis Boyer, The Three Sisters Center for the Healing Arts (Braucherei), in the early Two Thousands of which Patrick Donmoyer was a guild member. Gandee’s usage of these “signs” for intentional purposes which has recently become fashionable may also account for his acceptance and inclusion. (Not that it was ever out of fashion.)
The umbilical chord, the belly button, so to speak of this Hex Highwayreturns to Philadelphia in the chapter on the 2015 exhibit and symposium at the Philadelphia Free Library entitled, Framing Fraktur, which contained so many and so tiny illuminations of motifs that all, Deitsch Folk Artists today are in debt to. It was simply magnificent, however the contemporary component of the Show lacked any of us, die Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch Volkskunschtlers, in favor of a multicultural approach. That was very disappointing
Finally, I refer to my work as, Visual Cult Objects,which is an attempt to grapple with the essence and origin of what I do as an object maker and why these objects are different. I am fond of saying to myself, that I am “altering reality one Hex at a time.”
Hunter M. Yoder, Hexologist