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Runic Symbology in Contemporary Deitsch Hexology, by Hunter Yoder

An excerpt from "Heiden Hexology, Essays and Interviews, 2012" by Hunter M. Yoder

originally published, HEX MAGAZINE, Fall & Winter 2008, Issue 4

'Virginville Helm, 2007' Hunter Yoder

Hexology differs from Hexerei, which is used to describe the collected practices of Germanic witchcraft. Hexology refers specifically to the practice of creating what Lee Gandee describes as “Painted Prayers,” or Hex signs. In the Pennsylvania Deitsch dialect, they are called Hexafoos (witch’s feet) or Hexezeeche (witch sign).

Not too long ago, Dennis Boyer, Berks County author of Once Upon a Hex wrote to me and described the Hexafoos as follows:

“My primary pow wow teacher ‘prescribed’ hex signs, but did not paint them herself. She often referred to them as ‘picture prayers.’ Her method and concept were also present in a number of other Berks and Lehigh brauchers, mainly in a belt from Oley to Macungie, though I heard of a few others up in the Mahoning Valley.

Other terms that popped up were visual prayers, dream signs, wish symbols, and magic marks. I've been told of brauchers long ago that drew such symbols on the body of others and of one who had India ink tattoos in the palm of her hands. I had a dream of having such a tattoo on my left upper arm. Haven't moved on that yet. DB”

I refer to myself as a Hexologist, not a Hexenmeister, though there are areas the two have in common. For example, Hexologists won't use urine or other bodily fluids on their work as a Hexenmeister might do as a part of a magical practice. Instead, a Hexologist will let the paint do the talking. My knowledge of Hexology is derived from my birth and subsequent youth in a place called Berks County, Pennsylvania. In the ‘native’ dialect it is called “Barricks Kaundi.” I am a Deitscher. My family came generations ago from Switzerland and Germany to the Oley Valley in Berks County and remains there still. We are Pennsylvania Dutch, Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch, Deitschers all…Hexology is in our blood.

If you have my cousin Don Yoder's ‘coffee table’ book Hex Signs, Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Symbols and their Meaning, (E.P. Dutton, New York, 1989) and look at page 19 which shows the frequency of hex signs in the SE part of PA, right where the dots all converge and it gets all black…yeah, that’s where I'm from.

'Natural Born Killers,' 2008 Hunter Yoder

I painted Hex signs on my father's barn in Richmond Township near Virginville when I was about 16 years old. He grumbled at the extra expense since the

I painted Hex signs on my father's barn in Richmond Township near Virginville when I was about 16 years old. He grumbled at the extra expense since the ‘job’ was to just paint the whole barn one color, ha! But there they were actually inscribed into the wood and calling to me, the usual three on the front bay, and one on either end, but none on the back bank side—eight-pointed stars, with a radiating outer border.

I also grew up and went to school with the Claypoole family, whose dad Johnny, took up hex sign painting as taught by Johnny Ott of Lenhartsville, not too far down stream from us. I loved Ott's work. It still was pretty visible back then on the barns around the area. He was basically a commercial painter with a little something extra. The interior of the main dining room of the Lenhartsville hotel is the Sistine Chapel of PA Hexology. Ott free-form decorated all the walls. It’s still there to visit. Lee Gandee, in his book Strange Experience, relates the following anecdote about Johnny Ott: A rain hex sign he painted was evidently left outside too long causing so much rain that the Delaware River flooded, causing 4 million dollars damage, a large sum back in the fifties. Just one example of the power generated by these painted prayers.

My family was Lutheran and was considered Fancy by our Plain Amish and Mennonite neighbors.

My family was Lutheran and was considered Fancy by our Plain Amish and Mennonite neighbors. The Amish and Mennonites always had the best land on the plain in Berks County. However, the tradition of painting the Hexafoos was never a ‘Plain’ one.

'Reyn til Runa, Sex Magic Hex' 2008, Hunter Yoder

Hexafoos can be separated into two general categories, six-pointed stars or Rosettes, and the eight-pointed earth stars, with the earth star being most commonly seen in Berks County.

The Rosette as an archetype is found throughout antiquity. It was embraced by the original Germanic Heathen tribes of Switzerland, where it was used as a talisman and painted on barns; a practice that jumped across the pond to Pennsylvania and is still in use today. According to Lee Gandee, six forms the most stable unbreakable configuration in the Universe (Strange Experience, Autobiography of a Hexenmeister, Prentice-Hall, 1971). In Yantra, an Indo-European symbological tradition, six is the union of the male and female forces, the male being the equilateral triangle pointing up and the female the equilateral triangle pointing down. Together they form an unbreakable bond.

The eight-pointed star or earth star, is a variant of the simple four-pointed star which points in the four compass directions. Eight is another archetypal number commonly associated with metaphysical cosmological models. The Berks County eight-pointed star in black and yellow is a condensed cosmology called a ‘cosmogram.’ It is both the sun and the earth, a source of energy and a sign of fertility and abundance. As we say in Deitsch, it’s “gut glick” or good luck. The geometric shape it embodies is the square or diamond. These two together also create an unbreakable bond in the form of an eight-pointed star. We shall see later how this ties directly to the Elder Futhark’s Ing rune.

There is, for me, a direct analogy between “hex sign painting” and growing plants, or perhaps more precisely planting seeds. They are both creative acts. When a seed is planted, all of the components of the mature plant are there in a very compact form. The results of the “planting” are not always known, and the conscious intent can be misleading. “Growth” sometimes occurs in such a way that is not anticipated. The subconscious mind needs only to be exposed to a conscious experience in order for it to manifest that experience's essence with a creative result. The ritualized intent of a Hexafoos is activated by some form of the irrational, which is slipped into the symbology, usually in the center. This can be achieved using disparate elements or some form of incompletion. It creates a question that needs answering. Examples of this in my own work might be the use of a black droplet instead of the traditional blue, or using a rosette with an eight-pointed star instead of repeating the star element. The human psyche will reject any form of incompletion and find a way to make it whole. This need or anxiety is the catalyst for connecting with our “Living Universe” which is inevitably paradoxical, and the results frequently a surprise.

I believe my focus as a Hexologist is also the primary focus of the Berks County farmer—fertility and weather control. The essence of Pennsylvania Deutsch magic is fecundity. As farmers we seek to increase our yield and protect our farms. Because of the simplicity and primitive nature of the intent, you could say that Witchcraft (Hexerei) and “Shamanism” are the main components of Hexology. Whether they are just different names for similar things, as has been suggested to me by Dennis Boyer when I raised this question with him, or different schools of thought—Berks County contains elements of both. The Hexerei came with the predominantly Germanic settlers as folk religion. The Appalachian Mountain Range that runs through its Northern end was the conduit for the Shamanic element. Power plants used to induce hallucinations, rattle snakes, and power points in the blue rocks of the Deitsch Eck, or German Corner, attracted me in my young manhood. Events have occurred there that defy rational explanation.

'Schwarz Sonne Hex' 2008, hunter Yoder

My preoccupation with the connection between Shamanism and Hexerei resolved itself in my discovery of the Northern Magical traditions of Galdr and Seidr. Galdr or spoken/sung magical spells seem to relate directly to our Deitsch Hexerei. It echoes Hexology with its use of sacred geometry and complimenting symbols to tune in the intent. The Icelandic tradition of Galdrastafir would be its Northern European cousin. Seidr is Northern European Heathen shamanism, indicated by its usage of power plants such as Bilsenkraut or Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) and Amanita muscaria with a strong emphasis on intuition. These primitive magical practices are universal to all folk traditions.

My own evolution as a Hexologist has led me to include runic components in my work. As symbols and sets they have meshed wonderfully and the Heathen Germanic symbolism acts to ‘power up’ the Hexafoos. I have used the runic wheel as the border component, the outer circumference of a Hexafoos, and also in the center, usually in the form of a bindrune.

I use clockwise and especially counter-clockwise runic wheels and reverse runes as well where I see fit within the context of each Hexafoos. As a Deitscher, I do not claim to be an expert in the runes, but I intuitively relate to their flexibility, their mystery, and their ability to ground in natural materials, such as wood.

I use clockwise and especially counter-clockwise runic wheels and reverse runes as well where I see fit within the context of each Hexafoos. As a Deitscher, I do not claim to be an expert in the runes, but I intuitively relate to their flexibility, their mystery, and their ability to ground in natural materials, such as wood.

The use of runes in the border has become my signature innovation. Traditionally, the border is very important and distinguishes one’s signage from another. It also allows the artist to show off his personal skills. The border always depicts an expanded version of the core number of divisions. If the core star is an eight-pointer, the outer border is inevitably in some multiple of eight. As such, the runic wheel operates as a full set—a completion, a realization. This totality is the essence of Hex Magic, as it is with Rune Magic. Through this completeness the intention is realized. We live in a wanting, willful universe and we are the channels through which it manifests.

My first use of runes and bindrunes was in a piece called “Virginville Helm.” It featured a “Helm of Awe” protective symbol in the center, and four runes at each of the four corners of the square it was painted in. It wasn't well received by a Deitsch Heathen group I was in contact with at the time as they weren’t ready to make the connection between the Galdrastafir of the Icelandic tradition, and the Hexology of Berks County. I actually hid it away for a while, as I was still a novice in runic knowledge and unsure of the connections I made. I eventually found a Rune Magician who added to my knowledge and supported me in my work. Her name is Patricia Hall and I first met her at the very first Blót (Old Norse ‘sacrifice’) to Wotan of the Urglaawe or ‘original faith’ Heathen group in the SE Pennsylvania area. With her background in shamanism, and strong intuition, she was able to grasp my untraditional approach to Hexology, which in turn corroborated my own instincts.

'Flesh Blood and Cum' 2008, Hunter Yoder

As soon as I saw that “Helm of Awe,” I knew it was compatible with my own Berks County tradition. The Elder Futhark is composed of three sets of eight runes, a multiple of eight that lends itself to a wonderful outer border on a Berks County eight-pointed earth star. Using this as the border immediately suggested a center to interact with. The center is a place of convergence and lends itself to the placement of bindrunes, which are several runes in a composite form with a specific purpose.

My voyage of discovery had begun and the floodgates of creativity opened. I was next struck by a runic “Nine Worlds” configuration using Eihwaz as the vertical axis of the world tree and Gebo, the Meeting of Heaven and Earth, at the Four Directions in the horizontal plane, (see an example of this rune composite at and its subsequent expanded form using nine Runes. Asgard is at the end of the top hook of the Eihwaz rune, then Ljossalfheim at the top point, Midgard is at the centre, where the Gebo rune crosses it. Svartalfheim is at the bottom point of the Eihwaz, and Hel is at its end. The Gebo rune is imagined to lie in a horizontal plane, with Midgard as its nexus. Eastward lies Jötunheim, to the South, Muspellheim, to the West, Vanaheim, and to the North, Niflheim.

'Nine Worlds Hex' 2008, Hunter Yoder

It accomplished what I had attempted earlier—providing a Runic Cosmology. It orients according to compass directions and even into more dimensions. This is very much in keeping with Hexology, since the Hexafoos are merely ‘cosmograms,’ or short forms of symbolic cosmologies. Using the Elder Futhark as outer border, I substituted my usual raindrops that spin in between the eight rays of the star with eight of the nine “World Runes” and used the Gebo rune as the center, which fits it very well.

In subsequent work I oriented the Hexafoos using Ansuz as the top Rune and the rest accordingly with clockwise and counter-clockwise rotations. A note on the Deitsch usage of raindrops or ‘yods’: Along with the earth star or ‘sun,’ the raindrops promote fertility both in the physical plane and the spiritual. The droplets can be used as a cleansing purity, a gift from heaven…water. They are also used to symbolize sperm and blood, along with the multiple levels of meaning each of those have.

I carried this idea further when Patricia asked me to do a Hex sign using the “Reyn ‘til Runa” (trans. ‘seek the mysteries’) bindrune of the Rune-Gild. This time instead of a nine worlds runic assignment in the droplets, I was instructed to use the rune of the opposed position within the droplet next to the outer Elder Futhark Runic wheel. For instance, use Uruz and Dagaz. If you write out the Elder Futhark…Fehu through Othila and then write it out in the opposite direction under each you will see the pairings…positional opposites. In the center, in an act of Deitsch “Sex Magic,” I inserted the “Reyn ‘til Runa” Bindrune within a black drop to ‘activate’ the Hexafoos. The effect was very visceral and erotic, simply through the use of symbols and runes. The goal was to ‘impregnate’ the Hexafoos with the high energy of a ‘temporal mutual orgasm’ and thus activate it into being.

In time, I became interested in the “Black Sun” mystical symbol and thought it lent itself to Hexology. I wanted to use The Younger Futhark instead of the Elder because the number sixteen lends itself better to the Berks County Eight earth star. I wanted to make it run counter-clockwise because this also intuitively seemed natural. In the center, the sixteen ‘rays’ of the Black Sun emanate out to each of the sixteen runes. In the center is Odal (Othala). The eight counter-rotating droplets are the blood. And within the center is a stylized “GeilSkimmel,” or Datura flower. This is a nod to Hexerei, as Datura is a symbolic power plant of intent. I also finally used the rune Sowilo as a bindrune, known as the “swastika” in Hexology. Its use as a bindrune was the attraction, and because of my clear intent, I no longer harbor any fear of using it. I depict it, and the runic wheel in which it is contained, counter-clockwise.

This led to a Rosette version of the Black Sun with six counter-spinning blood droplets and three more each inside of the other with a centered Ing rune. I have always responded most directly to the God Ing (Frey) as he represents the masculine fertility god of the Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch and of Hexology. The diamond shape is the giveaway. I have always painted Hexafoos on squares turned on end—diamonds. This orients the viewer to the four symbolic compass directions and sets the derivation of the eight-pointed star. This star represents fertility, abundance, and “gut glick” or good luck. It is the shining earth star of the farm, agriculture, and animal husbandry. These are all attributes of Ing, and I salute him at every blót I attend.


Most recently my rendering of the Black Sun and the subsequent “Black Sun, Blood, and Geilskimmel” Hexafoos have evolved into a state of “Black Sunshine.” The outer Younger Futhark runic wheel is mirrored by an inner combination of eight runes forming a bindrune, which is centered within a single large blood droplet.

'Black Sunshine' 2008, Hunter Yoder

The bindrune combination can be determined by a blind pick of the runes. Eight runes are picked randomly, intuitively. This rejuvenates the process of making the Hexafoos. It is visually fresh because control has been relinquished in a very controlled way. It generates something unexpected or unknown. New pairings are created with the outer opposing Younger Sixteen Runic Wheel. Black sunshine emanates from this central composite outward to each of the sixteen Younger Runes which are now not only running counter-clockwise but have been reversed where appropriate, according to the spacing within the runic wheel caused by the reversal of flow, rather than to proper runic articulation.

The tradition of Hexology has never been Christianized, though many have tried to ascribe Christian symbology and meaning, so it need not be saved from the pile of Christian influences under which many of our other traditions have been buried.

'Flesh, Blood , and Cum," Detail, 2008,Hunter Yoder

Hexafoos images as well as Hexezeeche trace their origin back to the magico-religious practice of creating carvings on cliffs and paintings in caves depicting geometric symbols and animals. We can trace this tradition back at least 40,000 years to Cro-Magnon man in the area now known as Europe. Hexology continues in an unbroken chain from our Germanic tribal roots in Eurasia to our spiritual ‘homeland’ in Pennsylvania, where it thrives, not as a tourist attraction, but as a viable and evolving part of our Germanic culture. It is my intention not only to preserve this tradition, but to extend and expand it into the international magical art form it truly is, as part of the revitalization of our pre-Christian ways.

Hunter Yoder, 2008


[About the word “Yod” – does it refer to the tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet-the name of God? Or like in astrology-“the finger of god”? curious about the etymology~A] The usage of Yod is something I acquired in my youth in Berks County, I really am not sure of its traditional origin outside of Berks County. I remember it being used when referring to the raindrops on the hexafoos.

It’s interesting because I know the term from studying the Kabbalistic Tree of Life when I was younger. Yod (the 10th letter of the Hebrew alphabet) is shaped like a raindrop.

Then later I learned of it through studying my astrological chart. A Yod is where three planets form an equilateral triangle and then activate a fourth meaning in their relationship “the finger of god.” – divine intervention in your life. Coincidence?

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