The Hex Factory
Jack Montgomery Interview with Hunter Yoder
The Following is an excerpt from the book, 9 Worlds of Hex Magic , 2013 by Hunter M. Yoder
Jack is the author of the fine book, "American Shamans: Journeys with Traditional Healers," and of great significance to me, was apprenticed to Lee R. Gandee, Hexenmeister and master Hexologist. Thus he is a master practitioner in his own right and a well-known musician and Librarian and Professor at Western Kentucky University. Thank you very much Jack for taking the time to answer some questions mostly on the subject of your famous mentor, Lee R. Gandee.
"Lee Gandee Triple Protection Hex" by Hunter M. Yoder
1. Lee R, Gandee, Hexenmeister was a master Hex Sign artist. His illustrations of Hex Signs throughout his book, "Strange Experience" are the basis for what we know about his work as a Hexologist. What can you tell us about his Hex Sign making process?
For Lee, creating a hex sign was a powerful method of spell-casting. As a result, he did most of his signs in a mild form of trance focusing on the intent of what he wanted to accomplish magically. When creating his signs, he became psychically merged with his work and was unresponsive to the rest of the world. He knew enough of the background of hex art and color symbolism to remain traditional, but did not hesitate to personalize his work. He often compared them to Asian Mandalas and referred to them as “painted prayers.”
2. Lee’s book, "Strange experience; autobiography of a Hexenmeister'," has never been reprinted and now used copies are selling for large amounts of money on the internet. Do you know why it has never been reprinted and who owns the copyright today?
I have no idea why it has never gone into reprint and I assume his children retain the copyright. I wish it would reprint so that more people could experience his presence and read his story.
3. Lee's popularity is rising year by year as the impact of his book is finally appreciated. When he was your Mentor, what was his and the general public's view of that masterpiece?
Lee was a humble individual, though I think he was proud of his work, he never actively promoted it or encouraged people to buy copies. He often gave people copies if he liked them. It honestly was not about money for him. As for the public, the local reaction was mixed at best. Most people from the area where he lived were shocked and many were threatened by the fact that he had revealed a secret side of their community and of himself. There were a few local folks who saw the value but, as the saying goes: a mystic is often not valued in his or her community until after he or she is gone.
4. As you documented in your own book, "American Shamans: Journeys with Traditional Healers," Lee 'used' sexual energy in his practice of Hexerei. Any thoughts on Sex and Hexerei?
One of the secrets of Hexerei or Powwow is that it concerns the willful manipulation of personal and gathered energy and directing it toward a purpose or physical target. It works on a subtle level, but whether a healing or a curse, the energy is summoned and gathered. Emotions are great generators of such energy. Sexual energy is a primal human urge, and as such, is useful for magical projection if employed properly and for the right motives. How one creates it within oneself is a highly personal matter and hence, it does not lend itself to group expression. In addition, great care must be taken if your use of sexual energy entails working with spirit energy as discarnate entities are drawn to this energy and disaster can result if it is not properly managed. A prime example of misuse is the magical practice of Spectrophilia or sexual contact with discarnate entities. This form of human/spirit intimacy is possible to achieve and the results can initially seem positive, but over time, it often proves incredibly dangerous to one’s physical and mental health.
5. When I read Lee's book for the first time, I swore it takes place in my own Berks County, PA, because of the seemingly PA German folk practices. However the book seems to indicate that Lee grew up in West Virginia when in fact it was South Carolina. Why was that? And what are your views of the Pa German (Deitsch) Folk Magical traditions?
Well, to understand that aspect of the Powwow/hex culture of the Carolinas, one needs to know that South Carolina is divided into three basic geographic regions: the low-country starting along the coast inward about forty miles, the Piedmont which makes up the middle section and the “Up-country” which extends into the Appalachian mountain range. The particular part of South Carolina’s Piedmont just above Columbia and where Lee lived is called the “Dutch (Deitsch) Fork.” It was settled by German/Swiss people recruited by the English planters in the Low-Country during the early 1700s as a physical barrier to the Native Americans who controlled most of the Up-country and mountains at that time. The planters believed the Germans would also be a stabilizing social element as the Piedmont was considered “wild and lawless.” As a result of this recruitment, hundreds of German families s poured in through Charleston, and down through Maryland and Pennsylvania including my own German ancestors who settled in and around Marion, N.C. These settlers made their way down though Virginia where they were not particularly welcomed to German-speaking communities in North and South Carolina bringing their traditions and beliefs with them. I have seen German-language family bibles dating from the settlement as well as books in Spirit-communication and Mesmerism dating from the same time and decorated with hex symbolism. I have also seen copies of the “Long Lost Friend” written in German that indicated a Pennsylvania publishing origin. The historical presence of these artifacts indicate to me that there was not only an educated population in the Dutch Fork, but also one interested in mysticism and magic even though they considered themselves staunchly Christian and culturally Lutheran. These groups also communicated and visited other German communities all the way back to Pennsylvania and New York.
One other key element to understanding the Dutch Fork culture is to understand that it was insular and provincial until very recent times. This was the result of being politically and socially ignored by the early government in Charleston. In fact, during the Revolutionary War, recruiters had a difficult time getting these folks to join the American cause, and when Hessian mercenaries marched through the Piedmont and found these communities, they often deserted in mass settling in the communities and reinforcing the Germanic features of the local cultures. There was a lot of social interaction between Germans but minimal contact with other groups which again, served to protect and preserve their traditions.
Lee did grow up in West Virginia and settled in the Dutch Fork during the 1940s. He was, like many Powwows of the area respected, sought after in times of need, but also feared and distrusted by many. Witches, mystics and healers have always lived on the fringe of culture and though revered in some places could and did become scapegoats in others. Lee actually lived in a “Hex House” that had once belonged to a woman tried, convicted and tortured for being a witch in 1796 which is long after the Salem witch trials.
From what I have learned of the Pennsylvania traditions, I would say that they are culturally first-cousins with their Carolina relatives. One interesting aside is that though the tradition of hex-signs was an indoor practice in the Carolinas and often appeared on inner walls and on furniture. Examples include a pie-safe which dates from 1830 and is now displayed in the Lexington county museum in Lexington, S.C. and once belonged to Lee.
6. What are your thoughts on the number six? If I recall a conversation we once had, you stated that Lee's association with the word, 'Hex' was the number six and not the German word for witch. As you know most of Lee's Hexes were six pointed stars or rosettes. Six is also the number for Germanic Witchcraft. Three 'sixes' has various associations. I look upon it as a lucky number. Judging from the Hex that is on the front cover of Lee's book, I think he would concur. What is your opinion?
Six is a perfect, magical number being a double of three. In Hexerei and Powwow, one always works magically in repetitions of three. As an example, during a healing, one makes magical passes in combinations of three and recites incantations in the same manner. Lee did not associate six with witchcraft. Once you enter this magical path, you find you will start doing all manner of things in sets of three.
7. In "Strange Experience," the chapter entitled, "The Weberite Heresy," is a favorite second only to "Painted Prayers," The idea of gathering in the forest at night around a bonfire stripped bare to the waist and offering sacrifices to the Gods and Goddesses sounds like exactly what I do as a Folkish Germanic Heathen at a Faining. What’s thoughts do you have about that bit of South Carolina history? I know Lee took some flak from an ancestor of one of the participants of the "Heresy" regarding this his characterization of the event.
To me as a student of American folk religions, the Weberite Heresy at Little Mountain is a classic case of a religious personality cult gone haywire. The principle figures involved may have drawn from their German roots but the press of the day blamed it on the African American slave and called it voodoo which is wrong on so many levels. Remember that these communities were isolated and in that cultural setting, things can quickly out of hand. I have spoken to the lady who objected to Lee’s account and tried to discredit him as a result. It appeared from our email conversations, that what she really objected to were the accounts of sexual abandon by the group and their possible association with her ancestor. While I would be honored to have such a person in my lineage, she was mortified and attacking Lee’s account was her response. To satisfy myself on the matter, I went looking for other accounts of the event and did find other writers from the period when the event occurred who described acts of nudity and sexual abandon as well. Perhaps these are the ones that Lee used in his account. There were similar events in other parts of South Carolina and elsewhere from colonial times to the present day. I find the Weberite Heresy an interesting footnote in our American religious history. By the way, the site of the heresy at Little Mountain now is just a nondescript hill by the side of the road and most of the locals know nothing of its unusual heritage.
8. In your book, "American Shamans: Journeys with Traditional Healers," of which you include Lee R. Gandee as one, how are you defining shamanism? Isn't shamanism a specific magical practice of the Indigenous tribes? What doe Lee's brand of Hexerei have in common with Shamanism if anything?
You are correct that the word shaman comes from the indigenous people of Siberia. Today the word shaman however, is loosely used as a general description of a set of spiritual/magically-based traditions and ritual behaviors across a wide range of cultures.
When I was taking anthropology classes at the University of South Carolina in the mid-1970s, I was fascinated with shamans and their social role within their cultures as well as their ritual practices. When I began my own research and fieldwork in folk religions in 1974, I began to notice that many of these same behaviors including the employment of various levels of trance, communication with non-physical entities and the treatment of illness were handled in a manner by the folk healers I encountered including Lee.
It is important to distinguish the different levels of this form of folk-magical practice. First, there are those people who pray in a Christian context for the relief of the suffering of others as individuals and as part of small groups usually associated with a church. Second, are what I call “charmers,” who employ prayers and incantations often combining them with ritual behaviors to relieve specific ailments like burns, bleeding and pain. These individuals, like those who simply pray, work within the established Christian theological environment. Finally, there were those people who do what the others do , but then take that one step beyond and began entering profound trances, projecting their energy and communicating with non-physical entities. It was to this group that Lee belonged to and their activities most closely resembled, to my view, the practice of shamanism. Actually, Lee’s Hexerei was an all-encompassing 24/7 mystical lifestyle that drew you into it when you were in its presence. I have been doing it myself for almost forty years, it is still revealing itself to me and I am still learning to manage the experience as Lee would often say.
9. Any ideas as to the meanings of the initials, Lee used on his Hexes, such as on his "The Great and Seven Lesser Seals," or his "Petschaft or Wunder Sigel”?
I do not know exactly where he got that symbolism for the Petschaft, but I do know he was well-versed on occult and religious symbolism. As an example, he kept his magical journals written in Theban script so as to discourage anyone from browsing through them. I would love to know what happened to those journals after his death, but I fear the worst knowing the conservative religious attitudes of some of his family.
10. Salt and Iron, materials used for protection magically almost universally, Why is that?
From a magical perspective, salt repels spirit energy and is often employed as a protective barrier like brick dust is in Hoodoo. When I am helping a client with a problematic entity in their home, I will, once the entity has been repelled, seal the house with salt placed in corners, lining window sills and doors, and in extreme cases, making a circle of salt around the bed.
Iron is a disruptor of psychic energy and non-physical entities have great difficulty being around it. Remember the old practice of placing an iron horseshoe over the front door? Again, it is to disrupt that projected psychic energy. If a client is being attacked in their sleep, I have them place and iron fry pan under their bed or horseshoes between the mattresses to neutralize their vulnerability in that area. I personally sleep like a baby on top of a line of six iron horseshoes under my mattress.
11. In your unique perspective as having Lee R. Gandee as a teacher, what would you say his legacy is today?
Well, I am biased as Lee was a dear friend as well as a teacher but, I will not gloss over his issues or his peccadillo’s. He was not always easy to be around and could be exasperating and difficult but, I never thought for a minute that he ever meant any harm to me or to any innocent person. As for his legacy, Lee offers through his life and story what all mystics offer, a glimpse beyond the ordinary, mundane existence into a world of potential and wonder. He metaphorically opened a window to another view of so-called reality and hence, to an expansion of human consciousness. The author, Karl Herr in his book “Hex and Spellwork: the magical practices of the Pennsylvania Dutch” once said that “the best of the books about Hexenmeisters is probably Lee R. Gandee’s Strange Experience.” P.23 Lee, by being literate and an author, has also left a written account of the magical life to awaken that awareness in future generations.
12. What can we look forward to seeing by Jack Montgomery?
I have been giving lectures, book signings and workshops on Powwow, Hoodoo and folk magic for over a decade and since, 2008, I have been talking about American Shamans. As a result of my book, I was blessed to receive as a gift of 57 letters written by Lee from a wonderful gentleman in Wisconsin with whom Lee had an expanded correspondence in the 1980s. They are a treasure trove of Lee’s personality and his deepening mysticism and magical practice. I am currently working on reading and analyzing them and hope to present an epilogue in book form to Lee’s memory and perhaps reveal more of the unique mind of this modern day mystic. Often when reading them, I feel his presence around me and I take great comfort in that awareness. I will share one little gem with you from March 31, 1986 where Lee states: "In the final analysis, there is no defense against darkness except such light as we can give the world, no antidote to the hate and cruelty except love and no refuge from dread and fear except faith." That statement about says it all for me except thanks for the opportunity to chat with you.