The Way of My Ancestors
Hunter M. Yoder
This book was written between the dates of 11/14/2014 up to the present time. It documents my return to Berks County, especially places and events near my new residence in the Oley Valley.
After spending nearly 6 years in Philadelphia, the gateway into the New World for the majority of the immigration from Germany in Colonial times, time and circumstance led me to return to the County of my birth. Berks County to the North is distinct from the older Southern part. So I grew up outside of Kutztown, and spent a great deal of time in the Appalachian Mountains which define the Northern border. After 35 years, I returned but live now in the South. This perspective allowed me to retrace my ancestors’ footsteps, starting with Johannes Keim and the Yoder Brothers, Jost and Johannes Yoder since I now lived very close to where they originally settled.
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, 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 prextian signs and symbols including the Runes were historically discredited, destroyed and altered 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 prextian 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.
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 which was formed in 1891. 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 Tombstones book, 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.
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 Worlds of which we humans live in just one, Midgard.
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 Volksgeist of 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 Pinnacle and 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 Eyck or corner. Nearby lies Lenhartsville, the birthplace of Hexology and 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 volkskunschtler in 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 Highway returns 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 motif 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. But as we have seen recently, the ‘Bull in the China shop,’ of multiculturalism and globalism is starting to implode here and in Europe, which leads me to mention the included transcript from my podcast with Jack Donovan, author of The Way of Men, and more recently, Becoming a Barbarian. He is a well known writer of the ‘alternative right’ as well as a mutual friend of many of the members of the Wolves of Vinland, who have been included several times in my previous books, Heiden Hexology, and 9 Worlds of Hex Magic. All I can say about that is, Caput Gerat Lupinum. He also is a native of nearby Lancaster County and also York, it doesn’t get any more Pa Dutch than that! We also both went to the school of hard knocks in NYC and I saw his work at a show in Philly/ Fishtown in 2008 by chance at the famous Germ Bookstore just prior to my own show there.
Finally, I have included a short piece, 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.” I hope you enjoy the book.
Jacob Keim Farmstead, 1753
The Pinnacle, Highest point in Berks County. It juts out dramatically from the Appalachian Mountains it is a part of. Locally this area is known as the 'Deitsch Eck'
Johnny Ott, proprietor of the Deitsch Eck Hotel at the time of the photo is also known as Professor Johnny Ott, Doctor of Hexology. His old Hotel in Lenhartsville is still to this day decorated walls and ceiling with his Hex designs.
Anna Maria Jung, "Mountain Mary" lived and is buried in Pike Township. She is the God Mother of the Deitsch Healing Art known as Braucherei or 'Pow Wow'
Milton Hill, of Virginville, just upstream from Lenhartsville is another giant of modern Hex Sign art. Here is one of his very early versions on paper of his signature, Barnstar. 1899
The Sacred Oak of Oley, is a more than 500 year-old Chinkapin Oak, sacred to the Leni Lenape and the Early Deitsch settlers. Here it is pictured with the author's Daughter Erika.
The Kutztown Folk Festival, In the summer of 1950, three of America's leading folklorists presented the first Kutztown Folk Festival. For Sixty six years and counting, the Festival has been a celebration of Pennsylvania 'Dutch' lifestyle presented by the Deitsch folk themselves including the author.