THE PENNSYLVANIA GERMAN HEX SIGN: A STUDY IN FOLK PROCESS (FOLK ART, BELIEF, VERNACULAR ARCHITECTURE)

THOMAS EDMUND GRAVES, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

The Pennsylvania German Hex Sign is a prominent part of the landscape in the rural regions of southeastern Pennsylvania. Many popular ideas concerning hex signs have arisen in the last fifty years which say that these designs are apotropaic devices used to scare away witches, demons and thieves. While hex signs are an important part of the Pennsylvania German folk art tradition, they have not received the attention that the other genres, such as the decorated chests and fraktur, have.^ What I have done is to survey the existent hex signs in Southeastern Pennsylvania. From this survey I have drawn up a typology of "hex sign motifs" and have also analyzed the locations and colorings of the various designs. I have also investigated the history of these designs and have found that the set of motifs permeate all of European folk art, not just that of Germany. I have anlayzed the use of these motifs in the other Pennsylvania genres and have found the most similarity with the use of these designs in fraktur.^ Two other areas explored are the rise of the notions that these designs are protective devices and the realm of actual protective devices. I have found that there are many strategies that are actually used, even in contemporary society, to ward off evil and that there is basis in fact for all the particulars of the "hex sign myth" although I have found no evidence that these designs used on barns in Pennsylvania are anything more than decoration. ^

Subject Area

Folklore

Recommended Citation

GRAVES, THOMAS EDMUND, "THE PENNSYLVANIA GERMAN HEX SIGN: A STUDY IN FOLK PROCESS (FOLK ART, BELIEF, VERNACULAR ARCHITECTURE)" (1984). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI8422908.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI8422908

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