Hex sign

Hex signs are a form of Pennsylvania Dutch folk art, related to Fraktur, found in the Fancy Dutch tradition in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. [ [http://www.yourlancaster.com/history-hex-signs.htm YourLancaster.com] ] Today some non-Pennsylvania Dutch people use the signs in a talismanic nature, although others see it as purely decorative, or "Chust for nice" in the local dialect. The Amish do not use hex signs. [ [http://www.amishnews.com/featurearticles/Storyofhexsigns.htm Amish News] ]

Form and use

Painting or mounting "hexing signs" dates back to the pre-Christian era in Europe, when symbols and designs derived from or pertaining to the runes first appeared on buildings to invoke magical powers, either to hex or bring about good fortune. Over time, the practice took on several new meanings, especially as the number of those recognizing the old Germanic pagan religions declined; for some, the practice came to be about art and tradition; for others, the sign-creating was less-ritualistic, but still about "good luck", especially for those concerned with good fortune in crop cultivation.Fact|date=June 2008

Today, artfully painted octagonal or hexagonal star-like patterns are a well-known sight on Pennsylvania Dutch barns in central and eastern Pennsylvania, especially in Berks County, Lancaster County and Lehigh County. However, the modern decoration of barns is a late development in Pennsylvania Dutch folk art. Prior to the 1830s, the cost of paint meant that most barns were unpainted. As paint became affordable, the Pennsylvania Dutch began to decorate their barns much like they decorated items in their homes. Barn decorating reached its peak in the early 20th century, at which time there were many artists who specialized in barn decorating. Drawn from a large repertoire of folk designs, barn painters combined many elements in their decorations. The geometric patterns of quilts can easily be seen in the patterns of many hex signs. Hearts and tulips seen on barns are commonly found on elaborately lettered and decorated birth, baptism and marriage certificates known as Fraktur.

Throughout the 20th century, hex signs were often produced as commodities for the tourist industry in Pennsylvania. These signs could be bought and then mounted onto barns and used as household decorations. Jacob Zook of Paradise, Pennsylvania claimed to have originated the modern mountable sign in 1942, based on traditional designs, to be sold in the family souvenir store to tourists along the Lincoln Highway. [ [http://www.amishnews.com/featurearticles/Storyofhexsigns.htm Amish News] ] [ [http://www.hexsigns.com/history.cfm?&Session=722311 Jacob Zook and the History of Hex Signs] ]

In recent years, hex signs have come to be used by non-Pennsylvania Dutch persons as talismans for folk magic rather than as items of decoration. Some view the designs as decorative symbols of ethnic identification, possibly originating in reaction to 19th century attempts made by the government to suppress the Pennsylvania German language. [ [http://www.amishnews.com/featurearticles/Storyofhexsigns.htm Amish News] ]


Anabaptist sects (like the Amish and Mennonites) in the region have a negative view of hex signs. It is not surprising that hex signs are rarely, and perhaps never, seen on an Amish or Mennonite household or farm. [ [http://www.yourlancaster.com/history-hex-signs.htm YourLancaster.com] ] John Joseph Stoudt, a folk art scholar, challenges the view that hex signs, as a part of Pennsylvania Dutch culture, have had any magical significance.


There are two opposing schools of belief regarding the derivation of the name. Those who support the occult nature of the signs assert that the term "hex" derives from the Pennsylvanian German word 'hex' (German 'Hexe', Dutch 'Heks'), meaning 'witch'. By contrast, supporters of the folk-art theory point out that the most popular hex signs were six-sided, brightly colored geometric designs, termed hexagram, from the Greek root "hex-" meaning "six". However, a six-sided design said to offer protection against hexes was commonly placed on early Germanic homes - it can still be found above the entraceway to some residences. The design was used to thwart negative rune workings and represented a positive charm.


Further reading

*Graves, Thomas E. The Pennsylvania German Hex Sign: A Study in Folk Process. 1984. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation in Folklore & Folklife, Univ. of PA.
*Hoyt, Ivan E. "Hex Signs: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Learning the Craft". Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.
*Yoder, Don, and Thomas E. Graves. "Hex Signs: Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Symbols and Their Meaning". 2nd ed. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2000.

ee also

* Pow-wow (folk magic)
* Pentagram
* Fancy Dutch
* Distelfink
* Barnstar
* Amish

External links

* [http://www.amishnews.com/featurearticles/Storyofhexsigns.htm Amish Country News] Brad Igou, October 2001, The Story of Hex Signs.
* [http://www.berksweb.com/hextour.html Berks County Hex Sign Barn Tour]
* [http://www.amishnews.com/hexsigns.htm Hex Sign Themes]
* [http://www.padutch.com/hexsigns.shtml Hex Signs at Pennsylvania Dutch.com]
* [http://www.ursai.net/hex/ About hex signs from a "hexmeister"]
* [http://www.brandynaugle.com/hexsigns.html Hex Sign Artist Brandy Naugle]
* [http://www.timboucher.com/journal/2005/08/15/hex-signs/ About Hex Signs]
* [http://www.the-artistic-garden.com/hex-signs.html Pennsylvania Dutch Hex Signs: Their Symbolism and Meanings]
* [http://www.rauscountrystore.com/page.htm?PG=hex%20sign%20links Collection Of Informative Links To PA Dutch Hex Sign History & Meanings]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • hex sign — hex′ sign n. any of various magical symbols of usu. stylized design, as those painted on barns by the Pennsylvania Dutch …   From formal English to slang

  • hex sign — ☆ hex sign n. any of various colorful, stylized designs painted on Pennsylvania Dutch barns and thought to ward off evil …   English World dictionary

  • hex sign — noun see hex mark * * * any of various magical symbols of usually stylized design, as those painted on barns by the Pennsylvania Dutch for protection against evil spirits and now sometimes used for purely decorative purposes. Also called hex mark …   Useful english dictionary

  • hex sign — any of various magical symbols of usually stylized design, as those painted on barns by the Pennsylvania Dutch for protection against evil spirits and now sometimes used for purely decorative purposes. Also called hex mark. * * * ▪ emblem  emblem …   Universalium

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  • Hex — A hex is a curse or magical spell or a female caster of such. The term is derived from the German word Hexe for a witch. Hex is also the Greek root word denoting six as in hexagon , a six sided geometric figure. Hex may also mean:Media Television …   Wikipedia

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