Braucherei — A Work in Progress
by Silver RavenWolf
Rather than letting you think I erected the Braucherei.com website and then decided to wander off into another realm, I thought I might share with you what I’ve been doing these past few weeks in the study and use of Pow-Wow/Braucherei.
Last year, after a very successful trip to Perry Historians in New Bloomfield, I decided to offer a Pow-Wow seminar there in an effort to give back to the members who were so helpful in our genealogy work. As the months marched closer to the event, I realized that although I am comfortable speaking to the general public, providing an educational and interesting talk to a historical interest group with a variety of personalities and religious backgrounds on a system I am actually using might be more of a challenge than I anticipated. History, to me, means a collection of documented facts, which aren’t particularly easy to come by when we’re discussing a faith based system that actually works; yet, we all still debate exactly why it works.
My first hurtle involved gathering together all the bits and pieces of research I stored away over eighteen years ago when I first interviewed Preston Zerbe, wrote the article for the Dillsburg Banner, and collected the information that I used in the subsequent writing of my HexCraft book. Although I’ve been fairly good about decluttering my living space, the basement was a whole different territory. Flooded several times by storms and twice by a broken sewer pipe, what was left in the plethora of plastic tubs presented a task-weary, tedious challenge. Thinking of the possible nightmare of standing in a public forum without anything historically accurate to say pushed me forward until I’d upended every box and searched through musty papers, old family photos and business documents that were no longer relevant. My journey into the underworld left me somewhat delighted, and a little disheartened. Most of my research material remained intact; but, some of my personal notebooks were missing. With time slipping away, I gathered together what I did have and moved it all into the rat room. Yes, you read that correctly. My small office houses my pet rats, hence The Rat Room.
After a few days of attempting to organize the books and papers (thank goodness I write in my research books — yeah, I know, sin…) and pulling the material in that I’ve used for eighteen years or so, I felt confident that I could move forward…at a snail’s pace. Keeping in mind that I was speaking at a historical society, and therefore accurate historical information was a priority (okay, so nothing is historically accurate; but, you can sure try) I switched gears and put on my genealogy cap. With the old newspaper motto– who, what, when, where, why, and how scenario, I first focused on my lineage — the people who taught me Pow-Wow in the first place and, in essence, provided the basic structure for the presentation I planned to give. I managed to pull census records for Eli Guide, Gertie Guise, and Preston Zerbe along with both Preston’s and Gertie’s obits, and discovered information I’d not know before. When I met Preston, he was in his eighties. I had no idea that in his lifetime he’d owned a pharmacy/restaurant and was incredibly active in his community, attending a variety of functions and supporting quite a few charities. Gertie, too, lived a long and active life; but, in a different manner. She passed away at the age of 95. Putting dates together and statements from Preston, I realized that just as I had learned from Preston in the last year of his life, so Preston had learned from Gertie in the last year (or so) of her life. Had they not spent that time together, had we not spent that time together — the thousands of people who have read and used my HexCraft book and my Pow-Wow material since then…would never have had access to their information.
That thought alone gave me great pause. How often in daily life do we turn down an opportunity that we don’t realize is an amazing avenue of change? How many times to we shun something with a presupposed eye, that might eventually lead us to a goal we hold most dear?
One other tidbit that has supported my teaching methodology all these years (it doesn’t matter what religion you are — what you do is the ticket) I discovered that Gertie was a Pentecostal and Preston was a Lutheran. Those of you who have studied the different facets of religion, particularly the various Protestant sects, will see a bit of amusement here, if not a moment of serious contemplation. Add to this note of interest that Hohman (the publisher of Long Lost Friend) was a Catholic (supposedly — I’ve not checked this yet and so am unsure of the veracity) you certainly have an interesting kettle of…fish. Pow-Wow most certainly is a system (not a religion) of practice.
As I put together the lineage information and began crafting the outline for the presentation, I decided to build a genealogical-type notebook to take with me so that I could show the audience some of my research material. In the end, the five-inch notebook carried several categories: Lineage, Famous Local Pow-Wow’s, Newspaper Article Collection, The Rehmeyer Murder Newspaper Collection, Journal and Article Collection, Translation Collection, Internet Article Collection, Books Used by PowWow Practitioners Research, 1856 Copy of Long Lost Friend, .pdf copy of Romanus Buchlein, Copy of The Guide to Health or Household Instructor, the 33 Charms Booklet given to me by Preston (as mentioned in that newspaper article I wrote for the Banner way-back-when), the Himmelsbrief Article collection, Useful Braucherei Charms and a finished copy of my seminar outline. I eventually entitled the work: Braucherei Collection of Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Perry, and York Counties. I also toted along copies of the 6th & 7th Books of Moses, Albertus Magnus Egyptian Secrets and two books from current authors — Jack Montgomery and Dennis Boyer. Although I wanted to add a section to the book on Frakturs and Hex Signs I literally ran out of time.
As the count down toward the seminar marched forward I found my journey into newspaper article history both rewarding and frustrating. By spending hours sifting through the various articles I grew to appreciate just how the system of Pow-Wow undulated throughout the tri-county area, particularly through the last one hundred years. I read stories of success, articles of irritation, tales of humor, sadness, anger, encouragement and more. Like a best selling suspense novel I found murder, mayhem, love and happiness — and plenty of great historical stories to share with my audience. On the downside? The major papers in my area, sad to say, are not on-line, therefore research without a date, is a tedious and almost impossible task in a short amount of time. I kept getting the answer: “Oh! They are on microfiche at…” which means not only must one pack up one’s research kit bag and travel, one must also have the unending hours to scroll through microfilm. Add the overall budget cuts of every county and state agency, and you have a nightmare of when-can-I-get-in-there, and when I do, how can I make my time most fruitful?
Although a great resource, some of the newspaper articles lent themselves to yellow journalism and a grab for headline interest. For example, I found two articles that used the word Pow-Wow or Hex next to the word infant death, leading the reader to assume simply by the headline that the practice of the system had led to the demise of an innocent child. Upon actually reading the articles I learned that both children were suffering from malnutrition. Although Pow-Wow’s had worked for the children, they did not cause the death of the children in any way. It wasn’t the parents’ beliefs that killed them — it was the parents’ economic inability to feed them.
In the last week, with a sigh, I moved my focus away from the newspaper research and concentrated on pulling together the seminar. As I cut, pasted, outlined, and reviewed I realized that my research concentrated not on Lancaster and Berks Counties (where much study has already been done); but, on those I’ve already listed — Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Perry and York. These are the counties I’ve traveled through and lived in for most of my life. Yes, at one time, many of these counties were actually part of the original Lancaster County. As time moved forward, areas became more populated, railways opened transportation, etc., and the counties of my research formed. This, then, became the underlying structure of my seminar, and I realized the differences between what I had been taught, and the type of practice that was inherent in Lancaster proper. Here, the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect slipped away quickly in an effort to associate better with the Scotch-Irish that also populated these counties. Therefore, little in the chants and charms I learned from Preston carried German or Pennsylvania Dutch, a fact which now made perfect sense to me. I saw both differences and commonalities which were based on practice, religious choice, environmental constraints (town or rural), and family traditions. By delving into my own genealogy I learned that several of my ancestors settled in Paradise (Lancaster County) and then moved slowly into Adams, York, and Cumberland counties. All historical arguments aside, the system no matter where it went or how it eventually manifested…worked.
By seminar time, I was excited, ready, willing and able to talk about Pow-Wow — which I did, for almost three hours. (Once my mouth motor gets going, it is hard to shut it off). I found the audience receptive, interested, and interactive. The audience seem to appreciate the items I brought with me, including the large notebook and other items. Unique to this seminar, our Black Forest archivist filmed the entire seminar. Unfortunately, we can’t air it on the net due to permission restraints.
When I arrived home I spoke with my friend, Marlene, about the talk. She knew I’d been nervous about speaking to the general public on the topic of magick. I was amazed, I told Marlene, how they didn’t bat an eye about the efficacy of energy work, and how receptive they were to some of the stories — particularly the potato, the hot pepper underwear, and a few other choice tales of Pow-Wow-on-the-edge. Marlene (kind, stalwart, matter-of-fact Protestant) just laughed. “Don’t ya get it? There’s always a place for hope! Especially now when everything else is in the shitter.”