On the Shelf: Hexenkopf: History, Healing and Hexerei

I found out about this little book during my journeys through Pennsylvania. It’s a historical society publication, and as such, displays the traits of the meandering work I previously discussed. More often than not, such publications are limited in audience to family members and experts in local history. I should know – I’ve had to wade through more than my share of those over the years.

Ned Heindel’s Hexenkopf is not one of these. Its title – “Witches’ Head” – refers to an outcropping of stone in Williams Township, Northampton County, Pennsylvania. The rock was reputed to be the meeting place of witches, who congregated to sing, dance, and plot vengeance against the townsfolk. The rock has a number of legends connected with it, covering everything from ghosts to disappearances to suicides. It can be found today in a largely deserted area dotted with the overgrown ruins of forgotten farms. The Hexenkopf is also a site of significance to historians and naturalists, and Heindel delivers a complete history of the rock’s ownership, its impact on the local culture, and its significance within the local ecosystem.

Heindel also spends a great deal of time talking about the practice of hexerei, or powwowing, a Pennsylvania German system of cures and magic that served the townsfolk’s needs when doctors were unavailable or too expensive. He pays considerable attention to John Georg Hohman, the German immigrant who published his famous charm book The Long-Lost Friend in 1820, and who might be considered the first American author in the field of magic. We also hear about the hex murder trial of 1928, behold a selection of hardwritten charm books preserving the powwow lore for local families, and are introduced to a local novelist whose work about three charmed sisters (no, really!) was based on thinly-disguised versions of his neighbors.

At times, one might stop reading and wonder just how, for instance, an account of an eighteenth-century witch trial fits in with the big rock of the title. The answer is that it doesn’t, but in the best tradition of the meandering book, you don’t really care because the author has taken you somewhere fascinating. Likewise, in a typical manner for such works, the author hasn’t really decided whether he wants to write a book for scholars, local historians, or for casual readers, but Hexenkopf is definitely suited for all of them. I found it useful for its insight into Hohman’s life, the publication of his book, and the manuscript tradition of magical works in the area, but another reader could easily take some elements and run an interesting, detailed, and mostly historically accurate Curse of the Blair Witch style roleplaying game.

Online shoppers will be sad to hear that this book is only available directly from the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society. Nonetheless, it comes with my high recommendation, for whatever that’s worth.

Published in: on August 7, 2006 at 12:10 pm  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] alluded to the hex murder in my Hexenkopf post a while back.  In brief, eastern Pennsylvania has been the home to a strong tradition of folk […]

  2. I am a member of the local band Hexenkopf and am pleased to see someone giving Mr. Heindel kudos. As a regular visitor to the rock I can say that it`s healing abilities are quite pleasant IF YOU BELIEVE AND WISH TO BE HEALED. I leave a part of me there each visit and am a more pleasant individual having a connection to it. And yes I do come from one of the local farm families,and Mr. Heindel and his wife definitely show hospitality to anyone wishing to visit ,if you are respectful,as it is a precious piece of history and lore.

  3. Gruss Gott,
    Heir Heindel,

    I have ordered my own copy of your book after starting to read the one which my friend, George Gyomber got from you. His mother was a Kleinhans. She now lives in Ft. Pierce Fl. It was amusing to speak with the kind lady at Northampton Historical soc. who helped me, for she sounded EXACTLY like Carol Kleinhans Gyomber!

    I am a Unity teacher and interested in the need for a practical answer to healing; especially strong in the 1800’s. Myrtle Fillmore used her powers of visualization by set up an empty chair for Jesus. In this way, she could talk out loud to him about her body and it’s need to be freed from TB.(she was) Our powers of consciousness, mind, visualization etc. are sadly neglected. I look forward to reading more of your “H” book. You are a gifted writer and researcher.
    I have sent a check to the historical society. Hopefully, I may also get those wonderful 3 stars in my copy. I love your words..”so there, now you are protected forever”
    And in deed…we are!

    My great grandmother was from Bremen, Germany.
    Others in her family were from Hillel, D. Because of the war, her daughter.(.my grandmother ) would not speak German with me. She and her family changed their name from Burgermeister to Buhrmaster. most of that family now live near Scotia, NY.

    Danken Ihnen fur Ihr Buch
    Ann Gurley
    Orlando F.

  4. Ann,

    I’m not Dr. Heindel, but perhaps you might send this letter to his publisher.



  5. […] Friend that I need for comparative purposes.   Luckily. one of the appendices in Heindel’s Hexenkopf is a complete bibliography of various editions of the book, noting the variants between them, where […]

  6. […] assuming that Hohman did die in 1846, as Heindel and others have suggested, I think I’ve narrowed down his date of birth.  One newspaper […]

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