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.