The Long-Lost Friend: Your Comments Answered

Thanks to everyone for your kind words and comments on The Long-Lost Friend.  Let’s dive in with Graeme, who asks:

Did they rely upon [folk medicine] more heavily than other European settlers in different areas? (For example the English in Virginia) Or were they unique in this? Are there, for example, other such texts that were used by different colonial groups in different areas? If so, how much overlap is there between them?

The general area of folk medicine is one that I haven’t investigated much, but my sense is that folk medicine was quite prevalent in the early colonies, especially where geography or finances made other sorts of medical care less likely.  It also seems that the remedies were often collected in book form, though most of the publishing was on the European side. It’s likely that the situation with the Pennsylvania Dutch is different due to the explicit inclusion of charms in the material, and the extensive publishing industry devoted to creating German-language sources.

AncientHistory said:

Well, you probably know that the invocation from “A CHARM TO BE CARRIED ABOUT THE PERSON” is taken from the canticle “The Song of the Three Holy Children” (or so I presume). However, where Hohman gives the names as “Ananiah, Azariah, and Missel,” I’ve usually heard them as “Ananiah” (sometimes “Hananiah”), “Azariah”, and “Mishael”. Is this just a small misstep in the translation, or was this an error carried forward that would point to a specific source?

Actually, I didn’t know that, so I’m quite grateful about it (and please let me know if you’d like to be credited under your name for the catch).  I did do some detective work on this particular charm, using and the German copies of Hohman on hand and Google Books to look at German Bibles from the period.  There is some slight variation in the wording, but it is different from all of the German Bibles – including one “multiple edition” study Bible I was able to find.  So, no luck there.

Kevin Nelson writes:

I think the common belief was that anyone could “try”, as they called it, using Hohman’s remedies, but it was generally believed that only “gifted” sorts: pow-wow doctors, braucherei, hexerei, etc., had a far better success rate because they were often part of a magical lineage. These people knew the secret gestures and often were skilled herbalists. Anyone else who used Hohman was just reciting strange verses with mixed success.

From what I’ve seen so far, it seems that there were indeed different levels of powwowing, ranging from non-practice to those who practiced one or two remedies to the full-fledged “doctors.”  Yet, in the material I’ve read, I’ve seen little indication that a magical lineage was necessary.  According to Kriebel’s modern research, sometimes the “gift” is passed in the family, but most would say that more important factors are sex (cross-gender transmission is common), training, and faith.  Hohman himself makes no reference to any lineage – I think it’s likely, in fact, that he or his wife taught the other spouse.  At any rate, the very nature of Hohman’s project makes it likely that a good number of Pennsylvania Dutch saw possession of a book as sufficient for practicing such remedies.

Please keep the comments coming!  It’s very encouraging, especially when I have to tackle some of the more monumental parts of this.

Published in: on May 8, 2010 at 11:37 am  Comments (3)  

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  2. On a Google Scholarship note, I was toodling around looking for a possible translation or meaning to “Hbbi Massa danti Lantien” when I came across a slew of German charms of the same general form as those in Hohman (and in some cases, the same Latin phrases and magic cross constructions) in the third chapter of Baltic Studies, Vol. 36. No idea if that’s at all useful.

    Link to GoogleBook:

  3. Just a quick, unrelated(?) link —

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