A while ago, one of my commenters asked if there was any distinction at the time of The Long-Lost Friend regarding chemical or medicinal remedies versus magical ones. I took some time to look into it, keeping it in mind as I’ve explored various sources and thought more about Hohman and his work.
Having done so, I’d have to say that there were in fact distinctions drawn. One key example appeared in a newspaper in 1816, which was the first place where Hohman’s Die Land- und Haus-Apotheke, a collection of remedies for men and beast, along with an extensive section on dyeing, was advertised. In that work, Hohman includes a brief essay defending himself from the charge, apparently made by a competitor, that he was writing a “lies and magic book” (a rough translation). This doesn’t tell us where that particular demarcation lies or how it was defined, but it does indicate that categories of “lies and magic books” and more acceptable books existed.
Based on what I’ve seen so far – and this is rough work – I’d say that four categories of recipes existed, as follows:
1. Straight medicinal (chemical and herbal) remedies
2. Natural magic (carrying a mole’s heart makes you brave as a mole, which is a silly example I made up)
3. Charms, including bits of prayers, stories regarding Biblical figures, making crosses, nonsensical words, and the like.
4. Charms that invoked the devil, his attributes, or his minions.
I’d say these are in order of most to least accepted within the Pennsylvania German community of Hohman’s day, though I’m sure there were different opinions among individuals. You’d see most books of remedies concentrate on Category 1, with a dip here and there into Category 2. I’d place Hohman’s Land- und Haus Apotheke into that category.
Category 3 is what set The Long-Lost Friend apart from most of its contemporaries, including Hohman’s previous books. LHA, which was published just two years before, merely includes a quick note by Hohman that the book’s publication is not a sin. The Friend includes page upon page of justification, appeals to Scripture, testimonials, threats to drag people before a judge unless they acknowledged that they were cured, etc. It’s likely that more was going on behind the scenes here than we’ll know, but it does seem that the book’s content had something to do with the lengthy nature of his rationale.
As for Category 4 – you won’t see anything like it in Hohman’s book. Such charms do crop up from time to time, with a few in the Egyptian Secrets being the most prominent.
As I’ve said, this is still a theory in the works, and it’s one that doesn’t apply to every time and place. (Medieval thinkers, for instance, would have probably lumped together categories 1 and 2, afterward splitting 3 into legitimate prayers and works with incomprehensible words, suffumigations, and the like.) Nonetheless, I think it’s a framework that gives us some understanding of the context in which Hohman was publishing and what the publication of that book meant.