Hex signs theory dispelled in a pinch (since 1950s)
Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker, celebrated authority on Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs, noted these (hex signs) folk art symbols were found locally on Christian made fraktur birth and baptismal certificates (Taufscheins). Dr. Don Yoder cited tombstones as an area hex signs could also be found on. Itinerant traveling folk artists spread hex-sign design motifs in Berks, Lehigh, and Montgomery Counties, where they lettered and embellished birth certificates for illiterate farm families who wished to please their children and keep family records up to date. Folklorist Shoemaker disclaimed the hex-sign barn myth in his research study in Hex, No (1953) among many other publications. Also, a noted authority on witchcraft and occult practices in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, he stoutly (no pun intended) avowed there was no basis in fact for this fictitious hex-sign myth.
Reverend John Joseph Stoudt, who lived just outside Fleetwood town limits, also shot down the notion of hex signs as occult talismanic symbols to ward away evil. On page 367 in Dr. Stoudt’s classic 1948 book, Pennsylvania Folk Art, published by PA German Society wrote: “But these fraktur folk art designs were more a sign of hospitality to any fellow Pennsylvania Dutch traveler who spoke the Dialect and shared these Christian fraktur baptism motifs in a Commonwealth whose English laws and language were different from the farmer’s ethnic roots.”
In the 1950’s, Dr. Shoemaker discovered that some itinerant artists laid out their designs geometrically using six-pointed stars, or more, in the corners of the “Taufscheins” to balance the layout. But some artists as famed Frakturist Krebs drew elaborate designs of the sun and moon with the profile of a man’s face on these certificates, as well. Folk art symbolisms of a “man in the moon,” or the “sun as a god” provided prestige to the individual’s “Taufschein.” The geometric design of a star also had major significance to early European Christians. Having ultimate Christian meaning, this star design may have led the Three Wise men to Christ’s manger according to the early Pennsylvania Dutch folk art scheme. These itinerant fraktur artists, who brought color into the lives of hard-working tillers of the soil, may have inspired the creation of colorful sunburst-barn star images on farmer’s otherwise drab forebay barns, popularly known as “hex signs.” Thereby, becoming the hybrid design that captured the importance and brilliance of the sun to the farmer, overlooked their barnyards as they did their daily chores, having nothing to do with witchcraft at all!
Anabaptist Plain Dutch farmers of Lancaster County, on the other hand, who did not believe in infant baptism, had no need for decorated Taufscheins or to paint sunbursts or “hex sign” motifs on their barns. Therefore, they were not part of this native folk art practice, hence, hex signs are not found on the Amish barns of Lancaster and Lebanon Counties. Mainly because these Plain Dutch are Anabaptists, they do not participate in infant baptisms, thus, do not follow the fraktur folk art practiced by the Church Dutch of Berks and Lehigh Counties, among others, where these colorful natives had extended their faith and Christian folk art to their barn forebays in a celebration of the Almighty!
Enclosing, my thought also is Sunbursts or hex sign designs may have become popularized among emigrating Rhinelanders watching the mariner’s compass star aboard 18th Century ships heading for America. These eight-pointed compass ship stars with black saw tooth triangles in its circumference navigated sailor’s exact directions and was very likely an everlasting image for immigrants who were inspired to paint barn stars on their homesteads when they finally arrived in good health on the shores of the New World, after a much tedious voyage.
Hex signs are prevalent in many aspects of Pennsylvania Dutch culture.
Hex signs are see on many barns in Berks and surrounding counties.