Day 74: Braucherei in the Ozarks



It’s interesting to look at all of the influencing factors upon Ozark folkways, and one of my favorite influences to look at is braucherei. Around the turn of the 20th century certain charms, prayers, and materia medica specific to the Pennsylvania German braucherei tradition made their way into Ozark folk healing by way of German-Appalachian settlers to the area. When we think of the Pennsylvania Germans we tend to have a very specific image of people who dress like the Amish and live on large farms. Actually, though, the Pennsylvania Germans were not a uniform group, but were made up of several different groups of religiously and culturally similar people coming into Pennsylvania from the Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Württemberg areas of Germany. What tied them together was their cultural heritage, but the Pennsylvania Germans represented about ten different religious groups, all exiles from their homeland. The Amish represent only a small portion of the Pennsylvania German people.

Many Pennsylvania Germans didn’t remain in Pennsylvania, but instead continued on south into the Appalachian Mountain regions of West Virginia and Kentucky. They were some of the first European settlers to the regions. They carried with them the tradition of braucherei which is a German folk healing and folk magic tradition. While many of the influences are obviously European (many of the verbal charms used, for instance) braucherei is a unique tradition that mixes many different influences that the Pennsylvania German people encountered in the New World. It can be said that braucherei is very much a uniquely American-German tradition.

Most of the settlers to the Ozarks came from the Appalachian Mountains; they found a similar home in these hills and hollers. Many of these settlers were of German, specifically Pennsylvania German, descent. I have many of these settlers in my family, some were German, some were Swiss, some were Brethren, some were Dunkards, but despite the differences they all had a common culture born in Pennsylvania.

You can see the influence of braucherei on Ozark folk healing specifically in the use of certain verbal charms that trace their origin back to European models. There’s also some crossover when it comes to materia medica. Much of the herbal knowledge we have in traditional Ozark folk healing comes in from the several Native American Nations Ozark people came into contact with, but a lot of the non-plant based medicine used has origins in the German and Pennsylvania German, healing traditions.

A couple good books to read on the subject are:

“Signs, Cures, and Witchery: German Appalachian Folklore” by Gerald C. Milnes
“Powwowing Among the Pennsylvania Dutch: A Traditional Medical Practice in the Modern World” by David W. Kriebel

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