Last month, our fellow Freindschaft member and Braucherei practitioner, Patrick Donmoyer, was approached by the Reading Eagle as research for an article regarding some documents that had been found in the Historical Society of Berks County. The documents had been at the Society since June 1946.
Included with the documents was a note describing that the documents had been found nailed to a barn wall in New Jerusalem, PA, which is in Berks County's Rockland Township. The documents were not the only charms found at the barn. Over the course of time, some charred bones and other protective charms or amulets had been discovered there.
Patrick confirmed that the four charms among the documents were written around the year 1900 by Braucher Joseph Hagemen of Reading. Although Hagemen was a well known and widely trusted Braucher among the Deitsch, he was also a target of what later became a systematic effort to undermine all aspects of the Deitsch culture, including the language, the folk unity, and, especially Braucherei. This effort, known as die Unnerdricking ("the Suppression") consisted of an alliance, though perhaps not a conscious one, between the state government, scholastic institutions, medical associations, and non-Deitsch church establishments. What common threads might bring these disparate groups together?
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, for starters, had always had to contend with the huge tract of land in which the Deitsch were in the majority. Some Deitsch anecdotes imply that, as late as 1920, one could drive from Germantown to the outskirts of Pittsburgh without ever needing to speak English. Now, while such an anecdote may require a rather circuitous route in order to be true, the underlying fact is that a huge chunk of Pennsylvania remained "unassimilated."
Around the year 1900, the European political stage was becoming tense with the rise of one Germanic power in Prussia and the slow decay of another Germanic power in Austria. Anti-German sentiment was on the rise in the United States long before our entry into World War I. This sentiment, enhanced by the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 and American entry into the war in 1917, brought about a widespread fear of the German-speaking "foreigners" within our own homeland.
Despite the fact that the Deitsch remained loyal (Fries' Rebellion notwithstanding) and fought in the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and in any number of more localized conflicts, our ancestors were still viewed as foreigners, and, at the onset of the war, a fifth column for the Kaiser. The state perceived the Deitsch as a threat, and, therefore, had reasons to assert itself into the folk evolution. Series of harassments and work camp check-ins (a topic for another blog posting) continued throughout the war.
One might think that World War I served as a lesson of the loyalty of the Deitsch, but the same, perhaps more aggravated, anti-German sentiment lived on between the wars and became more pronounced during World War II. Even after World War II, many Deitsch felt stigmatized and victimized by anti-German sentiment. Language suppression continued well into the 1960's, and, in some places, into the 1970's, even while other languages were asserting their right to be spoken everywhere.
What of the medical associations? The rise of modern medicine is, on the one hand, an good thing. Most Brauchers will not tell anyone not to see a certified medical doctor. Antibiotics are, when used responsibly, a good thing, too. However, with the rise in modern medicine came a rise in power, money, and influence. Where there is money, there is corruption. Not all aspects of modern medicine are so good. We take all sorts of toxic medications, many of which have natural -- and safer -- alternatives. Those alternatives, though, are often much cheaper than the toxins that pollute our environment now.
Medical practitioners often arrogantly disparage any form of traditional healing. In many ways, this behavior is absurd. After all, whence come the earliest medicines but from the herbs and plants around us? One need not look much further than willow bark or meadowsweet to see the origins of aspirin. It is also interesting how post-modern scientific review is now lending credence to some of the practices once held in disdain by science.
The state, of course, found ways to utilize the rising medical establishment as a tool for the suppression. Sometimes, outright persecution of a practice results in a defiant adherence to it. It is much more effective to mock it and make it look stupid and backward, which is exactly what the medical establishment did. This same tactic, by the way, was employed by the Soviet Union to undermine the folk doctors and shamans of the Siberian tribes, thus bringing their people in line with Moscow's vision of the New Soviet Man. Of course, the New Soviet Man did not speak a Mordvin language or have the appearance of a Chukchi. Likewise, the New American Man did not speak Deitsch or have the appearance of a Lenape.
What of scholastic institutions? What role did they play? Initially, the Deitsch were in the process of creating their own higher education establishments, which is where institutions like Kutztown University originate. Otherwise, particularly as it applies to primary and secondary education, the schools form the apparatus of the state, which used them to perpetuate the stereotype of the Dumb Dutchman and to belittle and to weaken our heritage and cultural identity. The 1911 ban on the instruction of German in schools formed the basis for a program of the dissolution of the Deitsch culture, so much so that by the time I was in school in the late 1960's, we were told that the Deitsch language, accent, and other cultural indicators were a detriment to our success in life. Imagine educators expressing such opinions today!
Then there are the non-Deitsch religious institutions. Granted, not all "Deitsch" religious groups embrace Braucherei. However, while many sects will not accept the totality of Braucherei due to its Heathen core, most will recognize facets of it, such as the "laying on of the hands," that are consistent with their particular denomination's beliefs.
The larger churches, particularly the Lutherans, Reformed, and Catholics, viewed Braucherei as part of the folk culture and folk religion. Thus, they generally did not view the practice as a problem. It was an innate part of their heritage, just as it was for Heathen practitioners as well as for many smaller religious denominations. While that is not to say that there were never any issues with the established churches in the Deitscherei, there were not, on the whole, a great number of problems. The troubles began primarily with the exposure of the Deitsch folkways to the evangelical churches of other ethnicities. These troubles began prior to 1830 with the Anglo-American evangelical attempts to order American social life and to keep it in line with the church (see Foreigners in Their Own Land, by Steven M. Nolt, chapter 5).
As time went on, some of the churches, particularly those that were obsessed with legislating morality and who feared a demon behind every elm tree, began to denounce Braucherei as sorcery, Satanism, evil, etc. These fearful individuals have a tendency, even now, to spread hysteria and concern about everyone (usually, of course, neglecting to notice the holes in their own lives). Thus, the state and they became each other's tools. In their minds, they were saving the souls of everyone touched by the millennia-old practice. In the state's mind, it was saving the Commonwealth from the threat of the unassimilated Deitsch.
Fortunately, cooler heads prevail these days in the Deitscherei, and we are witnessing a resurgence in the practice and knowledge of Braucherei in all contexts. With a bit more of a struggle, we are also seeing an increase in the number of Deitsch speakers. However, the literacy rate and the mastery of grammar among those speakers is questionable, so we must work harder at standardizing the language.
While strides with the language are being taken in the Urglaawe community with its summer language Vorschul, the wider community is still sitting mostly idle, waiting for someone else to take action.
It is only with effort and the sharing of resources and goals that we will be able to render the Suppression a total failure.