Hex Sign

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Hex Sign

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

A sign painted on barns and other buildings in the Pennsylvania Dutch country (see Pennsylvania Dutch Witchcraft). They are believed to protect the inhabitants—human and/or animal—from the evil eye and other forms of negative magic known as hexerei; they also protect the barn from lightning strikes. In addition, some designs are intended to promote fertility and some are supposed to bring good fortune. The word hex comes from the German hexe, meaning "witch."

The hex signs, although often incorrectly attributed to the Amish, are actually used by the Lutherans, Reformed, and other church people of the region. In fact, the signs are never used by the Amish, or any of the other "plain people."

The signs are circular and painted in bright colors. They feature such objects as rosettes; tulips; serpents; moons; stars with five, six, or eight points; and a wide variety of geometric shapes, including pentagrams, swastikas, and hearts. There are also double-headed eagles and distlefinks—a goldfinch that ate thistle seed and used the thistle down for its nest. The bird came to be called a "thistlefinch" or, by the Pennsylvania Dutch, "distlefink."

The practice of using hex signs comes from both Germany and Switzerland and was brought to the United States and utilized by eighteenthand nineteenth-century immigrants. According to Rosemary Guiley, such protective symbols were painted on barns and household goods in the Old Saxon religion. In Switzerland, hex signs were placed on houses and barns, but in Germany, only on barns. Today the signs are found not only on buildings, but also on household items such as beds and tools.