dinsdag 3 maart 2015

Legends Of Hexenkopf Hill Live On


By Madeleine Mathias, Special to The Inquirer POSTED: February 25, 1987 http://articles.philly.com/1987-02-25/news/26178447_1_demon-williams-township-hexenkopf-hill 

WILLIAMS TOWNSHIP, Pa. — When Farmer Brown, peg leg and all, tried to chase a demon off Hexenkopf Hill - reportedly the only way to get rid of one - he suffered a terrible fate: The good farmer slipped and fell to his death, and the demon romped free.

Farmer Brown - or his spirit, at least - is said to be still around, and one with a vivid imagination might sometimes see him pursuing the demon in an eternal chase. And those who happen by Hexenkopf at dusk may hear the tap, tap, tapping of his peg leg against the rocks.
They might also catch a glimpse of a headless man walking a headless black dog, or see a white fox that can't be caught, or watch soldiers' ghosts ride out from the mountain to patrol the township on moonlit nights.
Such is the stuff of legends, and there are plenty surrounding Hexenkopf Hill. And while no one has reported seeing any witches dance on Hexenkopf in the last couple of decades, that hasn't diminished the mystique of this ridge in Williams Township, near Easton.
The rock near the top of the hill still glows in the moonlight. People still debate whether the rock looks like a skull or a huge bear. This is where the witches practice their spells. It is the same hill where the powwow doctors cured their patients by drawing out the evils and transferring to someplace else - most often the rock on Hexenkopf Hill.
Hexenkopf dominates the township, rising 500 feet above sea level on the ridge of South Mountain, about six miles south of Easton. It is covered with wildflowers, herbs, ferns, tall trees, saplings and thick undergrowth, stark and naked in the winter, lush and green in the spring and summer.
Isadore Mineo, head of the Parks Division in Northampton County, would like to keep it that way. Mineo envisions a county park, and has drawn up a 10-year plan in which the county would acquire the 80-plus acres of land from the four private owners who hold different parcels.
"However," he said, "if there are any signs that pressures are being placed on the present owners to sell or subdivide, we would have to think of moving that park-plan date up a few years."
Ned D. Heindel, a Lehigh University professor and one of the landowners, agrees. He wants the mountain to stay the way it is, eventually opening as a park, but never to developers.
Of course, based on stories of others who tried to build on Hexenkopf, prospective developers might think twice before dropping the first load of wood.
There's the story, for instance, of the doctor who twice tried to build a home on the hill. Each time, when the house was three-quarters finished, it burned down. And there are tales of how the telephone company tried to install poles on the hill but couldn't keep them up.
The hill has been an important focal point for many generations of Pennsylvania German culture. The German settlers called the hill Witches Head
because that is what Hexenkopf meant in the German dialect of the early immigrants in the area. They believed that Hexenkopf was a place of evil.
Some of the legends grew because of the shape of the craggy rocks that dominate a great portion of the hill. Mineo said they resemble an elephant's hide. Eons ago the land was pushed into the air by volcanic forces, melted, sank below sea level and rose again. The geological forces, Mineo said, that created the upthrust also softened the rock, molding Hexenkopf into its shape today.
This process also helped to give the hill its mysterious glow. Imbedded mica and phosphorescent lichens cover the rock outcroppings and reflect the light of the moon. To the residents, that glow aroused their imaginations, and they have envisioned witches dancing on the ridge or flames shooting from the mountain.
The hill's demonological association offers historians much interesting material. Most of it generated from the German folk practitioners, who were called powwow doctors.
Heindel, fascinated by the tales he heard about the mountain, compiled many of the legends in a booklet, "Hexenkopf Mystery, Myths and Legends," for the township's Bicentennial festivities in 1976.
The powwow doctors, Heindel said, would treat by manipulation and incantations, by talking to the patients and sometimes by using herb preparations.
Few doctors were available in those days, so the powwow doctors took their place, beginning in the 18th century and not ending until 1955, when the last of the local powwow doctors died, Heindel said.
Johann Peter Seiler was the first known powwow doctor, coming to the New World in 1743 and settling on the property of Peter Raub, now Raubsville. That is where he found the herbs and roots he needed for his medical preparations.
Typical of the type of incantations used by the powwowers was this one:
Sty, sty leave my eye;
Catch the one passing by.
It was Seiler's son, Peter Saylor - each generation spelled the family name differently - who more than anyone else made Hexenkopf the hill of superstition, witch lore and fear.
Powwow doctors believed that a person was ill because there was an evil in the body, and the doctor's job was to exorcise that evil.
Saylor, like his ancestors in Germany called brauchers, used transference in his medical treatments. That meant that the evil from the sick person's body would have to be cast out to a receptor. Some used trees, animals, inanimate objects, even people and corpses. Saylor sent his patients' evils to Hexenkopf rock.
It is not known whether the mountain's reputation preceded Saylor and he exploited it, or whether Saylor's selection of the rock for the "evils" caused the superstitions, but residents saw Hexenkopf as the home of demons and witches, reflecting the deepest superstitions of the immigrants.
Many residents believed that if they strayed near the hill they would be hexed. The legends were kept alive by repeated tales of maidens committing suicide, or of witches flying on their broomsticks, landing on the backs of farmers as they traveled past the hill.
One such tale concerned the disappearance of a beautiful Dutch girl into the forest. First presumed to be lost, she was later reported as having been taken by the Indians. Several years later, a hunting party on the south side of Hexenkopf saw a white girl seated with three older Indian women on a rock outcropping. As they approached to see if this was the girl, the Indians dragged her into a crevice in the rock and she vanished, never to be seen again.
The witches and evil spirits were supposedly most visible on Walpurgisnacht, April 30. That was the night the witches planned sinister deeds for the next 12 months, initiated new members into their craft and reveled in dances with the satanic prince, according to Heindel. He said one historian told the story that witches, who lived in the valley near the mountain, deceived their husbands by leaving sticks in their beds so the men would not notice their wives' departures.
A more modern tale, reportedly happening in the early 1940s, was about a woman who lived across the Hexenkopf and had a stable of horses. Every morning the horses would be bathed in sweat as if they had been ridden all night. One night, the woman went riding on one of the horses and came back insane.
Mineo said there were many reports of insanity. Some of them, he said, were true. "There was a lot of inbreeding there," he said.
Despite the legends of fear, Hexenkopf is a treasure site for herbalists, who can find many medicinal herbs growing under the leaves and pine needles. There are still white birch trees there, providing the same essence they did for centuries in the making of birch beer.
Mineo attributes some of the legends to the unusual acoustics of the region. "If you stand on the bald section of the hill," he said, "the sound is distorted and you would swear that things are flying below you. While you may think it is a giant bird flying, what it is is just a reverberation from the caves that are there. These are the caves in which the Indians burned their dead. This is what has made people believe in the witches and goblins reveling there."
And when the witches aren't around, nature lovers can see a view of the countryside for many miles in all directions.

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