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Pow-wow is a gathering of Native Americans. It derives from the Narragansetts[?] word powwaw, meaning shaman. It since came to be used to describe any gathering of Native Americans of any tribe, and as such is occasionally heard in older Western movies.
Pow-wow is also a name given to a system of American folk religion and magic associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch. It comes from the book Pow-wows, or, The Long Lost Friend, written by John George Hohman and first published in 1820. Despite the Native name, the collection is actually a very traditional collection of European magic spells, recipes, and folk remedies, of a type familiar to students of folklore. They mix Roman Catholic prayers, magic words, and simple rituals to cure simple domestic ailments and rural troubles. Once these charms and spells were written down in English, they escaped the Pennsylvania German community and influenced hoodoo and other forms of folk magic and folk religion in the United States.

Also important to the pow-wow practitioner were the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, books brought to the United States from Germany, containing cabalistic magic, claiming to be the magical arts by which Moses obtained his powers and commanded spirits. Actually, the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses were apparently compiled by Johann Scheibel in eighteenth century Germany.

Another characteristic practice of pow-wow magic is the Himmelsbrief, a "heaven's letter" which are basically engrossed letters containing Bible verses and other charms which contain assurances that their owners would be protected from death, injury, and other misfortune. The text of these letters is occasionally reminiscent of some contemporary chain letters. Pow-wow practitioners charged handsome sums for these magical letters; the price they commanded depended on the reputation of the practitioner. Other sources mention a Teufelsbrief, a "devil's letter," which presumably is meant to bestow a curse. Significantly, the Long Lost Friend assures its owner that:

Whoever carries this book with him, is safe from all his enemies, visible or invisible; and whoever has this book with him cannot die without the holy corpse of Jesus Christ, nor drowned in any water, nor burn up in any fire, nor can any unjust sentence be passed upon him. So help me.

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Tame thou flesh and bone, like Christ in Paradise; and you who will assist thee, this I tell thee (name) for your repentance sake. + + + This you must say three times, each time lasting for three minutes, and your headache will soon cease. But if your headache is caused by strong drink, or otherwise will not leave you soon, then you must repeat these words every minute. This, however, is not necessary in regard to headache.


Bruise, thou shalt not heat;
Bruise, thou shalt not sweat;
Bruise, thou shalt not run,
No more than Virgin Mary shall bring forth another son. + + +


Take a handful of hops, five or six gallons of water, about three tablespoons full of ginger, half a gallon of molasses; filter the water, hops, and ginger into a tub containing the molasses.

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