You wouldn't think that the topic of Amish and witches would have much in common. But, surprisingly, Amish Witches are a thing. And least in legend and lore, the reality is a bit shakier.
Are There Amish Witches?
Well, Wiccan is the official religion of witchery and I think it is pretty safe to say that in reality there are no Amish witches. But fiction seems to have latched onto the topic.
A few years ago there was even a show on TV called Amish Witches: The True Story of Holmes County. The show purported to be "true", but it sounds like a bunch of scraps put into a sausage grinder and out came the gunk that made up the show.
From Lifetime’s press release about the movie at the time:
When a reality TV crew moves into Holmes County. Ohio to document the lives of an isolated sect of Swartzentruber Amish, production is halted by the death of Brauchau, an Amish witch. Following her unconsecrated funeral, a small group of young Amish women solicit the TV crew’s help in an attempt to document the inexplicable events plaguing them.But as everyone soon discovers the powerful malevolent force haunting them has deadly intentions.
The movie was produced by Hot Snakes Media, the Hollywood production company that has brought us other cultural gems like “Amish Mafia", Amish Haunting, and Breaking Amish. Sorry to be cynical, but I think the executives at Hot Snakes know very little about the Amish, but they have obviously found a profit-center for their storytelling and trying to delive into the Amish and witches was something they thought would be a winner.
Amish Witches in Lore and Fiction
There’s been an attempt by media to sort of imbue the Amish with some sort of mysticism or spiritual otherness, but this is all Hollywood confection. The vast majority of Amish are committed Christians, not Wiccan, and if they are Wiccan, then they aren't Amish. The two can't go exist. It would be like saying a dolphin lives in the desert. It can't.
I think the fascination with Amish and witches is rooted, perhaps, in some Amish traditions such as folk medicine, and I have personally witnessed an Amish healer using some sort of “spell” (I use the word very, very, very loosely, I just can’t think of what else to call it, maybe someone else can) in an attempt to heal. It was an Amish folk medicine man to said some phrases in an attempt to cure a woman of an illness.
But those traditions are not widespread and are dying out among younger Amish. There are also local “legends” and lore, but I think they are more perpetuated by outsiders than the Amish. But consider the case of the “Chesterville Witch.”
Mysteriousheartland.com gives the history of the Chesterville Witch:
Chesterville is a small Amish and Mennonite community that consists of no more than a few dozen houses located a couple of miles away from Rockome Gardens. Within the neatly trimmed grounds of Chesterville Cemetery an old oak tree stands at the edge of the woods that separates the graveyard from the river. The peculiar thing about this tree is the iron fence that surrounds it, and the old stone marker that no longer bears a name. According to Troy Taylor, this is the grave of a woman who turned up dead after being accused of witchcraft in the early 1900s after she challenged the conservative views of the local Amish church elders. The town planted a tree over her grave to trap her spirit inside and prevent her from taking revenge. Her ghost can still be seen from time to time hanging around the area . A bit more information about the Chesterfield Witch can be found here.
Amish youth are as apt to tell "ghost stories" as non-Amish youth and such stories like the Chesterfield Witch are passed along in that way. But as far as actual witchcraft being somehow part of the spiritual edge of the Amish? Not that I've seen, that is all Hollywood stuff.
Not much else about the Amish and witchcraft has been written. Why? Because there really is no connection between the Amish and witchcraft. There's the generally myth-based legend of the Chesterfield Amish witch (just an old, local yarn) and a TV show. A couple of years ago a story in USA Today appeared about Amish and witches showing up at a racial justice protest, but that as Amish AND witches, not Amish witches.
I'm 63 and my grandmother called the sofa a Davenport and said "I swan". I have heard those expressions from others but but I have never heard anyone but my grandmother say "redd off the table". She would also say that her kitchen wasn't big enough to swing a cat. I always wondered why she wanted to swing a cat in the kitchen. lol
LOL, I had not heard "big enough to swing a cat" before.."skin a cat",yes,but "swing a cat?""
I come from a family with Amish roots. I and my relatives still say that we "redd up" the house. It's nice to hear of someone else that knows that expression. I was always told that my great aunt Ollie was a "little witchy" which meant she used herbs and prayers to heal people and was also psychic at times.
Yep, Redd Up, an old term that you don't hear much anymore, but I still remember hearing it!
Brauchau are real and PA area is rich in stories of them. And many still practice today.
Yea, but I think that is more of a Pennsylvania Dutch thing than an Amish thing...
I think the article touched on a little bit of PowWow and Braucherei folk healing, albeit not by name.
As a PA Dutch Pagan and ex-Wiccan (Catholic before that), I can confirm that Wicca is a modern religion. If we are technical, Witchcraft has no official religion. But I'm a Germanic Pagan and draw a lot of inspiration from my Swiss German roots.
Interesting, Nate, thank you for the insight...I had to Google "Braucherei", had not heard the term, but, yes, I think you are spot-on
But it's fine for the Amish to own puppy mills for BIG profit? Double standard much?
Kathy, agreed, but the problem with that logic is the vast majority of Amish don't run puppy mills. A small, small percentage do (and I wont' defend them, puppy mills are awful)....so if a middle-aged white man molests a child, are all middle-aged white men child molesters? Of course not. So the same standard needs to be applied to the Amish.
What a copy-cat version of Blair witch project.... Horribly untrue! And a horrible story line!
While watching the "documentary" that followed the horrible movie, I noticed the electric heater register on the wall & the covered plugs in the spiritually ransacked room. Good greif. It's almost as bad as when the Amish were blamed for the measle outbreak that occurred during the Kentucy Derby a few years back. Of course it wasn't caused by illegal immigrants.
Interesting article and so are the comments. I don't think I saw the documentary , but is there not mention on former TLC productions of the burial clothes being either black or white according to the deceased's standing in the church? As I read in the first comment my grandmas called a sofa a davenport and also used the term redd up and in her case she meant put rooms back in order. Incidentally she had the same davenport from the time she married throughout her marriage which would have been in excess of 50 years. It was brown leather and I believe horsehair stuffing. The arms were curved oak. I have no idea where is ended up after she passed.
Glad someone else has heard the term "Davenport"...My aunt was the only person I ever heard use the term...
Interesting article, but there’s just a bit of an issue - witchcraft dates way farther back than Wicca and is definitely not a requirement to practice, nor be a witch. Many Christians, especially those from the Appalachian region, identify as “Christian witches,” including using the Bible in their craft. Furthermore, Christianity itself has Pagan roots, so even some traditions deemed as simply “Christian” are originally of Pagan origins. Vodou, as another example, is actually a mixture of Christian Catholicism and African diaspora religions, which is still very much culturally practiced today.
I’m sure this “documentary” is just a poorly made B movie, but I wouldn’t doubt that there are at least some Amish traditions and practices that have roots in witchcraft. The history is too vast to simply say Wicca is the requirement for something that is much older than the neo-paganism introduced in the last century.
Hi, Salem - I think those are all fair points and I appreciate you sharing them. My treatment on the topic was probably a bit simplistic, so I appreciate the history and nuance you are adding here! - Kevin Williams, editor