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, pop culture, and Hollywood seems to have latched onto this topic of confection.
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 delve 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 coexist. 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.”
The Chesterfield 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 was Amish AND witches, not Amish witches.
🪄 The Famous Witchbook of the Pennsylvania Dutch
Still, a deeper dive into literature may explain the persistent myth of the Amish and witchcraft having a connection.
This is an old and difficult-to-find book that compiles some of the ancient folk wisdom and spirituality of the early Pennsylvania Dutch.
Author Rachel Yoder wrote a fascinating piece in Harper's in July of 2023 that explores some of the roots of the whole Amish witchcraft thing. Here is the basic premise:
What the old Amish woman named Rachel Smoker and others like her practice is called, depending on whom you ask, powwow or Braucherei or pulling pain or active prayer or witchcraft or folk-cultural religious ritual, though Rachel Smoker would never call it any of these things. She prefers “natural healing” and “reflexology.”
The term Braucherei jumped out at me and I looked it up online and I have to admit my heart skipped a beat or two. Because according to the Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Belief Center at Pennsylvania State University, the definition of Braucherei is: Pennsylvania Dutch folk magic combines uses the Christian faith (namely excerpts from the bible) as a means of healing, protecting, and blessing in a wide variety of situations. Although this is a quite common practice seen throughout various forms of Christianity, PA Dutch practices often include superstition and the recitation of a braucherei- or Pow-wow (a term taken from a Native American religious practice). The concept of the Pow-wow is that a practitioner (who can be anyone who knows the skill) recites a blessing to cure various injuries, ranging from burns, bleeding, rashes, infections, and even warts or scars.
Turns out Braucherei is exactly what I witnessed among the Amish once myself about 30 years ago! Still, none of this amounts to classic witchcraft, rather an old tradition of healing.
I think the old tradition of hex signs, vividly painted circular murals on barns in Pennsylvania Dutch country have also helped propel the odd myth about the nexus of Amish and witchcraft.
🙋 FAQ About Amish and Witches
There is no connection between the Amish and traditional witchcraft. Some Amish old-timers practiced "healing", a combination of old folk remedies and wisdom which could have given rise to the incorrect assertion that some Amish practice witchcraft.
The Amish religion is a Christian, Protestant religion. There is no connection to Wicca, which is the religion of witchcraft.