At just under 100 pages, this isn’t a long book. Yet it is densely packed with information which introduces the reader to the cultural influences that bred a complex system of folk belief in Pennsylvania. White explains in his introduction that he purposely chose not to cover every cultural group historically present in the region for a few reasons.
Native Americans, like other indigenous groups, were typically shamanic cultures and therefore had their own unique ideas about concepts such as magic, healing, and the spirit world. However, most Native American customs from the Northeastern United States were recorded only by European observers, if at all. Therefore historical observations of Native practices can often be rife with misunderstanding and bias.
White says that African Americans also had a fascinating spiritual tradition which included hoodoo and “conjure.” However, these practices were not documented as well in Pennsylvania as they were in some of the Southern states. It is the European American traditions that are focused on in this book, most especially the Pennsylvania Germans.
An influx of German groups brought various Christian sects to the colony and later to the state. Many of these immigrants brought a wide range of traditional folk beliefs and customs with them. These folk practices mixed Christianity with pre-Christian customs which had been common in Germany, making the Pennsylvania Germans a group known for both witchcraft and the folk healers who use their own magical means.
Though this is a serious historical survey, White’s prose flows easily. His accessible writing style plus the fascinating subject matter makes this an exceptional book which is enjoyable to read. Anyone interested in historical witchcraft, Pennsylvania German culture, or folk tradition in general will appreciate this book.
Review by Carolyn Emerick, MythMag editor