Monday, December 31, 2012


Smallpox? Really? Didn't we "eradicate" the historic Number 1 killer of humans?

Perhaps smallpox has been under control for the last few generations. However, vaccinations are no longer given, and there are still small stores of the virus in existence. Who knows whether this dreaded disease will ever rear its ugly head again?

There is no cure for smallpox. Vaccination has been the most effective route towards destroying the grip that this disease held on humanity for centuries.

Ironically, I have come across a reference that indicates that vaccinations were taking place in the Deitscherei before the formal vaccine came into being. According to a footnote on page 97 of Thomas R. Brendle's and Claude W. Unger's Folk Medicine of the Pennsylvania Germans: The Non-Occult Cures (Pennsylvania German Society, 1935), "vaccination was practiced by the brilliant, though erratic preacher and doctor, Rev. Henry Stoy."

Stoy was a preacher at St. Paul's Reformed (now UCC) in Millbach (Lebanon County, PA) in the 1750's. Thus, it is possible that the practice of vaccination (perhaps, more correctly, "inoculation") through limited, controlled exposure was in use among the Deitsch prior to Edward Jenner's publications in 1796 regarding cowpox infection leading to smallpox immunity among milkmaids. This, of course, is speculation. Hopefully someone else will have more detailed information on this interesting piece of Deitsch history.

Smallpox is known in Deitsch as "die Parble." This is a plural noun and is pronounced like "PAR-pleh," with a slight trill of the tongue on the "R." The singular ("pock") would be "es Parbel" ("PAR-pel") though northern Deitsch variants would almost certainly say, "Parwel" ("PAR-vel").

The word for the verb "inoculate" is "bleedle" ("PLAYD-leh"), though that usage is more commonly applied to plants or trees. The verb for "vaccinate" is "blanze" ("BLAHN-tseh"), which literally means "to plant." The name for the smallpox vaccination is "die Parbleblanz" ("PAR-pleh-BLAH-nts"). To me, this term implies the purposeful planting of the disease, thus implying inoculation more than vaccination. However, the language has evolved its meaning to the latter.

Prior to the widespread distribution of the smallpox vaccine, the Deitsch would first attempt to prevent the contraction of the disease through carrying onion, garlic, sulfur, and/or Asafoetida (Ferula assa-foetida; Deitsch: der Deiwelsdreck) on the person. These items, which were also used as amulets against witchcraft, were thought both to absorb smallpox as well as to ward off the disease (Brendle and Unger 97). Children who contracted the disease wore Rue (Ruta graveolens; Deitsch: die Raude) on the bare skin (rue can cause dermatitis!) of the neck and rue and apostem herb were hung on the body to prevent blindness or visual impairment from the infection. Apostem herb is most likely either Boswellia (Boswellia serrata; Deitsch: der Weihrauchbaam) or Angelica (Angelica archangelica; Deitsch: die Engelwatzel).

To prevent scarring, live toads were boiled for an hour in olive oil (Deitsch: Baamolich). The oil was then strained and applied daily to the face of the infected individual (Brendle and Unger 97-98).

The preferred treatment during the Colonial Era was to take some fresh Alder (Alnus glutinosa; Deitsch: es Erlholz) bark chippings, to boil them in a cup of hogs' fat, to strain through a sack, and to apply the infused fat to the infection. The fat was also spread on bread and consumed as part of the attempt to eradicate the disease (Brendle and Unger 98).

Let us hope that we never have to put these practices to use again!

Sunday, December 30, 2012


Aesculus hippocastanum
Deitsch: die Geilskescht (GUYLS-kehsht)

The inedible horse-chestnut is found widely throughout the Deitscherei and has medical uses reported among the Deitsch. Lick and Brendle (Plant Names and Plant Lore Among the Pennsylvania Germans, p. 256) state that the horse-chestnuts are used as a remedy for piles. The nuts were grated and then added to lard to make a salve.

This practice is actually reflected in modern herbal medical uses for horse-chestnuts. Although the bark. leaves, and fruit capsules are potentially toxic (Kuhn, Merrily and David Winston. Herbal therapy & supplements, p. 268. Philadelphia: LWW, 2008), the seed is of low toxicity. Horse-chestnuts are effective tools against varicose veins, hemorrhoids, frostbite, and venous ulcers. The leaves and flowers can be used to make a lotion for hemorrhoids and varicose veins, and a decoction of the leaves can also be used to combat whooping cough (Source: Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of herbal medicine, p. 58. New York: DK, 2000).

So we can see here that the Deitsch medical use, while perhaps not elegant, is consistent with modern herbal medical uses. The most common use, though, is not medicinal but is, instead, part of a folk custom that is most relevant to this time of year.

Anytime prior to the Yule season, typically between December 6 and December 21, a shadowy figure called Der Belsnickel appears at homes throughout the Deitscherei. While agents of Christianity have, over the centuries, attempted to portray Belsnickel (whose name translates to "pelt Nicholas" or "Nicholas in furs"), the roots of this character pre-date Christianity.

In various regions through Southern and Southwestern Germany, Belsnickel is known by various names, including variations of "Belznickel" and "Krampus." While the Krampus has evolved into a rather demonic figure in modern portrayals, Belsnickel, as he appears in the Deitscherei, carries with him something that is perhaps closer to the real entity whom he reflects: the Teutonic god, Wudan (also called Wodan, Wotan, Woden, etc.).

Wudan is a complex, and often unpredictable deity. Belsnickel is His shady Seeker aspect, who wanders Mannheim (this earthly realm) looking for wisdom. His Wish-Granter aspect appears later on as "Santa Claus," but it is within his Seeker aspect that horse-chestnuts play a role.

Belsnickel carries with him a bag that contains goodies and not-so-goodies. Among the items therein are horse-chestnuts. When Belsnickel pays a visit to a home, he presents the residents with arcane riddles. In the modern day, these riddles are simplified and directed towards children. In previous eras, the riddles were more complex and were directed at everyone. Anyone who could present an acceptable answer was given a reward. All those who answered incorrectly or refrained from answering were then presented with the horse-chestnuts.

A pile of horse-chestnuts was laid out. There was always one horse-chestnut less than there were competing individuals. With the crack of a switch, each person had to try to grab a horse-chestnut while Belsnickel swatted at hands and horse-chestnuts with the switch. Those who won a horse-chestnut were then given a reward. The one person who had no horse-chestnut was then given a thwack of the switch.

What was the purpose of this exercise? It is consistent with Wudan's general disposition. First He seeks and rewards wisdom and cunning. Then he respects and rewards those who are adept at battle. Then he punishes ignorance and teaches a lesson to those who need it. While much of this ritual is all in good fun these days, it is a reflection of the need to develop our intelligence and our battle skills, with the former being primary.

In some areas in the Deitscherei even today, Belsnickeling is the original Deitsch tricks-or-treats. Parades of characters in costumes reflect the Wild Hunt of souls that begins at Allelieweziel (October 31) and runs until Walpurgisnacht (April 30). In the Urglaawe view, these dates are related to the goddess Holle leaving Her duties in this realm and pursuing the souls of the recently departed. Holle turns up in American secular Christmas lore as "Mrs. Claus."

In days of yore here in the Deitscherei, horse chestnuts were scattered on the streets along with treats as the parades of Belsnickelers roamed the towns and the countryside. We are very fortunate to see the re-emergence of these traditions in events like the Krampuslauf in Philadelphia, which brings these old Teutonic traditions to life.

The horse-chestnut, therefore, is believed to be sacred to Wudan. This belief may also be the source of the "superstition" (using the term loosely) that, if you wrap a dollar bill around a horse-chestnut and carry it with you, you will be granted money.

Along the lines of carrying superstitions, keeping horse-chestnuts in your possession also is believed to relieve rheumatism and chills.

This little nut that we see so regularly on our streets has a remarkable presence in the medical and folk lore of the Deitsch.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Quick Cold Sore Remedy

Throughout the development of this Blanzeheilkunscht site, you will probably see plenty of references to remedies that I have either 1). used on myself; 2). given to Sippschaft members to use as an experiment; or 3). observed other Sippschaft members using. These entries will be very informal.

The very first item that I will post here is one that I have found to be most effective.

The Deitsch terms for a cold sore vary a bit from region to region, but a common term is "der Nachtbrand." It is also called "der Nachtbrandzetter" to differentiate it from Prickly Heat, which is also sometimes called "der Nachtbrand."

As a sufferer of cold sores, I have learned that Lemon Balm (melissa officinalis; es Meliesegraut (mell-EE-seh-grawt) or die Melisse in Deitsch) is my best friend!

As a powerful antiviral herb, lemon balm has helped me to prevent cold sores from forming and even stopped them dead in their tracks as they were developing.

Lemon balm tincture can be used internally, but it can also be added to a cream base as a lotion (or to beeswax as a salve) for the lip area. To be honest, though, I am too lazy to do that sometimes. I just dab the lemon balm tincture directly on the inflammation.

I have another friend in the same circle, Hyssop (hyssopus officinalis; der Eisop (EYE-sop) in Deitsch) that, in the event of a cold sore breaking through, I will add in tincture form to the lemon balm. Please note that these are tinctures, not essential oils. The essential oil of hyssop can cause epileptic seizures, so I stick with the tincture. I may also make an infused oil (which is a very different animal from an essential oil) to use as a carrier in salves or creams.

I used to spend large amounts of money on over the counter remedies that reduced the number of days of a cold sore outbreak. When Releev came along, I was very relieved. That product often was able to help me avoid an outbreak. Unfortunately, it is a costly product, and it still takes several days for the shell of the sore to vanish. In my personal experience, lemon balm worked just as well, cost a lot less, and took less time to heal the wound. Healing time decreases even more if I use some sort of scar reduction cream or an item like Farm at Coventry's Boo-Boo-Goo Green Salve as a base for the tincture mixture.

There are quite a few other allies in the battle against cold sores, but these two are foremost in my personal arsenal. Of course, your mileage may vary (please be sure to notice the Legal Disclaimer!).

Blanzeheilkunscht: Deitsch Herbal Wisdom

When one thinks of "herbal medicine," what comes to mind? Typically, it is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurveda, Native American herbal knowledge, or modern, science-based Medical Herbalism. Of course, all of these forms of medicine are valid systems. Absent from the list, however, are the many folk traditions of cultures all around the world, including the practices of the Deitsch.

Deitsch herbal medicine has been present in North America since the time of settlement. Local Brauchers and Braucherins (folk doctors, sometimes called "witch doctors") utilized (and continue to do so) herbs as part of their healing practice. Some Deitsch include herbs in religious, spiritual, and occult practices. Many, particularly those of the Plain Christian religious sects, have always utilized herbalism as frontline medicine.

The very first botanical book of botanical healing was published by a second-generation Deitscher, Christopher Sauer. The English translation of the title of the book is The Compendious Herbal, and the first installment of the publication appeared in 1762; new installments appeared periodically after that for sixteen years. Although Sauer was very well known among the Deitsch population, his work and his fame were inhibited by the language barrier and also by his loyalty to the British Crown during the Revolution. We are fortunate that William Woys Weaver published Sauer's Herbal Cures in 2001, thus bringing new awareness of Sauer's work to later Deitsch generations. 

Sauer's work is not the only major source of Deitsch herbal lore. The Pennsylvania German Society has issued a few publications that are most relevant to the topic of Blanzeheilkunscht. Among them are Thomas R. Brendle's and Claude W. Unger's Folk Medicine of the Pennsylvania Germans (1935) and David E. Lick's and Thomas R. Brendle's Plant Names and Plant Lore Among the Pennsylvania Germans (1926). These are sources that will be used frequently on this blog. There are also numerous sources of Deitsch herbal knowledge, whether scientific, spiritual, or occult, and those sources will be included, as warranted.

My own experiences, including childhood exposure to herbalis, my Homestead Herbalism training at the Farm at Coventry, my practice as a Braucher, and my religious and spiritual pursuits in Urglaawe, will also be incorporated, as appropriate.