This article was originally published in October, 2017


Pennsylvania Germans, also known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, are a unique cultural group formed by early German-speaking immigrants to Pennsylvania.

The first Germans settled in the early colony in 1683, one year before William Penn presided over the state's only official witch trial.

About a century later, there were more than 100,000  immigrants from Germany and Switzerland who settled throughout the state and beyond.

The Pennsylvania Germans brought with them their customs and beliefs, and their cultural influence is still deeply embedded in the Lancaster County landscape. The settlers also brought something else with them — their beliefs in magic and superstitions from the Old World.

"Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans," written in 1915 by Edwin Miller Fogel, a scholar of German language and its Pennsylvania dialects, documents more than 2,000 superstitions and beliefs.

The book reflects every aspect in Pennsylvania German life, from superstitions about childbirth to witches, folk medicine to warts. Some you may be familiar with — black cats bring bad luck, for example — others might leave you scratching your head.

Though most of these beliefs and superstitions waned by the early 20th century, here are a few from the past that tie in with the Halloween season. 

Black cats

  • A black cat brings bad luck ...
  • ... however, if a black cat comes of her own accord to your house, keep her, she is a good spirit; but do not bring her, she must come freely, of her own good will
  • Meeting a black cat is an omen of luck

Moon

  • Sweep the house in the dark of the moon and you will have neither moths nor spiders 
  • You will go crazy if the moon shines on you in bed
  • Cut fingernails in new moon for good luck
  • Show the new moon money and you will have more
  • Your features will be distorted if the moon shines on you while asleep

Snakes

  • Burn old dish cloths to drive out garter snakes
  • Rattle snakes will not bite you if you rub onions on your legs (we wouldn't recommend trying to find out if this works)
  • When you see a snake you should say "cursed snake" and it cannot move

Witches

  • Fasten a sprig of St. John's wort to the door to keep out witches or flies
  • Nail a toad's foot over the stable door to drive and keep the witches out of the stable
  • When bewitched, lay the broom before the door. The first person to come along and pick it up is the witch
  • To discover a witch: cut the two sleeves out of your husband's shirt and burn them
  • If there is a witch in the house, throw a handful of coarse salt into the fire with the left hand
  • A witch will not step over a broomstick
  • Load a bewitched gun with a bullet of hair
  • When the witch disappears, a black cat appears
  • To prevent chickens from being bewitched, the eggshells should always be burned

Weather

  • If the weather is fine on All Saints and All Souls (Nov. 1-2), there will be six more weeks of fine weather; if however it is cold and raw, winter is at hand
  • Crows flying high foretell storms
  • A cat lying on its side and turning its face upward foretells stormy weather