Witches didn't ride on broomsticks with pointed hats by the light of the moon in the tradition of Pennsylvania Dutch witchcraft, according to Ned Heindel,Williams Township historian.
While he says the Pennsylvania Dutch witches did not stand around a kettle stirring up evil potions, they did, however, use secret words, phrases and herbal concoctions to cure the sick or curse the healthy.
Heindel will share the history of the practice of witchcraft, specifically in Williams Township, 2 p.m. Sunday at the Sigal Museum at 342 Northampton St. in Easton. The talk is open to the public and the cost is included in the $7 museum admission for non-members.
Heindel's book, "Hexenkopf, History, Healing and Hexerei," is fondly named for a stone rock formation in Williams Township where rumor says witches used to gather to perform their hexes. Heindel draws from this book and his research for his presentation.
He addresses the two forms of witchcraft. The first, white magic or "Braucherei," is the healing side of the craft. This tradition uses tonics, personalized prescriptions and manipulations to expel sickness and evil, according to Heindel. The second, black magic or "Hexerei," is the evil side where followers would attempt to make their enemies suffer or impress others with their talents and power, he says.
"The healer side would've regarded themselves as doing the work of God," he says. "The other side, they believed, was the work of the devil."
He says the significance of focusing on Williams Township in the study of witchcraft lies in renowned practitioners of the Braucherei side who lived in the area. During his presentation, Heindel wears a hat and cloak reminiscent of what Upper Bucks County resident healer Emanuel Wilhelm wore in his time. A long line of Wilhelms practiced in Williams Township.
"Two long-lived dynasties -- the Wilhelms and the Saylors -- in the 1730s and 1740s, practiced this kind of healing," he says.
He says this may have involved using words and letters or mixtures and botanicals. Much of this would also entail attempts at preventing witches from attacking or attempts at escaping curses.
Of course, the evil side was what most were afraid of.
"Hexor is the evil side, making someone sick," Heindel says. "There are plenty of ways to do that."
The white side, however, even proved off-putting at the time, becoming competition for medical doctors in the area. Heindel says some of the herbal treatments used then have valid medicinal purposes, even today.
In fact, he says modern day physicians may even be returning to some of the influences of these early homeopathic practitioners. He says appointments with healers of the time were never less than 45 minutes and usually ran for more than an hour. Time was taken to fully understand the person and ailment. Bonds were commonly formed between the subject and practitioner, lending a more mental aspect to the healing.
"It was more common for those practitioners to touch their patients," he says of the herbal healers. "We all know there's a psychosomatic effect in healing."
As a chemistry professor at Lehigh University, who specializes in pharmaceutical science, he says there are practices such as using poke root to treat arthritis or mayapple root to attack cancer cells that are still effective treatments.
"Most of the stuff is hocus pocus," Heindel says. "But some of it works."