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Love and Generosity

October 15, 2012

Conversations with a Hexenmeister

Wedding season is upon us, and people are all a buzz about the gifts they need to buy, the new dresses and neckties acquired for the special occasion, and in some cases, even the possibility of children.  While it may now officially be autumn, what we’re witnessing is a conversation about the ancient ideals of spring and renewal and freshness.  We’re hearing talk of what it takes to build a life together.

Indeed, constructing a family is not an easy task.  It takes a certain number of materials and a special sort of carpenter to pull it off successfully.  A few weeks ago, my Dad was remarried.  Talk with my Dad, who spent much of his life building things for other people, and you will see clearly that while he is not as interested in building construction as he was before he retired two years ago, he still has a lot of love to give, and desires to willingly.  His new bride, Dianne, is a lucky gal.

Dianne, who grew up only a few miles from where I did, is a retired school teacher.  She spent her career working towards earning her sainthood by teaching the little ones, K-2, in Florida, mostly.  She brings to the new union between her and my Dad, two dogs, Baxter and Teddy, who have plenty of energy (though perhaps a little less discipline than I would enjoy) to keep Dad’s cat, Minnie, entertained.  Together, this “blended family” will reside in the home where I grew up.  (Admittedly, however, Minnie intends fully to make the inaccessible-to-dogs-upstairs of the house her refuge and get-away.)

Thoughts of what makes a truly happy home have filled my mind as I have spoken to friends and family about the unions being formed this year, especially this one.  I was lucky enough to have been raised in a home which was solidly unified right up until the end.  My parents were excellent role models for what good and healthy relationships should look like.  Relationships take work, and my Mom knew that.  In fact, she sometimes went looking for “signs” as to where to take their relationship next.

When I was a kid, Mom was fully in her “arts and crafts” mode, painting with acrylic paints she bought in stores in the Downtown Bangor shops before the Mall opened in 1978 and forced them all out of business.  She worked in other mediums as well—from string, nails and black velvet to water colors and heavy yarns.  She was pretty talented and quite creative.  She even enrolled on occasion in a continuing education class at the high school so that she could learn a new technique, or perhaps just to get out of the house and away from us kids for a few hours every week (though I like to think it was for the sake of learning).

At one point, Mom decided to make her own hex sign to hang on the front of our garage/barn.  Hex Signs are a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition where by symbols are painted on the front of the family barn in order to encourage the universe to share, among others, elements of prosperity, health and peace.  In this case, my father had cut out a hole for a bathroom sink in a sideboard at one of his jobs.  It was nice piece of nice round Formica and added a certain level of weather resistance to the project since it would be sealed on the now back side.  Not the kind of gal to let things go to waste, my Mom took the circle, flipped it over, primed it, and painted her hex.


Mom spent quite a lot of time preparing her hex sign which was full of the symbols that she felt best represented her relatively young family.  While yellow is often associated with cowardice, in literature it is often used in an archetypal way to symbolize joy, happiness, hope and friendship.  Topped with a heart filled with love and centered in the yellow background are two doves (my parents), birds known to mate for life.  The excitement, energy, passion and love of the red doves, is tempered only somewhat by the blue wings of peace, tranquility, stability and harmony.  Joined to them are two blue flowers with the same color orange dots on the top (my sister and I–twins) and one flower with a red (my older brother).  There is balance in the orange and in the very symmetry of the design.  My brother appears to be separate from the rest of the group, but upon closer inspection, you’ll see the green leaves near his flower.  My parents were wed in 1967, shortly after high school.  My mother always considered Todd to be the first flower in the garden, green with health, youth and generosity.  The dot above his flower is red, symbolizing all that is intense and passionate.

Curious to know if my Mother’s version of a Hex Sign came close to the ones traditionally made, I consulted with a friend from home, Jj Starwalker.  Jj is a Hexenmeister (hex master), a painter of traditional Pennsylvania Dutch (actually Deutsch or German) hex signs.  She states, “These circular hex signs have much mystery, myth and confusion surrounding them. I was taught that they were “painted prayers,” invocations and petitions made visible, asking God for the blessing of protection for home and farm, good fortune, abundance and prosperity or inviting guests to be welcome.  Other folks may admit that “once upon a time” the designs were attributed with “magical” properties of protection, or as a talisman of fertility for livestock and crops, or invocation for a balance of rain and sunshine.”

When asked about the quality of work my Mother had done, Jj was very complimentary:  Your Mom’s hex is VERY NICE!  I love your symbolism and the way you expressed it.  Those flowers resemble tulips, which are interpreted as a type of lily representing faith…which is very appropriate for children, as they reflect the parents’ faith in the future.  The only element in a truly traditional hex sign that I see missing is the circle in which they are inscribed.  When I draw them I was taught that the centering moment was a focus on God, the radius representative of His reach — we know it is boundless but that is hard to depict — with the circle inscribed around it all to put all of the working of the sign within His will/domain.  Even when we paint ON a circle, as is most commonly done now, we still use that bounding circle.  Your Mom did a wonderful job, without access to my Grandmother or anyone with deep roots in the tradition, though!”

Jj concluded, “My grandmother’s practice of empowering the design “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen” was shared by other practitioners.  I was too young to remember what if any sort of dedication my Mother gave her hex sign, but it hung for many years on the front of our then Hamilton blue barn (and now my ‘electric blue’ bedroom).

Before concluding, I should mention that hexenmeister Jj Starwalker was chosen by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 2011 to represent that state on the White House Christmas Tree.  The tree was decorated with ornaments representing each of the 50 states and stood in the Blue Room during the holiday season.  She works hard on her little Corinth farm, spinning her own wool, weaving her own cloth, canning and preserving the year’s bounty, and painting these hexen prayers for those in need.  If you are looking for a unique gift this season, consider contacting her at  She has a toll free number as well:  866.574.4889.

To me, the most meaningful parts of my Mother’s hex design reside in the love contained within the red heart, and the generosity of the garden directly below.  I was reminded of some scripture at my Dad’s wedding recently.  As my Uncle Randy, who officiated the service in his capacity as a Minister of God, I couldn’t help but think of some history, some etymology.  In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle writes of faith, hope and love.  In the Greek text for chapter thirteen, the word we translate commonly as “love” is the Greek one: agape.   In the King James Version, agape had been translated instead as “generosity”.  If the Greek word agape truly means both generosity and love, then I for one am glad to have been raised in a family which was brimming with both.  As we get to know Dad’s new wife, Dianne, better, I certainly hope she will feel the same way too.

Join me in shouting, “Three Cheers!” to my Dad and his wife, the newly-minted, Mrs. Dianne Wilson!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 15, 2012 6:39 pm

    Congratulations all around !!! Once again you have opened your heart and allowed us to feel as though we were present for all of the things you write about – a rare talent indeed – and you generous heart in sharing it makes it all the more meaningful. I sincerely wish I could have known your Mom – what a marvelous person she must have been, and what a wonderful life you must have shared with her and your Dad.

  2. October 15, 2012 7:30 pm

    Finding and expressing love is never out of season, whether it be in the springtime, in our youth, or in the autumn, in our golden years. Families, chosen and born, are to be cherished always. I love how you have written of yours, honoring both your roots and the “new branch” being grafted onto the tree. I wish your dad and his bride many years of shared joy, with a bit of collaborative rascal-ry thrown in just for fun!

    Thank you for the “plug” for my hex work, as well. Things outside are winding down here on “Hearthfire Hill” at hex central. I have a bit to do before I can say we are ready for winter, but these next couple of weeks are “winter finding” in my tradition and crunch time for getting the garden put to bed, the fowl set for winter and so on. Soon enough I will be able to sit by the fire, without the distraction of planting, weeding or harvest, to spin, weave, knit and of course paint! I am working on the first of what I hope will be a nice line of “Maine themed” designs, featuring the local plants and animals to represent the values in the signs.

  3. Olinick, Judy permalink
    October 18, 2012 5:36 am

    This is really beautiful James.
    I loved reading it and learned a lot. I hadn’t known anything about the history and specific meaning of the hex signs.
    It sounds as though your Dad’s wedding was really nice. You’ve been most kind and generous in your welcome to Diane. I hope they’ll be very happy.

    And how are you and Gregory?

    We’re just back from a trip to Dallas during break to see our granddaughters (and their parents.) The little girls are growing by leaps and bounds, though they’re still pretty small—not quite three and not quite five.

    It sounds as if Tammy Baldwin has a decent chance of being elected. We get quite a bit of campaign literature from her and have sent her a contribution.

    All good wishes

  4. ANNE HEALY permalink
    October 30, 2012 8:50 pm

    Well written… always…..what a tribute!!


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