Amish Lore


Why Lancaster for Phenomenology?

Many are wondering why I chose Lancaster as the location for Phenom this year.  Thanks to Jeff Belanger and his Amish Ghost Stories my fascination with the Amish culture has grown.  Check out a few of their stories and lore below.

A Doll with a Face

The Amish don’t allow children to have dolls in their homes that have faces. The reason for this is because the Bible makes it clear: There shall be no graven images. This same Biblical passage is the reason the Amish don’t allow themselves to be photographed, and why their faces must not be painted either.

The Amish children have dolls to cuddle with, but they have blank faces. This is more than just a suggestion taken from the Bible. It’s an Ordnung, a rule to live by that’s strictly enforced by the Amish Community. Break the rule, and you could be banished—the harshest punishment an Amish can endure, because it means you’re alone in the world.

The origins of the Amish ragdoll date back to the mid-nineteenth century when a young girl received a doll with a face as a present from an Englisher neighbor who didn’t know the rules. The girl’s father became enraged at the gift. “Only God can make people!” he screamed as he severed the doll’s head. But it was too late. The doll with a face was in his home, and so too was the devil.

The daughter became ill at first, and then defiant. When the family pig turned up slaughtered, with its head found one early morning on the kitchen table, her father sent immediately for the bishop.

The Bishop knew in an instant that the devil was in this home. He sent for elders who performed a series of exorcisms on the girl and the home. But the girl, the poor girl, she was sent away to a retreat for Amish people who are plagued by evil. Only through months of intense prayer and reflection was she able to rid herself of the demons and return to her family and community.

It’s a story they tell often, because if you bend one Ordnung, even a little bit, it opens a doorway to evil.

Sins of the Flesh

For the Amish, premarital sex is a sin. And sin invites evil into a home and a community. There are rules to courtship. Strict, hands-off rules that ensure purity among the Amish. But as with all cultures, sometimes rules are broken, and in this case, with grave consequences.

The Amish tell of a story from Lancaster County in the 1950s, when one young couple couldn’t quite control their lustful ways. Without marriage, this couple had sex, and the girl became pregnant.

At first the young woman hid the pregnancy from her family, but soon, the bump in her belly was too obvious to ignore. Her angry parents demanded she and her suitor wed in order to try and sanctify this sin. The couple agree and are quickly married… But it had already been months. Neighbors will know when a baby is born just a few months after a wedding that something impure had occurred.

Sure enough, when it was time to deliver the baby, the child was born half-human and half-goat. It squeaked and squealed like and animal, with tiny hair arms and legs. Horn buds already protruding from its head. The girl’s father wanted to slaughter the baby immediately and claim it died in childbirth. But a mother’s love is powerful. She ran off with the abomination of a child and hid.

The goat baby grew quickly, as did the rumors, until one day the woman showed up to Sunday meeting carrying her half-human child in righteous defiance. The child wiggled from his mother’s arms, and ran through the building causing a panic among everyone in the congregation. The girl and her horrid baby were both shunned; banished from the community. She was forced to live out her days as a recluse, half mad with rage, and a victim of her circumstances.

It’s a story the Amish are eager to share as a warning to other young lustful couples.

Never Consult a Soothsayer

In the Bible, the book of Deuteronomy makes it clear that people should not consult a diviner, soothsayer, or sorcerer. The Amish believe these practices are the work of the devil. The Amish believe any kind of fortune telling or psychic ability is the work of the devil. It’s a shunnable offense.

In the early 1900s in Lancaster County, an Amish boy was born blind. As the child grew it was clear that though he couldn’t see with his eyes, he somehow knew things. It was whispered in the community that the boy was a Brauchau, a witch or sorcerer.

In the Amish community, children get a pass if they have yet to go through the Rumspringa right of passage which occurs between ages 17 and 21. It’s a time when the Amish are allowed to experience the Englisher’s world before deciding to commit to an Amish life. But this boy… there’s something about his prophecies that are eerily accurate.

Soon, more people in the community seek out the boy’s witchy ways. What started as harmless fun is turning into a problem for the community’s Bishop and church elders. When the Bishop’s wife seeks out the boy’s services, the Bishop reaches his breaking point.

In front of the church community, the Bishop declares the boy is a Brauchau, and banishes him forever from their community. The boy is defiant. He stands before his church and places a curse on the Bishop and his family for their hypocrisy, before he walks out of the building and out of the community forever.

Though nervous, the Bishop and his family soon forget about the curse. Years go by until the Bishop’s son, now a man himself is sitting at his dinner table one night. He’s talking about his day, when suddenly dirt begins to spill from his mouth. More and more dirt pours out of his mouth like an endless funnel. He’s turning blue and gasping for breath, yet the dirt keeps coming until the man collapses dead on his kitchen table. It would seem the curse on his father had just been unleashed on the son.