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What is a Hex Sign?

What is a Hex Sign?



This photo taken in 1955 depicts Milton Hill of Virginia, who spent much of his life painting hex signs.

Image Authenticated News/Getty Images; Licensed to About.com

Although hex signs are not generally associated with modern Wicca, or even ancient Pagan religions, they are certainly worth taking note of. Found mostly in the Pennsylvania Dutch country, hex signs are symbols painted on homes, cradles and barns for a variety of magical purposes.

The tradition originated in Germany and Switzerland. During the waves of emigration to the United States, settlers brought their folk magic with them. Some of the artwork is very simple and primitive, but often it is quite complex and detailed.

Typically, the designs are painted on a circular background. Each symbol has a different meaning, and so some hex signs may include multiple symbols, depending on what the property owner wants to accomplish. These symbols include protection against fire and natural disasters, magical attack, illness, and more. Sometimes, rather than being for protection, a hex sign may include symbols for prosperity, good health, and even weather magic.

A hex sign might be painted on a cradle to ensure a baby's good health, near a barn to keep cattle or horses safe, or even near a farmer's field to ensure a flourishing crop.

Common symbols incorporated into designs include, but are not limited to:

  • Hearts
  • Birds
  • Trees and flowers
  • Stars and circles
  • Livestock such as hens and pigs
  • Houses

The appearance of hex signs on the exterior of buildings is limited to a fairly small geographic area -- you can sometimes see them on barns or fences in Pennsylvania Dutch country. It should be noted that hex signs are not used by the Amish, who customarily avoid any sort of decorative touches to their buildings at all.

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