Why Dutch Hex Signs?
About 15 years ago I discovered the Dutch Hex Signs. Though I’ve been sketching for most of my life, for the last 50 years my focus has mainly been on my welding and my carving creations and historical re-creations. The Dutch Hex Signs were just too awesome to resist though. They have such a rich and historical symbology (two of my favorite things – history and symbology).
(I like to call them Deutsch Hex Signs – which drives my daughter, and editor, crazy. So this is the last you will see of that spelling from here on. Depending on your viewpoint, it’s either the ancient spelling for ‘Dutch’, or the German word for ‘German’. My daughter thinks, since the ancient word therefore predates the hex sign system, it’s silly to call them that. Especially when they are ‘Pennsylvania Dutch Hex Signs’. As in – Dutch American creations, although they are based in large part on historical Dutch symbols. And that’s enough of that.)
Dutch Hex signs have, in relatively recent history, become popular decorations on the sides of ‘Fancy’ Dutch American barns – as, variously, symbols, to communicate meanings, as good luck charms, and as decoration. This practice is similar to how some cultures commonly paint barn stars on barns. There’s some argument that the practice of putting the Hex signs on barns was developed from a combination of the popular barn stars, and the traditional symbols the Dutch have been using for for many years on their celebratory documents.
(for more on Fraktur, see the book “Fraktur: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Learning the Craft (Heritage Crafts)” by Ruthanne Hartung )
Wherever they came from though, they’ve developed a language and a system all of their own, and I’ve very much enjoyed playing with the symbols and creating my own designs. They are a beautiful and unique language, and can speak volumes, all in a single image.
Some of my favorite symbols:
The Distelfink birds symbolize good luck.
The Pineapple is a symbol of hospitality.
The 8 pointed star is a symbol of regeneration or redemption, and stars in general are symbols for luck.
The 7 pointed violet star is a symbol of the protection of God and the seven days of creation.
Hearts represent love, and if placed in a circular border, they represent endless love. Intertwined hearts represent marriage.
Lightning bolts represent … lightning bolts. (Yes, that’s from me.)
If you want to learn more about Dutch Hex Signs, here are a few quick references that you might find handy:
- I very highly recommend the ‘Owlcation’ quick reference, which has much more detailed descriptions than I will include below, and is updated periodically with new meanings.
- Also, here’s an awesome book: “Hex Signs: Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Symbols & Their Meaning: Revised & Expanded” by Don Yoder and Thomas Graves (This book is a really fantastic compendium of a huge number of dutch hex signs out there, in lots of formats – but it’s not really about ‘their meaning’. I don’t even know why he put that in the title.)
- And here are some more, very traditional, great examples.
And finally, below is my own quick and dirty reference guide. There are much more comprehensive reference guides elsewhere in books and online, but this should give you some ideas, if you want to start playing with making your own. I’ve collected these from a bunch of other sources, so this isn’t from me, it’s just a pared down list of a lot of info from a bunch of other folks.:
Black – Protection
Blue – Spirituality
Brown – “Earth, friendship, strength”
Green – Fertility
Orange – Abundance
Red – Passion
Purple – Sacred
White – Purity
Yellow – “Health, Love, Sun, Connection To God”
Star – luck and protection (there are lots of variations and specific meanings of specific types of stars)
4 pointed star – simplicity in living
5 pointed star – good luck, also the 5 senses, protection
6 pointed star – perfect marriage
8 pointed star – goodwill
12 pointed star – the 12 months, knowledge and wisdom, sincerity, straightforwardness
Double Star (a star within a star) – The morning star, the sun, hence, light
Triple star (a star within a star within a star) – good luck, success and happiness
Small triple star and large triple star – good luck, success, happiness for individual and mankind Circle – cohesion
Black Circle – Unity
Brown Circle – Cycle of life
Hearts – loving kindness towards others, charity, love in marriage (depends on placement)
Hearts in a border – unending love and kindness
Hearts with lace edges – love in marriage
Barn wheel (circle with stripes from a center point out) – wheel of fortune
Crescent moon – 4 seasons
Rosette – good luck (this is like an astrisk shape) to ward off evil, disease, and bring good luck and health
Daddy Rosette – fat leafed rosette
8 pointed rosette – tolerance of others, also resourcefulness, perserverence, strength
12 pointed Rosette = good luck all year, knowledge and wisdom, sincerity, straightfowardness
12 pointed outer Rosette – eternal joy
16 pointed Rosette – protection from drought and famine
2 inner circles – eternity and infinity
Outer circle – eternity, infinity
Circle of almond shapes – purity and also fidelity in marriage
Tulips – Faith
6 Tulips – faith in yourself, your work, and mankind
Raindrops – rain and crop abundance
Scallops – ocean waves and smooth sailing (in a border = through life), fertility (this can be done in decorative variants also, and mean the same thing basically – pointed scallops, striped scallops, etc..
Sun wheel – warmth and fertility
Swirling ray wheel – “good fortune and well being” (hitler tried to steal this ancient symbol, but he can just rot in hell where he belongs)
Crescent Moons – 4 seasons
Sun (in center) – light and warmth
Distelfinks – good luck (stylized goldfinch)
Double distelfink – double measure of good fortune
Pineapple – hospitality
Unicorn – Peace and harmony
Snakes – temptation
Doves – friendship and peace and contentment
Eagles or double eagles – strength and courage
Double Eagles covered by heart – good fortune and love in marriage
Leaves – long life (different leaves have different further meanings)
Oak leaf – “strength in body, mind and character”
Pomegranate – abundance and fertility
Shamrock – luck
Tulip – “faith, hope and charity”
Trinity Tulip – “faith in yourself, faith in what you do and faith in your fellow man” or “Faith, hope and charity”
Wheat – abundance
Bird of Paradise – “beauty, wonder and mystery of life”
Horse head – protection of animals
Acorn – strength in reserve
Willkom – welcome