What Is Their Significance In North America?
To follow the history of the barn star in North America, you must go back approximately 300 years when groups of religious refugees from the Rhine region of Germany migrated to south eastern Pennsylvania seeking religious freedom. These refugees included Amish and Mennonites – people of “plain” dress – and Lutherans and other Reformed groups of more worldly dress called “fancy”. Over time, these people became known as “Pennsylvania Dutch”.
It appears that the “fancy” settlers continued with the tradition of painting large and very colorful geometric patterns on their barns. Floral designs, birds, stars and other symbols could be found. There were specific meanings for each symbol. We will assume a symbol was used exactly for that reason – for its meaning. (Along with it’s decorative appeal.)
Evolution of the Term "Hex Signs"
Theories About The Painted Geometric Symbols
Somewhere along the way, the term “hex sign” started being used when referring to the geometric symbols. A story had slowly evolved that the Pennsylvania Dutch farmers put the “hex signs” on their barns to keep evil spirits away or to bring them good luck.
Note that “hex” means “witch” in German.
- Pennsylvania German hexe,
- from German hexen, from Hexe witch.
However, this “hex sign” theory is debated as whether factual or not. One assumption is that the tourist industry helped to get the myth established. To back this, fingers point to the fact that as the use of these designs/symbols on houses and buildings in Europe was relatively rare, their unique application on barns in Pennsylvania was nothing more than a “good story” to promote the “hex sign” idea.
Another believable explanation in the “hex” debate is this: six-pointed star designs were very popular with the Dutch farmers. Now, the German word for six, “sechs”, sounded like “hex” to their English-speaking neighbors. In time the “hex” patterns became commonly called hex signs. This custom persists today.
For more information about the meanings of hex sign symbols, please click here to view my article:
Pennsylvania Dutch Hex Signs
Multi-Dimensional Barn Stars
Moving into Modern Times … The Barn Star’s Evolution
One will find that barn stars appear more and more after the 1930 -1940 time frame. Interestingly it appears that craftspeople/painters started making “hex signs” that could be purchased and mounted on barns and other buildings. Obviously, a successful off-shoot was a “barn star industry” if we can call it that. (This is evident today. They are a very popular decoration and much in demand.)
Also, the material from which a barn star is made has changed over the years. As previously mentioned, they were painted directly onto the barn. A variation evolved where they were built onto the barn itself. Then, they began to be individually crafted from wood.
Around the 1970’s craftspeople began using roofing tiles for material, giving the stars a rough finish. Post-1990’s we see thin sheets of steel being used to fashion these popular garden art and interior decorating accents. If left unfinished, the steel lends itself to rusting. The rusted look is popular.
So, I believe there is one thing we can be certain of… a barn star was viewed as a symbol of good luck to many farmers “way back when”, as they are still viewed by many people today. The popularity of one or even multiple stars displayed on a garden wall, or side of one’s home is a very popular decorative accent.
Significance of the Colors
Here is a generally accepted overview of what the various colors mean pertaining to Amish and/or Pennsylvania Dutch painted barn symbols, barn stars included.
Protection, also used to blend or bind elements together
Protection, peace, calmness and spirituality
Mother earth, also can mean friendship and strength
Growth, fertility, success in things and ideas that grow
Abundance in career, projects and matters needing an added push
Emotions, passion, charisma, lust and also creativity
Things that are sacred
Purity, power of the moon, allows energy to flow freely
Health in body and mind, love of man and the sun, connection to the God