Pennsylvania Dutch Hex Signs

Also Called Barn Hex Signs
What Are Their Symbolism and Meanings?

These Beautiful Folk Art Inspired Designs Have Important Symbolic Meanings

Hex signs are described in the American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language as: Any of various painted round signs incorporating designs, such as stylized stars, rosettes, or wheels, thought to be magical. These signs were painted on barns, especially by the Pennsylvania Dutch, to ward off misfortune or evil spells.

Hmmm… it’s interesting that the use of a hex sign to bring good luck wasn’t mentioned. Or that these symbols might be used purely for decorative purposes. Well, the debate is there and continues.

Hex sign

What you can be sure of is that these colorful round geometric decorations have graced barns and homes in Pennsylvania for hundreds of years, especially among Pennsylvanians of “Deutch” or German ancestry.

I’d like to refer you to a very informative article that will explain the whole story surrounding hex signs for you:
Amish Country News: The Story of the Hex Sign

A Sampling of the Symbols

As far as the specific designs are concerned, here are some of the symbols and their generally accepted meanings:

  • Crescent Moons: the four seasons
  • Distelfink: good luck and happiness
    • Two distelfinks:
      double good luck and happiness
    • Two distelfinks crossed over each other:
      true friendship

NOTE:
You will find “distelfink” also spelled as “distLEfink”. Both spellings are widely used, however only “distELfink” is found in dictionaries.

The distelfink’s (German: goldfinch) origin is a debated subject. Some believe it is simply a mythological bird that symbolizes good luck while others believe it represents a goldfinch, or thistle finch. In hex signs it is distinguishable from other bird symbols by the plume of feathers on top of its head (obviously a stylized version of the goldfinch). Many different interpretations and colors of this symbol can be found.

Distelfink or Goldfinch Hex Sign

Doves or Birds of Paradise:
friendship, camaraderie, peace, purity and happiness

Eagle:
strength, courage, clarity of vision

Heart:
friendship, camaraderie, peace, purity and happiness

Oakleaf Hex Sign

Oak Leaf:
long life, strength and endurance

Pineapple:
welcome and hospitality

Rosettes:
(thought to be the oldest symbol) good luck

Scallops:
ocean waves, smooth sailing in life

Stars:
protection against fires, good fortune, hope, love, fertility, energy and harmony.
**Refer to my article: The History of Barn Stars in N. America for further information on this symbol.

Sun Wheel:
warmth and fertility

Tulips:
faith, hope, charity and trust in mankind

Wheat:
abundance and goodwill

For more information and illustrations of hex sign symbols, here’s another informative page: Amish Country News Hex Signs

A good book on this subject is:
“Hex Signs: Pennsylvania Dutch Barn Symbols & Their Meaning” by Don Yoder and Thomas E. Graves.

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