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Pie Safe FrontSix-petal flower (hex) designs come to us from a long tradition of German and Swiss-German origin. They were usually placed on barns to ward off evil spirits that might destroy crop harvests or livestock. Closer to our time, however, six-petal designs like the one seen in the Lexington County pie safe have been used only for decoration.

In the middle ages six-petal flower designs had specific meaning. The sun wheel, for example, is an ancient Germanic sign that figured in their view of the world through a nature-oriented pagan divinity-structure. Hitler used a simplified "sun wheel" sign for his swastika. That was definitely NOT the meaning of the Hex signs of Dutch Fork folk in antebellum Lexington County. Remember that Saxe Gotha settlers predated Hitler by two centuries.

The middle ages of the Christian era knew a set of numerological "signs." In the case of the pie safe's six-pointed star, that might refer to numerology. In that system,the number six relates to the six days of God's creation of the world, and also to the "Chrismon" (Christ monogram) which is formed by the Greek letter X (chi) and P (rho), forming with its six "arms" the title of Christ and symbolizing His power. St. Augustin saw the special meaning of the number Six in the fact that it is the sum of the first three numbers (1+2+3=6). The number Three, according to Augustine, signifies perfection and is the key to the world as a whole, being the symbol of God (Trinity) and the soul. As is so often true of symbolism, the number Six also represents its direct opposite: 666 being the number of the "beast," the devil. The hexagram, constructed of two triangles, is also the seal of Salomo, used by Jews and Muslims alike.

The pie safe's symbol is open to interpretation. However, we may assume that the pie safe's creator did not know much about all of this background and simply made a six-pointed star. However, in folk art these symbols are perpetuated often unwittingly, just by the belief that this type of sign has great power to ward off evil because it is part of the divine. To this day, Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish, continue the mediaeval European tradition of using six-petal flower designs in decorative arts.

Dr. Helene M. Riley
Clemson University

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