people attribute the circular barn sign designs to the German
culture, however the barns in Germany are not decorated!
There are, however, many circular geometric designs in various
cultures, and traditional designs are often used in the
painting of hex signs. These traditional designs may or
may not have "magikal" symbolism.
is hard to track down the history of the designs in the
US, as there is much dispute over the nature and purpose
of hexen. Many old timers insist that they were painted
"just for pretty" and as old barns fall into disrepair,
or are repainted, the designs are left to weather away or
painted over. Not every farmer wants to have tourists at
the gate, snapping pictures of the "picturesque"
barn! The photo on the left shows one of these nearly invisible signs, called a "ghose hex" by some folks.
folks may admit that "once upon a time" the designs
were attributed with "magical" properties of protection,
or as a talisman of fertility for livestock and crops, or
invocation for a balance of rain and sunshine. But that
was back then... OR WAS IT?
Research shows that circular designs similar or even identical to those used in traditional Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs, have been found in diverse applications across Europe for centuries. This Sword Scabbard Belt Buckle (left) was made in 400 C.E. and found inside a tomb in Vermand, France in 1885. The 6 pointed rosette is said to have been a symbol of Christ's resurrection and life everylasting; in modern hexeri, it is considered a symbol of good fortune. The rosette also is carved on this ossuary from Jifna, Jordan circa 70 C.E. (right)
The rosette also appears at the center of a much more complex design on the Cathedral of Pisa, Italy, built between 1060. and 1118 C. E. (right) The circular designs on this church bear striking resemblance to our hex signs, but whether they had meaning beyond decoration cannot be determined.
Throughout history, people have adopted, adapted and used symbols with various meanings. Just like words, which do not remain static over time, our symbolic art is constantly evolving. As an example from more modern times, the pineapple, a symbol of welcome, passed from the
Caribbean to Columbus to Europe and back with the coninists to North America and transformed from an actual fruit to a carved final on the stair rails, as a symbol of welcome and on hex signs as well.