3 Head-Scratching Amish Myths
You’ve probably heard someone say something about the Amish that made you wonder, “now where did that come from?”
Myths are usually the child of a grain of truth and a lot of imagination. We want explanations for things that puzzle us. When they’re not forthcoming, people fill in the blanks.
Below, three myths I’ve recently seen on the internet, plus my best guesses at where they originate:
A painful dowry
1) “Amish women get rid of their teeth, because teeth is an expense to a future husband. Therefore, having no teeth is a part of a women’s dowry.”
This one may have existed previous to last fall, but I think we have “Breaking Amish” to thank for its spread. If you recall, one of the show’s characters, Rebecca, wore a full set of dentures.
No doubt it shocked viewers to see a person so young with no teeth. The explanation was that Rebecca had had her rotten teeth pulled one-by-one by an “Amish dentist”.
A little myth-making ensues and…a toothless mouth becomes part of the customary Amish wedding gift to a husband.
That noted, Amish dental care varies. We’ve discussed it on more than one occasion. Pulling teeth is more common than in English society, especially in more traditional Amish groups. It can be less expensive to pull problem teeth and have a set of dentures made. Some Amish even provide this service.
Brothers & husbands, wives & sisters
2) “Oh! Amish! That’s the religion where you are only allowed to marry your siblings, right?”
Genetic ailments present among Amish have gotten wide press. Few outsiders join what are essentially closed communities.
If you go back far enough, you’ll find a blood connection (only true for Amish..?). So I can see the mental leap that leads to thinking that Amish are only “allowed” to marry siblings.
Actually we have two issues here–sibling marriage, plus a touch of the idea that Amish marriages are orchestrated from above (a related myth).
Of course, Amish parents (like English) approve of some of their children’s dating partners more than others. They may nudge or even decidedly encourage a child in a certain direction. But forced or arranged marriages belong to another realm.
Caskets not made-to-order
3) “I took a tour of one of the Amish farm tourist traps, just for fun. They touched on funeral customs and we were told that the Amish only have 2 sizes of coffins. If a person didn’t fit in one of those 2 sizes, they just chopped off body parts until the deceased fit!”
Now this one threw me for a loop. Never heard anything of the kind. Nor do I know which “tourist trap” the person who shared this is referring to (actually, I’d like to go on this tour, sounds pretty entertaining).
So I’m drawing a blank. I’ve met an Amish casket maker, but didn’t think to ask about his sizing policy. I’ve been to events where dead Amish people were present (viewing, funeral). The men inside the open caskets looked pretty intact to me. Just a lucky fit?
This isn’t the full extent of myths and misconceptions about the Amish, not by a long shot. Feel free to add any others you’ve come across.
Pliers photo: whoisccd/flickr
I have heard of Amish taking out ads for sperm donation (to help the gene pool). I’ve wondered if perhaps they’re talking about donations for their animals as I can not see how they would ever do this for their people. BUT, people swear it’s true. I’m waiting for them to produce an ad so I can see it for myself!
I think there is a whole stable of tall tales to do with reproduction/genetics.
I’ve seen all kinds of things but the one thing that has me wondering if the braha are real and what they say is true I would like to know and find out more. I would also like to hear more from Esther. If you know who she is. I have all kinds of questions for her and would like to bust quite a few myths about things that people have heard about braha….
Having been raised Amish till after several years of marriage I have never even heard of these myths before reading them on here! (Including Erin’s comment!)They would be hilarious if they were not so serious! The myth of having only 2 size caskets could have started by the fact that they basically make their caskets in feet lengths only. Such as 2′-3′-4′-5′-6′-or 7 ft. with out adding inches.If they don’t believe its respectful to cremate someone they certainly wouldn’t chop off limbs! Makes me wonder whether the many things we hear about other religions are perhaps just myths too!?
With regard to the pulling all of their teeth, I presume that is the way all of our forefathers dealt with tooth decay. The drill and fillings came along more recently. As for it being part of a dowry, I never heard of it. I have had six sisters, and only one had all her teeth pulled by the time she was 20. There are many customs among the Amish that are not practiced across the board. For example, the local group here do not keep Ascension day as a holiday where others strictly observe it.
Marriage of relatives is almost always the case among the conservative groups since the marriage of more distant relatives would take you outside the local church. Preserving the more newly established groups is a priority. Again, not a requirement, but a necessary evil.
As for caskets. the body is usually placed on a board for viewing prior to the funeral day. This gives the casket maker a little extra time to do his job. I have heard a lot of myths about Amish and I too wonder how some of them got started.
Where do Amish myths come from?
Do the myths more often originate and perpetuate via close neighbors to the Amish, or from those that don’t live in Amish areas?
I have talked with English in Amish areas that don’t know much about their Amish neighbors, despite living in an area for decades. Not that they have to take an interest, but I would think there would be a natural curiosity. There is a lot of prejudice as well that arises some of it fueled by the unknown…you can find that easy enough in some online forums and comment sections.
An interesting question...
I think this is such an interesting question! I grew up, and currently live in, a very small town in the Holmes County area. There are only four “English” households in town so I suppose that having been immersed in the Amish culture my entire life, makes my situation a bit different from those in the predominantly “English” towns surrounding mine.
However, the relationship between the Amish and Non-Amish is, in my opinion, surprisingly open in Holmes County and the surrounding areas. The Amish are people we work, become friends, frequently interact, and often attend elementary and middle school with on a daily basis. This has led to us being fairly knowledgeable about myth vs. fact. We often hear stories from our Amish neighbors about the things that go in the community, and are not afraid inquire if the things we’ve heard are true or not (although, this is understandably less common among the older community members). They are not afraid to inquire about things they have heard about the “English”, either. (I should add, though, that things are a bit different and interactions with the Old Order/Schwartzentruber Amish are much more reserved.) That openness, however, can be a negative thing when something unsettling or somewhat scandalous happens in the community. An isolated incident can easily turn into a stereotype or myth quite quickly.
You made a great point about natural curiosity. Many other communities are not like the one I grew up in. I was incredibly surprised when I find out that, in many others, it is uncommon for the Amish and “English” to interact at all. Definitely natural curiosity, as well as prejudice, play a part in the crazy myths people often mistake to be true. And even in communities where there is a generally good relationship between the Amish and “English”, prejudice may not be as common, but is still alive and well.
It’s also worth nothing that while living in Columbus, I would often have people enthusiastically tell me things they “knew” about the Amish after finding out I’d grown up there. Generally things like, “My friend’s cousin worked with an Amish man and he told my cousin that…” followed by a completely ludicrous story or “fact”. I have a feeling that sometimes it’s like one big game of “Telephone” where something rooted in fact becomes fabrication after being retold multiple times.
The media’s current obsession with Amish culture surely plays a large part in perpetuating stereotypes and often downright lying to the general population about the beliefs and customs surrounding the religion and culture- although I guess that’s a bit off-topic considering many of the myths originated before this obsession began.
Typing this actually made me realize I have no idea how to answer the question in a clear-cut way, but it would make for a great sociological study! I guess when it comes down to it, I do think that those who have never lived close to the Amish are more apt to believe ridiculous myths, and perhaps play a part shaping them. But I also think that since myths are often generalizations or a reality that has just become incredibly convoluted, it seems unlikely that those with zero knowledge about the Amish would be the ones creating them.
I really like this comment. Hey, you might even be one of our neighbors! No, just kidding, we don’t live in town, but we do have non-Amish neighbors & friends who know us about as well as we know them.
All religions have myths, especially the non main stream ones. I had heard the cutting off of body parts decades ago. The only other Amish myth I have heard, and that was recently in a book I read, is the myth that they are not allowed to read the Bible themselves. This fiction book also said Amish do not believe in assurance of salvation, considering it prideful. Anyone know if this is true?
Debbie, The Amish being against assurance of salvation is not a myth. I left for this exact reason! Although I will quickly add that there are Amish groups scattered across the country that do believe in assurance of salvation. Only where I grew up they didn’t, and even excommunicated members that believed in it.
I asked my son, Mark, about the Amish position on eternal security. He said that all New Order and most Old Order would believe in Eternal Security. But no Amish believe in “once saved always saved.” The Amish believe that if you turn your back on God and Jesus Christ that you can lose your salvation. The Amish also believe that you show that you are saved by the fruits of a victorious Christian life. Mark said that he has even heard fairly conservative Amish like the Hardin County, Ohio Amish declare their belief in eternal security and not in depending on the ordnung and baptism.
I’m an author of Amish fiction and I’d be very interested in hearing your story/opinions, if you’re willing to share. I realize, unlike some uneducated readers, that Amish communities can vary WIDELY.
In my book Amish by Accident (available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.), I strove to represent the Amish as honestly as possible. Being in California though, I have to rely primarily on the internet and books I read (which have been many.)
If you are willing to participate in my research, it would be greatly appreciated! You may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you were replying to me you may contact me at Romary@interbel.net
Assurance of salvation
Saloma Furlong just discussed this in a post about Valerie Weaver-Zercher’s new book. Saloma’s blog is About Amish.
I sure would appreciate the name of the Amish Farm Tourist Traps. If they are that bad I certainly don’t want to visit them. Some of us are not sure which places provide accurate information or information only met to lure a poor unsuspecting tourist. I have inquired many times on where not to go or where to go; and no-one wants to divulge any information. It is how-ever troublesome to find your family right in the middle of a “tourist trap”. The experience and opportunity you were hoping for wasn’t real at all. I hope after my trip I can be more forth coming with others so they will know.
I really don’t know the name Christy, or which ones are more reliable. That quote originated from a comment on this site’s Facebook page. I think your results in this area will depend on what having a real experience means. If it is meeting or talking with Amish people, there are venues you can do that, including their businesses as well as some Amish homes which have visitors in for meals.
I can’t remember which tourist trap that told us the bad information. It was either the one on RT 30 or one near Strasburg. They also told us that ALL AMISH WOMEN are only allowed to wear purple, dark blue or green dresses. So glad I lived among the Amish and knew the truth.
As a non-Amish teacher in an Amish school I had the sad experience of attending the funeral of one of my first grade scholars. I visited the home the day after he was killed crossing the street and the women were working on his white pants, new white shirt, and white bow tie to be buried in. His coffin seemed so small with his tiny body in it. It still brings tears to my eyes thinking about that sweet child.
There is just something inherently tragic about seeing those small coffins, isn’t there? I just can barely take seeing them. Death is always a sorrowful thing for those of us left here without our loved ones and friends, but just the sight of a child’s or infant’s casket can move me to tears, whether I ever knew a single member of the family or not. I hope that makes sense.
It makes lots of sense. We don’t expect to see a small coffin when we go to a viewing. It was such a sad experience. I was invited to the funeral, the graveside and back to the home for a meal. We stood around the gravesite and watched the coffin being lowered and remained until all the dirt was filled in. The sound of the first shovels of dirt hitting the coffin was a sound I will never forget.
Holmes County Info
Christy, if ever you need/want info on Holmes County, Ohio, just email me at email@example.com. I’d be happy to share what we have learned over the years.
These myths remind me of the old saying, “Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see.”
That was before Photoshop. Now you dont believe anything you see in print!
I shake my head & roll my eyes!
Oy! Some of these myths are ripe for Ripley’s!
One thing I’ve often heard those who are not familiar with the Amish say, is that they “all farm organically”. I know that’s not true!
Margie, that old saying is #1 in my personal “book of common sense.” 😉
I read off these three myths to Mark over the phone. He said he had never heard of such myths. The Amish in his community go to the dentist and you’ll sometimes see teenagers with braces. Some Amish might not go as often to the dentist due to financial considerations. As far as marrying brothers or sisters that is absolutely forbidden. Even marrying first cousins is forbidden. Regarding the casket issue Mark started laughing. The Deitsch word for a funeral casket is a “lawd” It rhymes with “sawed”. In Mark’s community they are made by the custom kitchen cabinet maker who lives across the road from Mark. He tries to keep at least one casket on hand, stored away, in case it is needed. This man kindly provided the casket, at cost, when my son and Mark’s brother passed away almost exactly seven years ago. We just paid for the materials. If a person were oversized Mark said that a casket would be made to fit them if the men had to work overnight to do it. To thank that limbs would be sawn off is ludicrous. That would never, ever happen.
Don I am glad to hear that last one made Mark laugh as well. It is almost comical.
Thanks for sharing about the casket. I never tire of hearing how you and your son have become a part of that community.
I pray that this is not offensive, but since you said Mark laughed about the notion then maybe it is o.k. When I read your last comment about the idea of sawing off limbs being ludicrous, I laughed so hard because the thought “Amish Ohio Chainsaw Massacre” popped into my head. If you do happen to find this offensive, please accept my sincere apology.
Look for Mark in Lancaster County, PA in early June. He is attending the Amish 2013 Conference at Elizabethtown College. Maybe he’ll see some of you there. That means Fritzi and I will be baby sitting Reba, Mark’s dog. But, I draw the line at taking care of the horses and chickens!
Great to hear Mark will be there Don. There is going to be quite a lot packed into the 3 day schedule.
Erik, those myths made me laugh! I’d never heard any of them before! I can just imagine were they all true….sighs haha.
It’s a very good point that since many/most Amish will have a common ancestor if you go back far enough, I think that’s also true for so many other groups, especially small and relatively closed societies. On the other hand, if I ever met a man in Kenton, Ohio ( the town itself, not the Amish part ), we’d have to sit down and go over our respective genealogies because we would more than likely be related lol — unless someone’s family has moved into the town in the last 25 or so years? Probably a relative. It’s just what happens when your ancestors were part of either the founding of or early days of a small town or location and then stayed there! But once you get so far from someone in terms of the relationship, I have heard that it really doesn’t truly matter, not unless there are genetic conditions involved in the situation.
The usual myths I hear are that Amish women are all treated as second-class citizens, or servants, that the Amish are the source of most puppy mills, that none of them have running water or refrigeration, that a blue gate means a girl lives there who is single and ready to be married, that the Amish do not use modern health care or believe in mental health disorders, that the man in the family controls every aspect of his family’s life, that all Amish women must kill and butcher all the chickens and hogs raised on the farm ( this one thanks to a recent episode of “Wife Swap” or some show like that that I heard about ), that all Amish live on farms, that they all believe anyone who is not Amish is going to hell, that they are rude and condescending, that they are poorly educated and ignorant, and I know there are others. I just can’t think of them. It’s very odd that I never hear “good” rumors, no, just the bad ones.
You’ve named a lot of them Sadie. The more traditional practices make the biggest impression and are easiest to exaggerate, which is probably where a good bit of these come from. For instance there is the “Amish don’t bathe” idea. Well, there are some Amish who probably don’t bathe all that often, certainly not every day. So I can see how someone could run with that.
The following note was taken out of CEMETERY DIRECTORY OF THE AMISH COMMUNITY OF HOLMES COUNTY by Leroy Beachy.
‘ Grumm ( crooked) Yune ‘, At about twenty years of age Jonas was severely afflicted with Rheumatism, after being drenched during a trip to a grist mill in Dover, with a wagon load of wheat. His body became more and more contorted until his head was lowered between his knees. because of his contorted body, which could not be straightened for burial, he was buried in a reclining position in a coffin, four feet long by three feet high.
Wow, that sounds awful. Maybe a dumb question, but is rheumatism something you can “catch” that way? Did they have that note right?
Well, I guess you hear all sorts of things about every culture. Amish ones I’ve heard…. Amish bury those who have committed suicide outside the fence of an Amish cemetery, the reason they have blue doors is to keep witches away even though some Amish practice a form of witchcraft called POW-WOW. Supposedly, POW-WOW is sooo secret they will not admit it or discuss this with others. Amish can find water with a Y shaped stick and my all time favorite… ALL Amish barns have Hex Signs!
Oh! Now on the finding water one…..
I have always believed it and have even *seen* it done! My ( non-Amish ) grandpa could do it. Any fairly large, forked stick, and if it was finally held above a spot where water could be found underground was located? It would slowly move up and down, or just down. Seriously! Scientific proof or not, this is one I’ll always believe 😀 !
I am with you Sadie. I have seen this done on TV, in videos and more importantly in person. It works. How I don’t know, but that it does I am certain.
The man I saw doing this always used a green willow branch, but I didn’t ask if something else would work as well. The term for this is “water witching”. I don’t know if it is commonly done by the Amish or not. If it is, may explain the myth that they participate in “witchcraft”.
My own brother, an educated man, always says the same thing whenever the word “Amish” comes up …”They are weird”. He has never had ANY dealings with any Amish, probably has never met one in person & may have never even seen one in person. Yet he is convinced that they are “weird”. I don’t bother trying to persuade him to believe otherwise, because he is convinced that he is right about them.
I think most myths are part ignorance and part spite. Sounds like the Amish are the ones that are NOT being ignorant or spiteful though.
Kat, I agree! Most everything I hear said about the Amish is negative and ignorant ( not using ignorant as an insult here, just meaning that these people don’t really know what they’re talking about — not that I know everything!! ). I would really think people around here would know more about people who are Amish than they seem to know, since I live fairly close to both the Belle Center and Hardin County Amish, not to mention the group of horse-and-buggy German Baptists who also dress quite plainly & distinctively that really are quite close ( I sometimes shop at the same Wal-Mart they do, and think it’s a shame there are no covered areas or hitching rails/posts for their horses ). But no, the people I have talked to near me seem to be perhaps even MORE clueless than people who live even farther away from any Amish or other Plain groups.
I think it is strange, too, how no one around here seems to be able to distinguish among the groups by their dress ( especially the women ). Here, there are Amish, Mennonites ( ranging from Plain-dress, but not horse-and-buggy, to mainstream Mennonites whose dress is indistinguishable from the general “English” public ), German Baptists ( horse-and buggy Plain and others ), Dunkard Brethren ( who, at least here, usually wear “English” but modest shirts with long skirts, often denim during the week, and a very small net-looking white prayer covering on Sundays and sometimes during the week ). The horse-and-buggy German Baptists and I believe at least one other group of G.B. women wear very long patterned dresses, black shoes, and their dresses are covered with a cape from their shoulders to maybe a bit more than halfway down their backs, not attached to the dress at the bottom, but rather hanging freely over their dresses ( both are made of the same pattern ). They also wear large white coverings, covering almost all of their hair ( which is done up in a bun ) and all of their ears; the coverings tie under the chin with white ribbons, and usually are pretty transparent, probably made of starched organdy, is my guess. The Amish women I have seen dress as if they are Old Order, at least to me, but I have seen some of them in the more pale colors common in Belle Center. And the Mennonite women dress in many different ways, but mostly with smaller coverings and dresses made of fabric with small, usually floral, prints.
To me, the differences are pretty obvious. From their prayer coverings alone, you can more or less determine someone’s affiliation. But the men of all the groups are often hard to tell their affiliations apart by the way they dress, and to make it even more confusing, there are a few of us P/plain Friends ( Quakers ) around, as well as a few others who dress in Plain clothing for other religious reasons — and it’s really impossible to tell affiliation then, as there is no uniformity of dress at all.
All of this came from what Kat said about comments/myths being made out of ignorance. I also agree some are made out of spite, too. I have heard people who’ve been “stuck” behind a buggy dislike the Plain groups simply for “holding up traffic”. I’m not sure why others seem to be so spiteful, but they really are! Oh yes, and then the myth of “the Amish don’t pay any taxes” is one I hear frequently. I would think people would know better; the same people who will patronize Amish shops, buy “Amish” foods, or spend a weekend in “Amish country” are the same ones who complain and perpetuate these myths, sometimes, too. It’s as if, for some English people, the Amish are good enough to be their tourist attraction, but they’re not good enough to merit their respect. It’s a shame.
water, water everwhere...
I remember trying to use that sort of thing when I was a kid. It was a fun way to play in the back yard. By coincidence I seem to recall running around the corner of the yard where my parents eventually installed a pool. Maybe it worked in a way.
The rods are true for finding water. Do some research. They are usually metal rods. We had someone come to our house in Maryland to find our underground water, for a new sump pump and they used 2 metal rods. It really works!
You know, it seems like a lot of people forget that Amish MARRY INSIDE OF THEIR RELIGION! Since only a few came to America….
And, another question: Are you saying that there’s been brother-sister, etc., marriages in recent Amish communities? Isn’t that illegal?
The Bible tells us not to marry daughters, daughters-in-law, sons, sons-in-law, aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, sisters, sisters-in-law (I think this was referring to adultery), and brothers-in-law (ditto). Off the top of my head, I can’t remember cousins were included in the “Do not marry” list. Pretty sure it’s illegal, though, at least for 1st and 2nd cousins. (And pretty strange!)
Come visit my new blog!: plainpathwaytohim.wordpress.com
I’m completely amazed at some of these myths… I just can’t understand how anyone could believe them. Now I’ll wonder when I’m walking down the sidewalk in town how many of the tourists think I married my toothless sister, whether I worry about my door color to scare witches or whatever… Thanks for correcting these!
Odd beliefs about the Amish
We should probably do a follow-up post Mark, if you have heard any worthy ones you’re welcome to share as I know these aren’t the only ones 🙂 Myths fill gaps in understanding and even people who are neighbors to Amish can know surprisingly little about their Plain neighbors.
Not that it’s an obligation that they take an interest (I don’t know how much I could tell you about some of my neighbors). But intuitively you’d think the people physically closest would be among the best informed, but are not, more often than we might suppose.
Alternatively, we could look at this from the other direction and do an “Amish mythical beliefs about the English” post 🙂
I am from South Africa and first heard of the Amish from a 1980’s TV show about an Amish family moving to California called “Aaron’s Way”. Since then, the only time we ever hear about anything Amish (other than internet) is from those Beverly Lewis novels sold in Christian bookstores. I have seen two movies about Amish people: 1. “Amish Grace” about the true story of forgiveness where that guy shot those Amish schoolkids. 2. A fictional story called “Love Finds You In Sugarcreek”. This was a story about a baseball player that gets lost in Amish Country.
I have been to America twice but never to Amish Country. You can imagine how many “myths” I would believe if ever I went to Amish Country in the USA.
If I were you Mark, I would just have fun with some of the “myths” and the “tourists” lol!
P.S. I have a funny story about American tourists in South Africa. The story is true. My niece was going back to boarding school between two major cities – Johannesburg and Bloemfontein. She traveled by plane on which there were a few American tourists. The tourists were looking out the window trying to find animals like lions, leopards, elephant, rhino etc. There are no animals in our cities, our streets, towns or farms. The animals are all safely kept in our National Parks much like you have Yellowstone or Yosemite. It makes us laugh when tourists think we have animals in the street, near our homes or that Africans all live in huts! That, and not all “Africans” are Black – I’m White. No, I am not racist and don’t remember “Apartheid” – really it is not even my fault nor did I ever vote for it!
A follow up post might be interesting. We keep a book at work that we write interesting or funny comments in that we hear and there are some winners in there. I laughed out loud at the idea of an Amish mythical beliefs about the English. We’ve heard some good ones in that line, too.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I should go talk with the toothless Amish girls who are busy trying to stick all their straight pins into their all black clothes before they freshen up the door paint. Can’t risk witches coming in you know. I should really touch up the paint on our barn hex signs also just in case the bishop decides to shun me for touching this computer.
(And I HOPE everyone will take that last paragraph as nonsense!)
Mark you are excused to attend to that important business, glad the hex protection is going to be enhanced, can’t take any chances 🙂 You are welcome to come back here anytime, assuming you are not “shunned” for talking to the English too much 😉
Thank you, Erik. If I don’t post anything for a few days, better come check up on me. 😉
I drive and narrate Amish tours here in SE Minnesota. Best job I’ve ever had!
One tour included 5 middle-aged “English” ladies who were curious and interested, but perhaps a bit silly too. They wanted to visit the Amish store where Amish ladies bought their underclothes. At least one of the ladies insisted that Amish ladies wore frilly, lacy French style underclothes to compensate for their plain outer garments. I had to tell these ladies that their belief was completely incongruous with everything that I’ve learned about the Amish, but that I had no way of verifying anything about Amish undergarments! There are some things that you just don’t ask about. As usual, we stopped at basket shops, furniture makers, a bakery and a quilt store, but no intimate apparel stores.
On the last one, I think maybe the dude saying that (if he did indeed say it), just had a macabre sense of humour. Amish, are, after all, human.