Sworn to Silence is set in the fictional town of Painters Mill which is located in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country. I grew up in small town Ohio, but I didn’t know much about the Amish. It wasn’t until I conceived the idea for Sworn to Silence that I became fascinated by this rich and remarkable culture. I wanted to know everything about them. The history. The religion. The traditions. The language. Most of all, I wanted to know the people.
As a writer, it’s extremely important for me to depict the Amish culture correctly, without bias, and without stereotype. That hasn’t always been an easy task, particularly when being separate from the rest of the world is an important Amish tenet.
One of the things I learned early on is that much of the early history of the Anabaptists is brutal. Persecuted in Europe for their belief in adult baptism, they began migrating to the United States in the mid 1700s. Most settled in the Lancaster Pennsylvania area, then moved west as their population grew. Today, the largest Amish settlement in the world is Holmes County Ohio, fondly known as “Amish Country.” They are a religious, agrarian society yet in this fast-paced, technology-obsessed world, they’ve somehow managed to preserve their traditions, their way of life, and their language of Pennsylvania Dutch or Deitsch (which is actually a German dialect.)
There are many obvious differences between the Amish and the “English” or non-Amish outsiders. For example, their main mode of transportation is horse and buggy. They dress plainly. Amish children normally attend school in a one or two room schoolhouse and only go through the eighth grade. Some of the lesser known precepts inherent to Amish life are as follows: An emphasis on family, marriage and children. The belief in leading a disciplined life according to the Ordnung, which are the unwritten rules of the respective church district. The practice of excommunication and social avoidance, which is oftentimes misunderstood, and mainly employed to bring wayward souls back into the fold.
I travel to Amish Country every summer. It’s always a learning experience and invariably a pleasure. I’ve visited several Amish families over the last few years. I’ve seen firsthand the inner workings of an Amish dairy farm. I even got to drive a buggy, which was an eye-opening experience and a lot of fun. I’ve developed lasting relationships with people who’ve generously shared their lives and opened their homes to me. No culture is a simple thing that can be boxed and defined, but I’ve done my best to immerse you, the reader, into this wonderful and interesting world.
I hope to continue learning and expanding the depth of my knowledge. I hope my personal admiration and respect for the Amish and their way of life are evident in the book, and I hope you enjoy your trip to Amish Country.
Below, I’ve included a few of the Pennsylvania Dutch terms I used while writing Sworn to Silence.
Glossary of Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch terms:
Mein Gott – “My God,” which is often used in conversation to convey surprise or dismay
Mamm – Mom
Datt – Dad
Rumspringa – The literal translation of this German word is “running around.” The term is used by the Amish to describe the year or two before an Amish youth decides whether to become baptized, when they are allowed to experience life without the rules.
Ordnung – The unwritten rules set forth by the church district.
Wei geht’s – Informal way to say “how are you?”
The Bann – Excommunication. It means a baptized Amish person has broken a serious rule or behaved in a way that goes against the rules of the Ordnung. Many people believe erroneously that the bann is a form of punishment. Most often, the bann is designed to bring the wayward back into the fold.
Kapp – prayer cap worn by Amish and some other Anabaptist women.
Gelassenheit – A German word that encompasses Amish ideals: yielding to God, putting others before yourself, and leading a content and modest life.
Copyright © 2017 Linda Castillo.
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Linda Castillo knew from an early age that she wanted to be a writer—and penned her first novel at the age of thirteen. She’s published thirty books for three New York publishing houses and won numerous industry awards, including a nomination by the International Thriller Writers for Best Hardcover, the Golden Heart, the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence, and a nomination for the prestigious Rita. Her debut thriller, Sworn to Silence, garnered starred reviews from Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, and Booklist—and spent four weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. In her spare time, Linda enjoys trail riding and dabbles in barrel racing. She resides in Texas with her husband, two rescued Blue Heelers, and two Appaloosa horses. She’s currently at work on her next novel, a thriller set in Amish Country and featuring Chief of Police Kate Burkholder.