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British Public Urged to Look for Witches’ Marks on Doorways This Halloween

Tithe Barn, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire. Detail of incised circles in stonework .
Peter Williams—The Historic England Archive, Hi Daisy-Wheels inscribed with a pair of compasses or dividers found in Saxon Tithe barn, Bradford-on-Avon.

If they live in medieval era buildings, that is

This Halloween the British public are being encouraged to help create a record of ritual protection symbols carved on historic buildings to protect inhabitants from witches or evil spirits.

Witches’ marks are usually carved on medieval structures— like churches, barns, homes or even caves—dating from around 1550 to 1750. The faint symbols, which have been found on the Tower of London and at Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, offered protection when belief in the supernatural and witchcraft was rife.

The public body Historic Britain says they are often carved into the shape of a daisy wheel, which looks like a six petal “flower” drawn with a pair of compasses in a single endless line that was supposed to confuse and entrap wicked spirits. These apotropaic marks also took the form of letters that evoked the power of the Virgin Mary, such as M for Mary, AM for Ave Maria or VV for Virgin of Virgins.

“Witches’ marks are a physical reminder of how our ancestors saw the world. They really fire the imagination and can teach us about previously-held beliefs and common rituals” Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said in a statement. “They were such a common part of everyday life that they were unremarkable and because they are easy to overlook…we now need the public’s help to create a fuller record of them and better understand them.”

 

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