Public Asked to Help Hunt for Witches' Marks
- Images and locations wanted of under-recorded ritual protection marks known as Apotropaic or Witches’ marks
- For centuries symbols were carved into historic houses, churches, barns and even caves to protect them from witches and evil spirits
- This Halloween join the hunt for England's witches' marks and tell us if you've seen any
Witches’ marks - ritual protection symbols or apotropaic marks - can be found carved into the fabric of many historic places, from medieval churches and houses, to barns, caves and even the Tower of London but they have never been fully recorded.
This Halloween, Historic England is calling on the public to share photographs, information and knowledge of where they are, to help create a record of England’s apotropaic marks.
The marks date back to times when belief in witchcraft and the supernatural was widespread. Magical symbols and ritual objects were a common part of life from around the 16th to the early 19th century.
What are apotropaic marks?
Apotropaic comes from the Greek word for averting evil and the marks were usually carved on stone or woodwork near a building’s entrance points, particularly doorways, windows and fireplaces, to protect inhabitants and visitors from witches and evil spirits.
Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England said: “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. Ritual marks were cut, scratched or carved into our ancestors’ homes and churches in the hope of making the world a safer, less hostile place.
They were such a common part of everyday life that they were unremarkable and because they are easy to overlook, the recorded evidence we hold about where they appear and what form they take is thin. We now need the public’s help to create a fuller record of them and better understand them.”
What do they look like?
The most common type of apotropaic mark is the daisy wheel, or hexafoil, which at its simplest is a six petal “flower” drawn with a pair of compasses. Daisy wheels comprise a single, endless line which supposedly confused and entrapped evil spirits.
Pentangles, which are five-pointed stars, were often used as ritual symbols and the letters AM for Ave Maria, simply M for Mary or VV for Virgin of Virgins are also a common type of apotropaic mark.
These letters, scratched into the fabric of medieval walls, engraved onto wooden beams and etched onto plasterwork were thought to beseech the supreme protective power of the Virgin Mary.
Where are they?
Apotropaic marks can be found in medieval houses, dating from around 1550 to 1750. A few have been recorded recently at Shakespeare’s Birthplace for example, where they are carved near the door to the cellar, once the store for precious beer.
They have been spotted in medieval barns like the Bradford-on-Avon Tithe Barn, where they were etched into the ancient timber to protect crops.
Some have even been found in caves, such as Witches’ Chimney in Wookey Hole which has the largest concentration of ritual protection marks so far found in any cave.
They can also be found in old churches and many other public and private buildings across the country. County graffiti surveys in several areas across England have carried out some fascinating research but the public can still help to identify more witches' marks. We want the public to tell us about where they have seen apotropaic marks and what they look like so we can better understand how they were used.
Also of interest...
Explore the many ways you can help to support our incredibly rich and varied heritage.