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Witch markings and the magic in old buildings

‘Witches’ marks (apotropaic marks) are a physical reminder of how our ancestors saw the world. A timely blog post by our director David Tithecott.

The magical symbols date back to an era, from around the 16th century, when belief in witchcraft and the supernatural was widespread and these are found in many buildings throughout Britain and in particular Devon.

Apotropaic comes from the Greek word for averting evil and the marks were usually carved on stone or woodwork near a buildings entrance points, particularly doorways, windows and fireplaces, to protect inhabitants and visitors from witches and evil spirits. They were also common in agricultural Tithe barns to protect crops.

The most common apotropaic mark is the daisy wheel, or hexafoil, which 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.

 

We came across such a mark on a historic Grade 2 Listed Cider Press and Threshing barn in south Devon which was being converted into residential use. It was probably made when the barn was originally constructed as it was high up on one of the walls and inaccessible from floor level.

Such marks are often only lightly etched and can be impossible to see in direct light. A light shone at an acute angle to cast a shadow across the surface is often needed to actually see them. Upon discovery of this particular mark within the South Devon barn a cast was taken of the original mark (see below) and incorporated into the new plaster wall linings of the property, in the hope that it provides continued protection.

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