NEWS

Public Invited To Record Witches’ Marks On Halloween

Look for five-pointed stars, VV for Virgins or AM for Ave Maria

31/10/2016 12:50 | Updated 31 October 2016

As Halloween falls, members of the public are being asked to help create a record of ritual markings on buildings that were once believed to deflect evil.

Apotropaic, or witches’ marks, were carved into churches, houses, barns, caves and even the Tower of London between 1550 to 1750.

Usually engraved in the stone or woodwork near a building’s entrances, the signs were created to protect the inhabitants from witches and evil spirits.

Historic England
Daisy wheels inscribed with a pair of compasses or dividers found in Saxon Tithe Barn, Bradford-on-Avon 

Though many exist in Britain, they have never been fully recorded, prompting Historic England to call on the nation to share photographs, information and knowledge of where they are.

The most common witches’ mark is the daisy wheel, or hexofoil, 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.

Historic England
Historic photograph of Bradford-on-Avon Tithe Barn (above) where daisy wheels have been found, thought to have been carved into the stonework to protect crops. The barn today (below)
Historic England

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. 

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.

Getty
Vintage engraving of the three witches from Shakespeare's Macbeth 

“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 because they were 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.”

To report a witches’ mark, click here

  • Witches' marks
    Nicholas Molyneux
    Two daisy wheel marks at the top of the cellar steps of Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford 
  • Witches' marks
    Elliot Brown via Flickr
    Shakespeare's birthplace where apotropaic marks have been found 
  • Witches' marks
    Conceal Reveal
    Daisy wheels or a cluster of integrated circles found on 19th century barn door close to Laxfield 
  • Witches marks'
    Conceal Reveal
    19th-century barn door with numerous compass-drawn daisy wheels drawn onto it, near Laxfield
  • Witches' marks
    Conceal Reveal
    19th-century barn door with numerous compass-drawn daisy wheels drawn onto it, near Laxfield
  • Witches' marks
    Historic England
    Daisy wheel - 6 Petal flower found in the remains of the Priory Church, Latton Priory, Harlow, Essex
  • Witches' marks
    Catherine Bancroft
    A daisy wheel carved into the roof beam of Scarrow Hill in Brampton, Cumbria
  • Witches' marks
    Anne via Flickr
    Wookey Hole Caves near Weston-super-Mare where a large number of apotropaic marks have been found
  • Witches' marks
    Adrian S Pye via Wikicommons
    All Saints church, Litcham where apotropaic marks have been spotted
  • Witches marks'
    David Purchase
    St Mary's Church, Ashwell where apotropaic marks such as VV, standing for Virgin of Virgins, have been found
  • Witches' marks
    Bob Collowan, Wikimedia Commons
    The Tower of London. Apotropaic marks have been found carved into the roof timbers and were thought to protect the building from witches and perhaps lightening
  • Witches' marks
    Lassco
    Apotropaic carvings in the oak lintel - faint letters can be seen etched on to the oak
  • Witches' marks
    LASSCO
    Apotropaic marks in the oak beam at LASSCO Three Pigeons
  • Witches' marks
    Conceal Reveal
    Several markings around a wooden fireplace at a 15th century inn
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