Public Invited To Record Witches’ Marks On Halloween

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

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.

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

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.

<strong>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)</strong>
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
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.

<strong>Vintage engraving of the three witches from Shakespeare's Macbeth </strong>
Vintage engraving of the three witches from Shakespeare's Macbeth
Getty

“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