Apotropaic mark

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Apotropaic marking on a farmhouse from Niemelä Tenant Farm, now exhibited at Seurasaari Open Air Museum in Finland

Apotropaic marks are symbols or patterns scratched into the fabric of a building to keep witches out. They are sometimes called witches' marks, a term also used to denote identifying marks once thought to be found on the bodies of witches.

Marks on buildings[edit]

Apotropaic marks (from Greek apotrepein "to ward off" from apo- "away" and trepein "to turn") are symbols or patterns scratched into the fabric of a building with the intention of keeping witches out through apotropaic magic.[1] Evil was thought to be held at bay through a wide variety of apotropaic objects such as amulets and talismans against the evil eye. Marks on buildings were one application of this type of belief.[2]

Marks have been found at Shakespeare's Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, at the Tower of London,[3] and many churches, but little effort has been made to find them on secular buildings.[1] The marks are most common near places where witches were thought to be able to enter, whether doors, windows or chimneys.[1] For example, during works at Knole House in 1609, oak beams beneath floors, particularly near fireplaces, were scorched and carved with scratched witch marks to prevent witches and demons from coming down the chimney.[4][5] At the Bradford-on-Avon Tithe Barn, a flower-like pattern of overlapping circles is incised into a stone in the wall.[1] Similar marks of overlapping circles have been found on a window cill dated about 1616 at Owlpen Manor in Gloucestershire.

Other types of mark include the intertwined letters V and M or a double V (for the protector, the Virgin Mary, alias Virgo Virginum), and crisscrossing lines to confuse any spirits that might try to follow them.[1][6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Kennedy, Maev (31 October 2016). "Witches' marks: public asked to seek ancient scratchings in buildings". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 October 2016.
  2. ^ Asuni, John. "Apotropaic Talisman Against the "Evil Eye"". Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum. Retrieved 31 October 2016.
  3. ^ "Tower of London staff 'used magic to repel the forces of the Devil'". The Independent. 16 October 2015. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  4. ^ Wright, James (19 October 2015). ""The Instruments of Darkness Tells us Truths". Ritual Protection Marks and Witchcraft at Knole, Kent". Gresham College. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  5. ^ Kennedy, Maev (2014-11-05). "Witch marks fit for a king beguile archaeologists at Knole". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-11-05.
  6. ^ "Here Be Witchcraft". Lassco. 29 October 2014. Retrieved 31 October 2016. f you live in a timber-framed house dating back earlier than the eighteenth century look out for scratchings on the bressumer beam, sometimes only very lightly inscribed at the top corners of the fireplace, like the scratching of a cat. Look for a repeated “W” – thought to be a double “V” for “Virgo Virginum”. Look for daisy wheels – a circular device with petals, or runic symbols – a “P” incorporating a cross, or a “W” incorporating a “P”. Look for two verticals with a “Saltire” cross between them – a motif also much used on iron door latches and bolts and wrought iron firedogs (St Andrew was considered the best hex against witches particularly in Northern England and Scotland).