Witch Marks? These Marks

Rachael Hall, Consultancy Manager & Archaeologist Rachael Hall Consultancy Manager & Archaeologist
Witch mark

Etched on the walls of many of the houses, barns and buildings that we care for in the Midlands Region are symbols known as ‘witch marks’.

Despite their name witch marks have very little to do with witches or witch craft. Witch marks are most often inscribed on buildings. The markings are believed to have turned away evil, providing protection to the building and those who lived or worked within it. The evil that was being ‘turned away’ may have been demons, witches or the then ever present evil eye.   

" Witch marks are also referred to as ‘ritual protection marks’ or ‘apotropaic’ markings.  The word apotropaic comes from the Greek word ‘apotropaios’ which is translated as ‘turning away (evil)’"
- Rachael Hall

Types of mark

Daisy Wheel

One of the most common types of witch marks found within our properties is the daisy wheel, also known as the hexafoil.  As the name suggests, the symbol takes the form of a six petalled flower. The daisy wheel would have been drawn using a compass and as such looks very geometrical in design.  Daisy Wheels can vary in size and complexity from a single hexafoil to a group of interlinked hexafoils.  

This daisy wheel marking was to turn away evil
A daisy wheel marking
This daisy wheel marking was to turn away evil

Overlapping V's

Another common form of witch marking is overlapping V’s known as marian marks. The overlapping V’s are believed to be the initials of the Virgin Mary. It is thought that these marks were invocations to the Virgin Mary to protect the site where the marks were to be found. 
Other types of witch marks appear as pentagons, mazes, crosses and diagonal lines, to name but a few.

Where are they?

Witch marks can be found in all types of buildings from barns and cottages to grand country houses to churches. The markings can also be found on furniture, gravestones and in caves such as Reynard’s Kitchen Cave in Dovedale. 

Circular witch mark at Woolthorpe Manor
Circular witch mark at Woolthorpe Manor
Circular witch mark at Woolthorpe Manor

Where the markings are found on buildings, they are most usually located next to windows, doorways and fireplaces.  These draughty locations were the most vulnerable as they could potentially be entrance points for demons, witches and evil spirits.  The witch marks were etched into stone, plaster and woodwork. 

Although many of the symbols associated with witch marks date back to much earlier times, the great majority are found in buildings dating from the medieval period through to the early nineteenth century. This was a time when belief in witchcraft and the supernatural was widespread and the use of magical symbols and ritual objects was part of everyday life. 
Other forms of protection from evil were charms and ritual concealments. Often shoes, dolls, cats and witch bottles are found hidden away within buildings. 

Witch marks continue to be used long after the fear of witchcraft and demons had died out. The markings continued to be thought of as symbols of protection but also of good luck. It may have also become a tradition to add such symbols to buildings.