Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Witches' Mark

Witches mark.  Indre et Loire, France. Photographed by Susan Walter. Tour the Loire Valley with a classic car and a private guide.

This type of pattern scratched into the stone wall of a building can be inside or out, and are known colloquially in English as witches' marks. It is to protect the building and the occupants from the activities of witches. It seems that witches are remarkably easy to fool or distract, as the idea is that the pattern will attract the witch, who is then obliged to follow the line. They cannot help themselves, but the line has no end, so they are trapped in a never ending series of arcs, and are thus not in a position to be able to harm the occupants of the building.

This particular pattern, known as the 'daisy wheel' or 'hexafoil' is the most frequently found, made using a mason's compasses or dividers. The other very recognisable marks one sees sometimes are the Marian symbols --  a double interlocked V, standing for Virgo Virginum or an A or inverted V overlaying an M, for Ave Maria or Virgin Mary.  The wooden panelling in the bedroom of our early 18th century house in London had several of these. Typically these marks are placed over points of entrance such as doors, windows and fireplaces, and date from the mid-16th to the mid-18th centuries. I would guess that the one above is 17th century, dating from a period when there was an absolute obsession with witches. It's scratched into a small window lintel in the end of a barn in the hamlet of Les Viaullières, a very typical position for a hexafoil style witches' mark, to protect stored crops.

Witches' marks are not to be confused with masons' or carpenters' marks, general graffiti or idle doodling, all of which can sometimes be found close together in the same building. Technically, in architectural history speak, they should be called apotropaic marks, meaning 'to ward off evil'.

Further Reading: The Difference Between Apotropaic Marks and Carpenter's Marks -- Historic England.


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Katie Zeller said...

I had no idea witches were so poorly thought of here in France lol

Susan said...

Not just France and not just witches -- these signs are to ward of evil of all sorts, and are all over Western Europe.

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