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Monday, February 22, 2010

How to Protect against Witches

Above the back door of my house I have a horseshoe fixed to the wall. I knew that this was a good luck symbol but until very recently I had no idea that it was also a throwback to our ancestors' desire to protect their property against witches, ghosts, fairies and demons. Apertures such as windows and doors symbolised ways of entry and therefore the place where a house was vulnerable to bad spirits, so offerings would often be placed near doorways or under the front step.

Other impressive charms to ward off witches include the basket found behind the hearth of a house that contained a candlestick, a goblet, two shoes and various very dead chickens. Witches were also believed to attack a house via the hearth and chimney so witch bottles were often found in these places. We found a witch bottle in our 17th century cottage in Somerset. It was buried inside the inglenook fireplace and contained a dark sludgy liquid that was probably a mixture of urine and blood. Apparently witch bottles could also contain hair, nails and any other body part or fluid that you felt might help bring you individual protection against evil spirits!

Another superstition I came across when reading up about ways in which to ward off bad spirits was the idea of the "Witch wood." This was wood cut from the rowan tree and it could be nailed on the window sill or above the front door. It's interesting to me that we have a rowan by one gate into our garden and rosemary by the other gate. Rosemary, like the horseshoes, is a way of attracting positive forces and welcoming friends. So it seems we have a very nice combination of protection and positive energy. What is particularly interesting is that whilst the offence of Witchcraft was abolished in England in 1736, these old country traditions and susperstitions have survived. (Amendment: Thanks to Traxy's comment I have now checked my sources and see that The Witchcraft Act was brought in in 1736, not repealed, which makes a great deal more sense!)


Traxy said...

Very interesting post. The protections stop this witch from coming along and reading it, though! ;)

From what I've gathered, there was still some sort of witchcraft act still in force during World War II as a spiritualist medium got prosecuted under some form of witchcraft act. Something along those lines.

Nicola Cornick said...

Thanks, Traxy! I had no idea the protections were so powerful, LOL!
The protections in our Somerset house certainly did not appear to trouble the resident ghost.

Interesting about the Helen Duncan case. I'd forgotten all about that. Now I come to check it, it seems that the Witchcraft Act was brought in in 1735, not abolished, which makes more sense. (Tut, and I thought my sources for the abolition date were impeccable!) It was repealed in 1951. No wonder superstition is so entrenched when it was law until less than 100 years ago!

Kate Hardy said...

Very interesting, Nicola. There are also tales of mummified cats as protection against bad luck (e.g. the Mill Hotel in Sudbury). And of course there was Cunning Murrell (aka the Last Witch Doctor in England) who made witch bottles to cure people... and this was in the mid 1800s. (OK, OK, I've been researching. Will do a blog post next week after I've visited Hadleigh, weather permitting.)

Nicola Cornick said...

I'll look forward to your post, Kate. I'd forgotten about mummified animals. Imagine finding that when you were doing your redecorating!

Keira Soleore said...

Nicola, this was such a fun post to read. I had no idea that this warding off business was so complicated. Then again, what if you have a friend who's a witch and whom you don't wish to ward off. Do you take all things down and hide in a basket when she visits?

Nicola Cornick said...

That's a very fair point, Keira. You can imagine her getting to the door and being unable come in. Tricky. And what if you are a witch yourself? The article suggested that there were special protections against "bad" spirits as opposed to good ones. All very complicated!

Traxy said...

Haha, I left out a "didn't" in that sentence! It was supposed to be "The protections didn't stop" of course, or else, I wouldn't have been able to read it. :)

Helen Duncan is a fascinating case, and the whole thing was just ridiculous. "She knows military secrets but she has no way of knowing them... she must be a witch!" Sometimes, there are things we just don't know.