It’s almost Halloween – time come dip right into the past and also explore the means we once safeguarded hearth and home native demons. Our expert, excavator James Wright, leader the way


‘THE DEVIL… will COME and also PIERCE v WHATSOEVER home OR CHURCH, despite ALL simple PASSAGES be CLOSED, through WHATSOEVER opening THE air MAY go into IN AT’

King James by means of of Scotland, Daemonologie, 1597

An photo from The Wonderful explorations of the Witchcrafts the Margaret and Phillip Flower,printed in London, 1618


In a curious i from his 1597 witch-hunting manual, James by means of of Scotland (later James i of England) to express the widespread fear in early contemporary Europe the the Devil could take possession the a building.

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The truth of superordinary evil was practically universally acknowledged throughout the 16th and also 17th centuries. Demons, angry spirits and also witches to be genuinely thought to it is in stalking the land, will on wickedness.

This rough time experienced social, political, economic and spiritual upheaval. So challenging were the troubles that people began to look in the direction of external, supernatural determinants as being responsible for your troubles. Witch trials came to be distressingly common, v the alleged malefactors accused of making use of black magic in a range of perceived crimes. Statistics from the legislation courts show that the majority of those accused were marginalised women, life on the sheet of society.

An extension of these fears to be that people from all sectors of society sought come ward away the risk of angry from your property. With careful historical survey, researchers have actually been able to discover traces the this ritual protection in historic buildings.


Medieval graffito of a pentangle from St James the great Church,Aslackby, Lincolnshire

2. SIGNS and also SYMBOLS

One the the means in i beg your pardon owners, occupants and also visitors to buildings sought come ward off evil was by carving protective symbols, as graffiti, right into the structure’s fabric. In law so, they periodically turned to old folk beliefs and also pseudo-theology because that inspiration.

The concept that the five-pointed star, or pentangle, had actually protective strength stretched ago into the middle ages period. In Christian numerology the number 5 represented the five wounds of Christ. The 14th-century poemSir Gawain and the green Knightcontains a passage in which the eponymous hero donsgear that depicts pentangles, in stimulate to sell spiritual protection versus the supernatural environment-friendly Knight.

The endless-line architecture of the pentangle may have been linked to a folk id that demons to be not specifically bright creatures. That was thought that a demon would always follow a line to discover out whereby it went; by creating a line through no end an angry spirit might be trapped, turn on the wall surfaces for all time.

It"s not just pentangles the are discovered scratched onto the wall surfaces – chequerboards, mesh patterns, peltas (a kind of knotwork design) and circles were also co-opted in the fight against evil.


Ritual security marks nearby to a window at St Mary’s, Warwick, Warwickshire


James VI gave us a pointer as to where we might start to look because that physical ideas relating to ritual defense marks in historic buildings. He listed that evil spirits gone into structures "by whatsoever opened the waiting may enter in at". In ~ a time when the majority of structures were timber-framed, draughts to be common and it was believed that the spirits travelled into buildings on this free-flowing air. Doors, windows and fireplaces were considered specifically vulnerable portals.

Surveys that historic buildings have turned up countless examples that ritual security marks. They appear in basically every type of structure, including churches, castles, cottages, mills and barns. When statistically mapping this marks, it is normal to discover them in clusters close come the portals, describe that actual concern around the vulnerability of these liminal spaces. Equally, dark, dangerous or rarely supplied places, such together attics and also staircases, also yield proof for the markings.

In churches, ritual protection marks deserve to sometimes be positively dated to the middle ages period. Pre-existing medieval engravings were often covered by limewashduring the Reformation, which retained them preserved undamaged beneath. The context of the middle ages graffiti is therefore sealed by the post-medieval limewash, permitting us to have the ability to date it. In a comparable way, later structure work have the right to block in larger graffiti. If we recognize the day of the two various phases, as soon as the older graffiti is revealed throughout conservation or remodelling work, us can gain an idea of the time that it was originally developed through the historical relationship the the 2 phases.


Burn note on a lumber at Gainsborough Old Hall, Lincolnshire

4. Burn ISSUES

Alongside the enrolled marks, mysterious-looking tear-shaped burn marks have the right to sometimes be uncovered on exposed timbers. At once it was believed these to be the an outcome of carelessly unattended candle or tapers. Yet experimental archaeology has proven that just a an extremely meticulous procedure can lead to the production of together marks. This involved holding the taper, an extremely still, at a 45-degree angle for as much as 20 minutes – suggestive the deliberate human being behaviour.

Burn marks room often uncovered in combination with various other ritual defense marks. Lock may also be linked to protection against lightning and conflagration, or might be regarded prayer, purification and also healing. Among the difficulties of interpreting such marks is the there are couple of contemporary written sources explaining their functions.

Consequently, we have used exclusively historical techniques come record, map and also understand how and why they became made. This is done by glowing the raking irradiate of a torch end the walls, photographing the findings and then closely recording the results.


Marks incised through a carpenter’s rase knife during the beforehand 17th century at Knole, Kent


During the 18th and 19th centuries, the secularised processes of scientific enlightenment and the Industrial change led to a decrease in ritual protection marks. Their functions were slowly forgotten, yet it has actually become obvious to archaeologists that very few medieval or early contemporary buildings are lacking in together features. Together they have actually been rediscovered, curators of historic buildings have brought them to the fist of tourists – and also they space proving to be very popular.

One such exploration is the scratched and burned ritual protection marks on a beam beneath the floor that the king’s Tower at Knole in Kent. The marks to be made making use of a carpenter’s rase knife throughout the period of construction. Study has shown that the timber had actually been felled in the winter the 1605 and laid in the building the adhering to year. Intriguingly, the structure was gift remodelled as imperial accommodation because that James ns – the witch-hunting king – in ~ a time once his life had actually been endangered from the gunpowder Plot. The latter was widely blamed top top Catholics in league with the devil – possibly the carpenters in ~ Knole wished to ensure the king future ritual protection from evil?


There are some excellent websites ~ above this subject, includingMedieval Graffiti,Raking LightandEnglish middle ages Graffiti. There is also an article and also lecture top top the ritual security marks in ~ Knole freely easily accessible viaGresham College.

Good readsMedieval Graffiti:The lost Voices of brothers Churchesby Matthew ChampionMagical home Protection: The Archaeology the Counter-Witchcraftby Brian HoggardPhysical proof for ritual Acts, Sorcery and also Witchcraft in Christian Britain: A emotion for Magicedited by Ronald Hutton

Where to visitRitual defense marks are visible in a big number of historical properties open up to the public. Among those space Berry Pomeroy lock (Devon), St Albans Cathedral (Hertfordshire), Gainsborough Old hall (Lincolnshire), small Moreton hall (Cheshire) and York Minster (North Yorkshire). Be certain to take it a torch v you – historical graffiti have the right to be daunting to check out without casting the shadows produced by a raking light.


James bright is a buildings archaeologist who operation theTriskele Heritageconsultancy. He has two years of professional experience that ferreting around in people’s cellars, searching through your attics and also digging up your gardens. He hopes to find systematic truths about how ordinary and also extraordinary folk lived their stays in the medieval and early contemporary periods.

James has previously published books looking in ~ the archaeology of medieval castles and great houses, and also numerous posts on historical graffiti. The is currently working ~ above a new book, investigating, interrogating and explaining common myths relating to middle ages buildings.

Among his lectures for The Arts society areHow to Deflect your Demons – the ritual protection of hearth and also homeandHistoric Graffiti – the hopes, fears and desires the a nation.

James led the historic building survey in ~ Knole for many years and was an integral member of the team that won the 2018 Best historical Project in ~ the British archaeological Awards.


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