RITUAL PROTECTION MARKS
APOTROPAIC, MARIAN, & WITCH MARKS
This is a huge topic, an area of study connected with scratch dials by location (church walls) and time (medieval period), but a largely separate field of interest. In addition there are masons’ marks, yet another sub-heading in the list of incised shapes and letters found on church stonework. It would be hard to for an amateur to specialise in all such marks.
UPDATE 2022: Having now come across many of these marks, I have split Church Marks into categories. Apotropaic, Marian, & Witch Marks on this page with a new sub-page for Hexafoils / Daisy Wheels HERE; Graffiti (inc. initials, dates etc) and Masons’ Marks HERE There is already a page for STONE PATTERNS.
These medieval marks cut into stone both inside and out are interpreted in a number ways. There is considerable debate about their specific meanings, symbolism, and purpose. I’m taking an easy route at this stage by generalising many as ‘Witch Marks’. I know that may strictly be incorrect, but it works for me while I investigate further. There’s only so much intellectual kudos to be gained from dropping ‘Apotropaic’ into everyday conversation. Or room to write it.
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. Evil was thought to be held at bay through a wide variety of apotropaic objects. Marks on buildings were one application of this type of belief*
FIDDLEFORD MANOR . DORSET
A rich hoard of medieval graffiti (hexfoils, marian marks, initials etc). Full post HERE
TAPER MARKS AND HEXFOILS . WEST HORSLEY COURT . SURREY
Taper marks would seldom (if ever) be seen in a church, but merit a mention in the context of witch marks. They are mainly found in medieval houses and are made by scarring wood with flame. There may be several in one location. They are found often at the entrance to a room with a fireplace, as a protection from fire as well as evil. The marks below, in a manor house, show two examples.
The first is an emphatic protection mark. The second is quite small and its protective properties are enhanced by two faint interlocked hexfoils – hard to see in a photograph because the room was dimly lit.
MARIAN & OTHER MARKS . CHURCH OF THE ASSUMPTION . HOLNEST . DORSET
There is broad agreement that the various marks, from the crude to the complex, have the purpose of protecting a church from evil. Marks may proclaim a church’s sanctity with passive protection – ‘thou shall not pass’ (eg the Marian marks of the ‘Virgin of Virgins’ above). Alternatively they are designed actively to frighten away and repulse the force of evil – ‘get thee gone’. Or these passive and active properties may be combined by means of multiple marks or even in one device. Triangular shapes are believed to represent the Trinity. Add a small swivel-eyed grimacing goblin, and Evil will be repulsed or vanquished.
APOTROPAIC MARK . HEAD WITHIN TRIANGULAR FORM . ST MARY . RIMPTON . SOM.
Church marks other than dials are strictly outside my original self-imposed dial remit. However, inevitably I photograph some of the more striking ones. Some, like these, will end up on this page.
SMALL FACE BY THE ENTRANCE DOOR . ST MARY MAGDALENE . BATCOMBE . DORSET
SNAKE . ST OSMOND . MELBURY OSMOND . DORSET
WITCH MARK . ST MARY . RIMPTON . SOM.
MARIAN MARKS . ST PETER . STOURTON CAUNDLE . DORSET
APOTROPAIC RECTANGLE . ST MARTIN . CHESELBOURNE . DORSET
HEXAFOIL WITCH MARKS . ST MICHAEL . BLACKFORD . SOM
HEXAFOILS (aka Hexfoils) and similar compass-drawn designs are common apotropaic markings which are perceived influential in the repelling or trapping of malevolent forces in a closed, infinite loop CCT. These protection marks are mostly found inside porches and inside a church. They are also found in medieval buildings such a Manor Houses (eg Fiddleford, Dorset), but also in humbler dwellings.
GEOMETRIC PROTECTION MARKS . ST PETER . STOURTON CAUNDLE . DORSET
APOTROPAIC CARVING . MONTACUTE . SOMERSET
A little carving high up on the nave – not a mark, but presumably a protection feature (see Rimpton above)
St Catherine . Montacute . Somerset – apotropaic carving
OLD ST PETER . STOCKBRIDGE . HANTS
ST CUTHBERT . CLUNGUNFORD . SHROPSHIRE
ST PETER . CHETNOLE . DORSET
ST MARY & ST JAMES . HAZELBURY BRYAN . DORSET
* An example of a brief informative Wiki entry