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Brits Search for Ancient Witches' Marks in Buildings in Time for Halloween

Nov 03, 2016 08:35 AM EDT

Just in time for Halloween, local authorities in England have asked the public's help in searching for signs of ancient witches. They are looking for carvings called apotropaic marks, or more commonly known as witches' marks. Are witches real?

These markings are no ordinary graffiti. They are well-known medieval designs from the 1500s to 1700s which are believed to protect common people from witches. Carving these ritualistic marks on homes, barns, and churches was thought to ward off evil spirits or any unpleasant wizardry thought to harm holy places. These markings existed at a time when there is an unclear distinction between philosophy and alchemy and when science was thought to be pure magic.

Though it is now socially accepted that magic does not exist, there is value for this widespread search for apotropaic markings. Not only are they signs for anti-witch protection, they are also indications of a structure's age and significance. Any house, cave, or even portion of wood with these markings could be more than 500 years old. On top of that, this could open up discussions and discoveries on subject matter thought to be too silly or taboo to touch. It could widen our understanding of how our ancestors perceived their world and their surroundings, leading to searches on how these views have molded the culture of today.

Though an ancient traditional ritual, these markings were never vigorously documented. David Soparure, head of building recording at the Museum of London Archaeology, said on Fox News that these markings used to be "dismissed as meaningless graffiti."

Before they are all gone, England's Ministry of Culture should declare all these markings as historical heritage to be preserved for generations to come. With the public's help, discoveries of these markings are expected to occur over the next few years. How these markings are used, what they mean, and many others are only among the few questions this search can uncover.  

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