September 18, 2016

Defending Your House Against Evil Magic

Do you ever feel like your house is being attacked by evil witches? Do you sometimes think that malevolent demonic forces are targeting your homestead?

I would suggest that healthy skepticism is usually the best defense against these feelings, but the Puritans of New England thought otherwise. They felt the world was a battleground between good and evil, and the Devil and his minions (human and otherwise) were out to cause trouble for the good people of New England.

To keep evil forces out of the home, the Puritans used some very simple forms of defensive magic. Local ministers thought that all magic was evil, but the average New Englander knew that sometimes you needed to fight fire with fire. If your house was under magical attack, you needed some magical defenses. These magical practices lingered well into the 18th and 19th centuries, well after the Puritans had faded away.

These practices tend to focus on doors, windows, and chimneys. These openings were obviously necessary for a functioning home, but they could also allow access to unwanted spirits or witches. I've written a few times before about horseshoes, which were one of the main ways to guard the house against attack, but there were others as well.

For example, a coin put under the door sill would prevent a witch from entering the house. This was pretty simple to do, providing you had money to spare. I suppose the symbolism here is two-fold. Coins obviously represent abundance and financial security, which are things a witch would hate. They are also made of metal, which tends to repel supernatural entities (think of silver bullets and werewolves, or iron and fairies). This type of magic is still widely practiced today. As this discussion on indicates, many people put pennies on their window sills. The practice is now said to be done for "good luck," but has it's origin as protection from witches or demons.

Fireplaces were central to the colonial home. Cooking was done there, and families gathered around fireplaces in the winter for warmth. While chimneys let smoke out, they unfortunately also could let evil beings into the home. People would often enclose shoes in the walls near the chimney to protect it. There is a lot of speculation about why this was done, but the predominant theory seems to be that somehow the witch or evil spirit would get trapped in the shoe and would be unable to escape.

If you were feeling crafty, you might want to carve a daisy wheel above a doorway, window or fireplace. The daisy wheel looks like this:

From a church in England.
Daisy wheels were easily made by carpenters using a compass, and have been found in many old homes in New England. For example, the 1699 Winslow House in Marshfield, Massachusetts has several carved above the fireplace, while the home of Salem historian Emerson Baker has one carved above the front door. They are also known as witch marks, hexafoils, or apotropaic marks, if daisy wheel sounds too silly for you. People aren't quite sure why daisy wheels were supposed to avert evil, but some historians have speculated it is because they represent the sun.

So again, if you really, really think your house is under attack by evil forces you might want to try some of this magic. I do think skepticism is the best defense, but as the days grow shorter and colder sometimes that skepticism is hard to muster.

I found some of this information in Emerson Baker's book A Storm of Witchcraft, and in a few places on the web.

I hope those readers who practice Wicca or other forms of modern witchcraft realize that when I refer to "evil witches" I am referring to how witches were viewed by the Puritans and other early inhabitants of New England. I know that Wiccans and modern witches are not evil!


Sue Bursztynski said...

I quite like Terry Pratchett's suggestion in one of his Discworld novels that horseshoes would have been used because they were about the only iron a poor family could afford. Makes sense to me. Iron keeps out fairies, after all. But also, you have to nail them with the ends upwards to keep the magic from falling out. So there must be more to it than the iron.

Wade Tarzia said...

During my folklore collection in Ireland, I ran across the belief that "some women are evil" and will try to steal your butter (magically, with something like the 'evil eye'; this was heard from an old women in Co. Cavan in 1988). As protection, you could drive an iron nail into your door jamb. In general, churning butter used to be an iffy sort of operation -- sometimes the butter would not come, and so supernatural beliefs tended to gather around the process, with a dash of neighborhood gossip and suspicions.

Peter Muise said...

Hi Sue! There's been a lot written about horseshoes as protective magic. Is is the shape? Is it the metal? Is it there association with horses, which are powerful (and expensive) animals? It probably is true that poor people could find horseshoes lying around the roadside.

Peter Muise said...

Hi Wade! You see a lot of concerns over butter churning in New England folklore too, but the answer was usually to throw a little of the cream into the fire to "get the witch out." I've read about iron nails being driven into cows' horns and also being stuck into a witch's footprint. The same techniques get mixed and matched, I guess.

I am amazed that people were still churning butter (or at least remembering that they churned butter) in 1988!