Today there are plenty of superstitious people in the world, but over time humans have become more reliant on evidence and practice than on mystical beliefs. However, in the old days many folks truly believed that witches had supernatural powers and were in league with the source of all evil: the devil. Since anyone could be a witch in secret, the threat of evil was everywhere. Houses were a key location for apotropaic architecture to ward off evil. In some cultures evil was broadly defined as coming from spirits, the devil, envious neighbors, witches, or other sources. Here are some of the things that people used to build into houses to keep evil at bay.
Witch bottles were filled will metal pieces (often nails), urine, fingernail clippings, or other things were thought to protect from the evildoing of witches. At the time everything from poor circulation to bad crops was blamed on witches, so these glass bottles were a potential panacea for literally anything that ailed you. These glass or ceramic bottles were often hidden above or below thresholds (in the walls or under the floorboards) and hearths as these spots were seen as inherently magical locations of houses.
There are old folk beliefs that witches cannot fly on their brooms though sideways windows, though who has ever seen a witch on a broom to start with? In New England the tradition was common during colonial times and had a convenient other purpose: these askew windows were easier to install than true dormer windows for the second story and they let light into awkward spaces in the eaves. They are also sometimes called “coffin windows” since it was said that moving a corpse in a coffin was easier through these windows than by taking the stairs.
Shoes in the Ceilings
Sometimes when a house was being built or renovated the owners or builders would place shoes in the walls or ceilings to muddy the activity of witches. It was believed that a witch would sense the person who had once worn the shoes in the “dummy” (empty) shoes and focus their ill intent on the shoes instead of the actual person. It was important that only old shoes worn my family members were used for this purpose as new shoes wouldn’t have any traces of energy of the people in them.
In Europe it is not uncommon to find markings scrawled into the heavy wooden beams of ceilings and fireplaces in old buildings. These were done to protect all who lived there. They are also known as Marian marks because they often invoke the Virgin Mary to protect the occupants. Most common are the marks of “V V” with the Vs crossed over each for “Virgo Virginum” or “Virgin of Virgins”. However, other designs (like the daisy wheel) or words could be used instead as there are many such traditions of anti-witch markings in old homes.
SKM: below-content placeholder