|The Norfolk and Suffolk Medieval Graffiti Survey|
|Daisy Wheels in Stratford, Nicholas Molyneau|
The scratchings are certainly intriguing although their association with deliberate attempts to ward off evil spirits is not a given: they could simply be marks made by masons to show how and where stones or timbers should be fitted or the product of apprentices learning the geometry needed for their craft. Perhaps, as with many superstitions, they started as one thing and became another. Whatever the truth of these marks, a belief has grown up around them that they exist as a protective measure, a belief it is not hard to understand in the context of communities living in genuine fear of witchcraft and in homes far darker than anything we can imagine in these days of instant light.
The urge to guard against danger or ill-luck is part of the fabric of our buildings and some superstitions of the past still linger. Few of us, for example, would raise an eyebrow at a horseshoe nailed above a door, even if we no longer believe iron has the power to repel witches. Niels Bohr, the Danish scientist who basically sorted out quantum physics for the rest of us, had one on his house and, when asked if he believed it brought luck allegedly replied: of course not but I have been reliably informed it will bring me luck whether I believe it or not. It's a line of thinking many are probably still happy to follow, although I imagine most would draw the line at a horseshoe rather than employing the full range of charms available to our ancestors.
|Witch Bottle, Portable Antiquities Scheme|
|Inverted name - Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey|
Many of us feel like we are currently living in dark days. Whatever the truth of these marks, and no matter how difficult it is to really 'read' their intentions, they offer a fascinating insight into a world where fear of external dangers was just as real and the need to guard against them perhaps no different to our gated communities and lives lived under the shadow of CCTV. If this has wetted your appetite, Matthew Champion's wonderful book Medieval Graffiti: The Lost Voices of England's Churches is a really good read.