Apotropaic symbols archaeology

This chapter is based principally on research carried out in the East Anglian county of Suffolk since the early s, but many of the symbols noted here have been seen or reported elsewhere in Britain and abroad.

Although most of these symbols are found on domestic buildings such as houses, stables and barns, it is as said above to churches that we should look to identify the origins of some of them. A comparison between the marks found in the two types of buildings should help to explain the different uses or hopes for which the various symbols were intended. All places referred to are in Suffolk unless otherwise stated.

Some examples of symbols are not illustrated here, but there may be a reference to a published article in which they can be seen. Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF. Skip to main content.

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Binding, L. John H. Nicholas Brooke ed. CrossRef Google Scholar. Aubrey Esq. London, Personalised recommendations. Cite chapter How to cite? ENW EndNote. Buy options.Search this site. Navigation Home. The History of Weston. All Saints Church, Weston - Guidebook. The Green Man. Apotropaic Identification. Apotropaic Ethiopia. Knights Templar Chapel, Onneley. The Devil Stones of Acton. The Devils of Audley, Barthomley and Betley. Donations to Englesea Brook Museum. Useful Links. Places To Visit.

Charles E. A Grotesque and a Gargoyle exhibiting its Genitalia; on Barthomley. Stokesay Castle Gatehouse, Shropshire left and top. Carved Winged Dragon on a supporting Bracket inside.

The lion was known as the king of the animals and was well respected as a great hunter, proud and full of aggression, never mind the lion being the only big cat which lives together in a pride, so reminiscent of the family. The shield below is also indicative of defence against any malevolent attack. Hollyhedge Farm, Weston, Cheshire. At Nantwich, again on 46 High Street Nantwich Bookshopis a corner bracket, high up above the street, with what may only be described as a Venus like figure of a pregnant woman, appearing from a vulva like shape.Ancient cultures regularly called upon the powers of magical, or apotropaic, symbols and rituals to guard them and their loved ones from evil.

While some of these images seem to have faded into obscurity, one can still find them in their various forms — especially in the United Kingdom — often hidden in plain sight.

Traditionally found engraved or etched onto, or burned into areas of entry, — especially windows, fireplaces, and doors — apotropaic symbols are seemingly commonplace on ancient buildings with inhabitants who were fearful of evil spirits. Those interested can find them on houses, barns, churches, and cellar doors. In Februarythe largest discovery of British apotropaic marks was made during one of many tours in Creswell Crags, a limestone gorge replete with cliffs and caverns. Here, one can get a feel for the way caves were used during the Upper Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, and Roman ages.

More than 50, visitors a year tour Creswell Crags, now considered a world-renowned heritage site.

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The etchings were an apparent attempt to keep devils, witches and other evil occupants from spilling out. Less frequently, they have also found in diagonal lines, boxes, and mazes — and as hundreds of other variations on these themes. Its single, continuous line was believed to be followed by evil spirits, and was used to confuse and trap them.

Daisy wheels inscribed at Bradford-on-Avon via historicengland. While the pentacle symbol is presently associated with paganism, it was regarded as the opposite in the Middle Ages— a mark imbued with the power to ward off witches. The five points on these stars were believed to represent the five wounds of Christ, and pentacles were most often worn as protective charms rather than etched into buildings.

In addition to designs, various letters are still believed to have significant power, depending on their associations. In an era before scientific materialism, inhabitants of medieval villages attributed sickness, crop failures, and an array of misfortunes to the mischief of evil spirits — witches, demons, the devil, and so forth.

apotropaic symbols archaeology

They really fire the imagination and can teach us about previously held beliefs and common rituals. They were such a common part of everyday life that they were unremarkable and because they are easy to overlook, the recorded evidence we hold about where they appear and what form they take is thin.

What are now considered eerie and curious representations of a bygone era of a superstitious people, apotropaic symbols continue to resonate with people who profess a profound connection with the unseen world.

Apotropaic symbols may have grown out of popular favor, but their use is far from extinguished. While it may be difficult to assess the exact number of witches and pagans in the modern era, researchers from Trinity College conducted three surveys from to and found that, while there were an estimated 8, Wiccans inthat number grew toin Many of these individuals still use apotropaic symbols in their rituals and sacred texts.

Want to learn more about ancient signs and symbolism?Have you ever found an old glove, a shoe or perhaps some broken pottery or rubbish under a floorboard? Or what about small burn marks on rafters and beams, or even the occasional dried up old rat, bird or cat in a wall?

Such finds are common enough in older houses and at face value, they look like they must represent ordinary enough events — perhaps rubbish brushed out of sight by workmen and animals that have curled up in a quiet spot to die.

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But according to Fife Council archaeologist Douglas Speirs, these remains very often represent something much more sinister — something which, as Halloween approaches, may well capture the spirit of the season. In fact, the problem was so bad that even King James VI felt moved to warn his subjects of the problem, penning his very own guide on the subject in Daemonologie, as the work was known, is an evidence-based argument for the existence of evil and the widespread presence of witches.

apotropaic symbols archaeology

The Scottish Witchcraft Act of had of course made the use of witchcraft, sorcery and necromancy a capital offence. Known as apotropaic marks — from the Greek apotropaios, to ward off [evil] — Mr Speirs explained that the most common type of apotropaic symbol found in older houses in Fife are taper burns.

These are caches of personal objects hidden in voids, usually in walls or fireplaces but sometimes under floorboards and in attic spaces — gloves, broken pottery, clothes, glass, clay pipes, bones area commonly found in such caches. Mr Speirs said a 17th century house in Shore Street, Anstruther, for example, has yielded middens, symbols and taper burns. The earliest symbols and taper burns are 17th century in date but a spiritual midden found behind a lathe-and-plaster wall included pottery, a cloth doll, pages from a Bible, a George II half-penny, some ears of corn, dried peas and animal bones.

Although he specialises in Fife, apotropaic markings and offerings would have been made Scotland-wide. Mr Speirs, 48, who has been the Fife County archaeologist for 18 years, also now advises Dundee too. He started off in commercial archaeology, worked a lot in England and abroad before becoming the Assistant Keeper Research Archaeology at Aberdeen in His specialist area is medieval archaeology — particularly the archaeology of medieval towns.

But he is involved more generally in every aspect of the archaeology and medieval history of Fife. One of the most poignant, he said, is the case of Lilias Adie — a poor woman accused of witchcraft who died in custody in Torryburn, West Fife, in After she confessed to being a witch and having sex with the devil, she died in prison before she could be tried, sentenced and burned.

So the God-fearing locals buried her deep in the sticky, sopping wet mud of the foreshore — between the high tide and low tide mark — and they put a heavy flat stone over her.

Apotropaic Talisman Against the “Evil Eye”

To prevent Satan from re-animating her dead corpse. Sign up for our daily newsletter of the top stories in Courier country. Thank you for signing up to The Courier daily newsletter. Something went wrong - please try again later. Sign Up. Next Post.The fear of the supernatural and evil spells was at its height in England during the 17th century, but many of these symbols are much earlier and can be found in buildings dating from the midth century through to the early 18th century.

James VI of Scotland the future James I of England and Ireland encountered a dangerous storm at sea in which threatened to sink his ship. In the witch-hunt that followed over people were accused of being involved in supernatural plots against the king, including the Earl of Bothwell, who was sent into exile, and his friend Mary Napier, who James had ordered to be burnt at the stake but was fortunately acquitted by the court. The fearful abounding at this time in this country, of these detestable slaves Of the Devil, the witches and enchanters, hath moved me beloved reader To dispatch in post, this following treatise of mine.

One explanation for this design is that the evil spirit would get caught within its concentric rings and not be able to escape. Further marks have also been discovered amongst large amounts of historic graffiti in the north-east stair turret. One distinctive design here stands out, it has been carved into the top of the stone doorway and has a very distinctive design consisting of three arcs forming what may be interpreted as a Celtic knot.

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While today these apotropaic marks are no longer in common use, they are still of great interest and give a very real insight into historic conceptions of the supernatural.

In the life of the church especially, there has been an immense shift in thinking and such beliefs are no longer the norm. Today, while Christians acknowledge the presence of the supernatural, we believe that we are protected from evil by obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ and by prayerful good deeds.

It is clear that Bath Abbey has a wealth of marks waiting to be discovered.

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Related News. The star find for the Norman phase of the building has to be an unusual head which has been carved out of Bath stone.

Genitalia, as Apotropaic

Below the platform which housed the stalls at Bath Abbey a few interesting artefacts have been discovered. Related Case Study. Wessex Archaeology is working below Bath Abbey recording the foundations and the earlier archaeology including Saxon burials and Romano-British remains.Plaster figurines have been interpreted in countless ways, as anything from apotropaic spirits to toys.

Clay, stone and plaster figurines have been found across the ancient world, but their significance repeatedly mystifies archaeologists.

What are these ancient symbols? Plaster figurines, such as this example from the Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa picturedcan crumble over time, and are comparatively rare in the archaeological record. Typological comparisons suggest that the statuette is Roman or Byzantine, and scholars have called some contemporary plaster figurines apotropaic. Apotropaic meaning protective from evil spirits is a very common designation for these ancient symbols.

Interpretations of these ancient symbols run the gamut, from games to gods. There are many questions archaeologists can ask to evaluate the function of these ancient symbols. How and where were they made? Who worked with paints and plasters in the local communities where they were made?

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Are other ancient symbols or apotropaic objects created out of these materials? Are similar plaster figurines found in churches, shrines, graves, homes or workshops? Did neighboring cultures use such objects and, if so, how? This particular figurine is painted in red and black and depicts a woman wearing a floor-length tunic with a red neckband.

The roundels on her shoulders are repeated near the bottom of her skirt. On the bottom edge of the tunic is a band with triangles, colored red like the neckband. The woman has large eyes with eyebrows and wears a red cap. Between her breasts she holds a large egg-shaped object.

But who is she, and what is she holding? Without a clear context, chronology or established typology, it is impossible to say for certain. Bible History Daily readers are encouraged to offer their interpretations in our comments section below.

What did they do with them?The term apotropaic genitals refers to instances in which exhibitions or representations of female or male genitals are deployed to fend off evil. The adjective apotropaic comes from the Greek apotropemeaning "to turn away. Apotropaic symbols other than genitals include objects such as horseshoes for good luck ; protective amulets in Japan; the " evil eye " in Greece, Turkey, and Arab countries; mirrors to deflect evil; crucifixes; garlic; and silver bullets. Many cultures around the world have used genitals, representations of genitals, or symbols of genitals in ritual practices to fend off evil or inclement weather, in architecture to keep evil away, and in wars as a defensive strategy.

Linked in many cultures to childbirth and creation, female genitalia are potently apotropaic, though they may have dangerous effects as well. In ancient Greece a woman exposing her genitals was believed to drive away devils, evil spirits, and ill-willed deities; scare attacking troops; keep dangerous animals at bay; and calm the elements, including whirlwinds and lightning. Both Pliny and Plutarch described instances of soldierly flight in the face of exposed female genitals, and Plutarch wrote accounts of women calming storms and defeating massed enemies.

The folklore of Catalonia includes references to the ways in which female genitals can calm the sea. Fishermen's wives made a practice of exposing themselves to the waves before each fishing trip. Italians and people from India also believed in such apotropaic powers, and Russian folklore includes stories about how women exposing their genitals scared away bears.

In Russia as well as the rest of Europe towns were protected from evil by a ritual in which women plowed a symbolic furrow around the town. Female genital shapes also adorn or align with the structure of buildings as a way of warding off evil. In the Micronesian island nation of Palau the gables of village meeting houses display wooden sculptures of nude women exposing their genitals.

The construction of those figures is accomplished by specialists who are assigned the ritual task of producing the figures in accordance with rules that guarantee the efficacy of their protective powers. The archlike shape of female genitals made them a symbol of welcome and fecundity while they simultaneously performed their apotropaic function. In Ireland, England, and Switzerland church builders placed stone statues of squatting women in the keystone spot of the arch for the door or an important window of the church.

Possibly left over from previous practices of goddess worship, those statues often depicted the women with their legs apart, holding their vulvas open with their hands.

Apotropaic Symbols and Other Measures for Protecting Buildings against Misfortune

In Ireland the practice of using figures called Sheelagh-na-gig was widespread. As in the gable figures of Palau, their function was to ward off evil. Instances of apotropaic female genitals also make an appearance in literature.

apotropaic symbols archaeology

A fable of La Fontaine recounts how a young woman defeats the Devil and saves her town by lifting her skirt. Symbols and figures of male genitals also serve apotropiac functions, warding off evil and fending off aggression.

In ancient Greece phalli were carved above doorways to protect homes, and phallic sculptures appeared throughout Greece.

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The island of Delos, reputed to be the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, was famous for its statutes of phalli. Throughout the Mediterranean region both Greeks and Romans used phallic figures to protect valuable resources such as grain cisterns. The apotropaic qualities of the phallus derive from the ways in which it represents the idea of strength and manliness evoked to protect communities and their assets.

Ancient Japan looked to a group of gods called the Sahe no Kamior preventive gods, to protect believers against beings from the underworld. The preventive gods were presented as giant phalli that were erected along highways, at the ends of bridges, and at crossroads to impede the passage of evil beings.

The phalli became the protectors of travelers who would pray to them for safe passage and offer them rice and hemp. Recently the phalli were taken down to avoid offending Western travelers who associated them with obscenity. Though they are not consciously regarded as apotropaic, the city of Amsterdam is bedecked with thousands of roadside phalli that mark roads and protect pedestrians. Perhaps the most frequently used contemporary apotropaic phallic symbol is the gesture popularly referred to as "the finger.

A more complicated version of the finger, the sign of the "horns," is produced by extending the index finger and little finger. This is also an apotropaic figuration of the phallus, though in a less directly evident manner. The sign of the horn refers simultaneously to the prowess of a bull fecund masculinity and to the horns that signify that a man has been cuckolded his wife has had sexual relations with another man.

The display of the fingers as horns wards off cuckolding while celebrating masculine empowerment.

apotropaic symbols archaeology

More recently it came to signify the rock-on rebel spirit of bikers, rock fans, and extreme sports enthusiasts. Phallic versions of the horn also adorn the necks of young men who wear them to proclaim their virility and ward off evil.


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