Magical Protection of Buildings

The Judge

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I doubt if anyone but me is in a position to attend, but I thought I'd mention it anyway. The Weald and Downland Living Museum near Chichester runs a lot of courses to do with traditional crafts and trades and the like, but a day course coming up next March has caught my eye -- the Magical Protection of Buildings. It's run by a chap called Timothy Easton, who has contributed to a book Physical Evidence for Ritual Acts, Sorcery and Witchcraft in Christian Britain: A feeling for Magic
He's also written an article for the W&D members magazine where he talks of "spiritual middens" which I'd not heard of before. They're forms of ritual concealment where the protecting objects aren't eg buried by the door or eg walled into a space (shoes and cats seem to be popular) but are instead dropped into cavities which have arisen because of homes being remodelled with new walls around chimneys and the like. Because these cavities remain open and accessible from places like attics, they potentially represent continuing attempts at magic protection spread over some time, perhaps even generations. Here's the beginning of a chapter he's written for the book on this Spiritual Middens

In the magazine article he cites as an example accumulated deposits behind a first floor C17th internal lath and plaster wall above the ceiling of a hall fireplace. One side contained 1 spurshield, 15 shoes, 3 clogs, almanacs, 2 kittens, a rat, a bird's wing and vertebrae, a pipe bowl, clothing, a goose wing and pig's trotters; the other side had 5 shoes and clothing fragments. The sceptic in me can't help wondering whether some of that comes from children throwing stuff in just on whim, but not all of it can be mischief. He talks of up to 200 individual items being found at some sites, and one house had 80 shoes -- to my untutored eye some of them look Georgian/Victorian, which raises the question whether that desperate need to protect against witches was still current in the C18th/C19th or if this ritual deposit has become something they did because their forebears had done it, without asking why. (If I go on the course, I might find out!)

I've no idea whether ritual concealment was widespread throughout Europe -- perhaps sknox can tell us! -- but I know something of the kind happened in the USA, as when I was googling terms I found this blog post Unearthing White Magic: Witch Bottles in the Archeological Record

Anyhow, for those of us writing fantasy set in kind-of medieval times, or perhaps even later, this idea of ritual concealment to give protection against witches -- real or otherwise -- might be something to use to give greater depth to the world and the inhabitants' fears.
 

Dave

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When they recently did some conservation work in the roof at Knoll House, Sevenoaks, they uncovered evidence of magical protection.

I haven't read this book: Knole revealed: archaeology and discovery at a great country house but I have heard Nathalie Cohen talk about the magical protection symbols that they found.
 

The Judge

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Is that where The Repair Shop is based TJ?
I'm pretty sure it is. I've never seen the programme myself, but my sister has mentioned it, and there's an old barn visitors can't now access. It was also featured in the TV programme Tudor Monastery Farm with Ruth Goodman. Great place. Next time you're holidaying down south, make sure you visit!

Now we just have sensors and cameras. Can't help but feel it's a step backward.
Still preferable to killing poor cats and other creatures by way of witch protection!
 

Montero

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Yeah I was wincing about the cats and kittens, though with an accessible void, the kittens might have climbed in by themselves and couldn't be retrieved without property damage. It's amazing where kittens get themselves stuck.
The goose wing just might be a duster btw. Not sure why someone would be dusting an attic, but they could have lost their grip and it fell down.
Regarding kids throwing things away - yes, it's a modern kid behaviour but most kids in the period would have been lucky to have a pair of shoes. Rich house and kids, maybe have surplus but it did tend to be handed on to poor relatives. So to me it's a maybe.
I've certainly read about shoes being retrieved from old thatched roofs.
 

-K2-

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If you want to magically protect a building, you gotta' have a chicken foot and sage... just saying ;)

K2
 

Finch

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I don't live far from the weald Museum and it's been on my list to visit for years. Must try next summer . I am interested in old building and have lived in and restored them all my life . It is not unusual to find stuff in attics , fireplaces , and under floors . Bottles , bits of animals, and the odd shoe . I don't now if they were left for some superstitious reasons. A hundred and fifty year old house would have had easily twenty different pople living there . So to find the odd shoe or dog bone means to me it was not common practise .
 

Teresa Edgerton

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I've seen a few shows on home improvement where they knock down part of a wall and are surprised to find a pair of very old shoes. They're always interested in the history of the shoes but never consider that they might have ritual significance.
 

Toby Frost

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I'm sure someone found an entirely mummified cat in the wall of a house recently in similar circumstances. Nigel Kneale of Quartermass fame also made a TV play on this subject in his series Beasts.
 
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