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Apotropaic Identification

On this page appears information upon Spiritual Protective Symbol Identifications I have made from queries from the general public, which is in addition to my main article @ Protective Devices, Apotropaic Symbols and Witch Marks.

Please also see Apotropaic Ethiopia.

A Marian Symbol, a Cross, and a Catholic Prayer for Protection: 
Eltham Palace, London, UK

Peter Shaw, a Volunteer Historical Explainer at Eltham Palace situated in south east London, contacted me regarding the identification of some carvings he had found on the building, as he thought they may be protective marks. The below photographs have been reproduced with his permission.

One was located on the right hand side of the North Door of the Great Hall; the others were located inside the Great Hall.

The Great Hall of Eltham Palace dates back to the 1470s and was built by Edward IV.

Apotropaic Mark 1 by the North Door of the Great Hall at Eltham Palace 

Close Up View of Apotropaic Mark 1 by the North Door of the Great Hall 
at Eltham Palace 

At first glance figure 1 is in the shape of a double 'V', but with a line linking their tops, or two rotated double 'D' symbols. They look about the right size for a medieval mason's mark however it is unusual in that, it uses curved lines in its form. It looks rather like a shield within a shield.

At Norton Priory in Cheshire, we also have a variation upon the 'VV' 'Virgo Virginum (Virgin of Virgins)', or Marian Symbol, invoking the protection of the Virgin Mary, because as you will see in the photograph below, it is linked at the top between the two 'V's, with a line, whereas the symbol at Eltham is linked between both the 'V's top terminals. Usually they are formed from just two 'V's which criss cross each other.

At Norton Priory they appear upon stones which form a window’s arch, i.e. upon the stone tracery, a window being an obvious weak point for evil to enter a building.

Due to the similar form of the symbol at Eltham Palace, to those at Norton Priory, and the fact that it appears next to the doorway into the Great Hall, another weak spot where evil forces might enter, it most likely represents an alternative form of the Marian or ‘VV’ symbol, and invokes the protection of the Virgin of Virgins, Mary Mother of God.

This is the most likely identification, although it may also have an extra connotation of protecting shields, because its shape is certainly reminiscent of medieval shields. Eltham Palace was a Royal residence and a number of jousting tournaments were held there in the medieval period.

An Alternative Form of the ‘VV’ or Marian Protective Symbol 
at Norton Priory in Cheshire 

Apotropaic Marks 2, 3 and 4 inside the Great Hall at Eltham Palace 

The Apotropaic marks labelled Figures 2, 3 and 4, inside Eltham Palace’s Great Hall, are protective graffiti, and must have been added at some point in the palace’s history.

Fig 2 is known as the 'Cross of Endlessness', which symbolises eternity, but also protection. It is a demon trap because the lines are endless, and it is thought that any evil spirits / entities, in the past, would become transfixed upon it, as if it were a puzzle for the whole of time.

Fig 4 represents 'Ave Maria', the Latin for Hail Mary, the traditional Catholic Prayer for the intercession of the Virgin, so therefore invokes her protection. You will see how the symbol represents the letter 'A', 'V' and 'M', in my diagram below.

Fig 3 is both AVM 'Ave Maria' and VV, 'Virgo Virginum', again both invoking the protection of the Virgin, Mother of Christ, see my diagram below.

Both Fig 3 and 4 being upon the same line gives the verbal expression to the reader who understands Latin and the symbols for these expressions / prayers: "Ave Maria Virgo Virginum Ave Maria" translating as "Hail Mary, Virgin of Virgins, Hail Mary!"

This may have been added in this coded form by a Catholic visitor to the Palace when Catholicism was outlawed in England, to hide their true religious belief and also as secret ritual protective graffiti which only those who understood Latin and the Catholic faith would understand.

At some point since its carving it has been marked out in black paint to give the ritual protection graffiti more prominence.

It is interesting to note that this type of Cross and this symbolic coded Catholic Prayer, have been grouped together at Eltham Palace, does the Cross of Endlessness and its four triangles, actually in fact crudely represent the crucifixion of Christ with four nails, and possibly the square representing his body or heart?

For this Cross to be above that phrase it most likely represents the Crucifix, and hence Christ and hence asks for His protection as well.

The Deciphering of the Cross and Coded Catholic Prayer of Protection 
“Ave Maria Virgo Virginum Ave Maria” at Eltham Palace, London 

A New World Protection Symbol: 
Ontario, Canada

Protective Owl Holes to a Timber Barn in Sidney Township, Hastings County, 
Ontario, Canada 

Greg Polan from Ontario in Canada contacted me regarding the shape of owl holes which appear upon many timber barns in both American and Canada. He sent me an image of a barn with these owl holes in Sidney Township in Hastings County, Ontario, Canada. The above photograph has been reproduced with his permission.

Greg said that:-

“I read your article on protective symbols with interest.

In Ontario, and in fact in several north east states in the United States, the attached symbol is found cut-out high-up in the gables of some of the oldest barns. I’ve been researching this for over a year now, and it seems that this particular symbol remains enigmatic and forgotten over time. No one seems to know why this symbol was chosen. Functionally, these openings serve as owl holes, pigeon holes, or simply for ventilation, but the choice of symbol remains a mystery. Likely a protective symbol important to a specific immigrant group … not sure which one.

In Ontario, these barns were erected by early European immigrant settlers in the 1800’s and this particular symbol disappeared in barns erected after 1900.

Have you come across this particular symbol in your travels?”

In reply, I identified this owl hole on this barn as a protective device stemming from the 'Cross of Endlessness'. The endless cross symbolises eternity, but also protection, and of course, the owl hole also serves a physical function, i.e. to allow owls access to the barn to protect the stored crops from vermin. In England, we also have owl holes on barns, where they haven't been converted into homes.

The outline form of this cross forms a never-ending line, and other shapes which are formed from a never-ending line were used as demon traps, to entrap any evil spirit or demon, etc, trying to enter a building, because it is thought that an evil entity would become infatuated with the puzzle, and end up transfixed forever.

If you think how this protective device was created, i.e. how the carpenter marked it out, ready to cut out the wood, to form the owl hole, you will see they would have had to draw an endless line, then cut out the shape in the wood, to form the hole, see the diagrams below. Yes it has weathered, and the lines to the triangles at each point of the diamond or square, are open to the triangles, but they still strictly follow the endless line necessary for a demon trap.

An added bonus is the owl, owls have much symbolism throughout history; one such association is with Minerva, a Roman Goddess, who was also the Goddess of War.

Also due to this cross symbol representing eternity, this may also infer a prayer that the barn will not burn down, and will survive forever?

Obviously in this case we have to envisage the carpenter, and how he made the opening, and why it is protective, and then we see his process and what he marked out before he cut out the owl hole, this may give the protective device more power too. Please see my diagram below.

Another aspect of it is that it forms a cross, indicative of Christian and therefore God's protection, because as you will see in the article above, the exact same shape was carved into a stone in the 15th century Great Hall of Eltham Palace in London.

At Eltham Palace the ‘Cross of Endlessness’ is carved above a coded Catholic Prayer representing “Ave Maria Virgo Virginum Ave Maria” or “Hail Mary Virgin of Virgins Hail Mary”, which invokes the protection of the Virgin Mary for the building and indoor space. With the cross being above this Catholic Prayer it must represent Christ and therefore as well as being a demon trap invokes the protection of God and Christianity.

Therefore the symbol found on these New World timber barns are a protective device used to invoke the power of protection from Christ and the Crucifix, for the building and its occupants, from any evil or pagan forces existing in the surrounding outside world.

It was most likely brought to the New World with settlers from Christian Europe, and reproduced there specifically for spiritual protection, and its true purpose hidden from its primary function as an opening for owls and ventilation.

1. The Carpenter marks out the Shape of the Protective Owl Hole 

2. The Carpenter has cut out the Protective Owl Hole 

Greg also added after identification that:-

“Perhaps an Interesting example of cultural transference from the Old World to the New? There was a University of Toronto academic named Thomas McIlwraith who wrote an academic paper on these barn crosses in an American publication called Material Culture (1981 I believe). It was his conclusion that this symbol in North America was limited to wooden barns rather than other buildings in the 19th century and disappeared around 1900 from new barn construction. He referred to the symbol as a diamond cross but he reached no conclusion on origin or purpose.

What I find as interesting as the possible purpose and function is the fact that they have already been forgotten in time … they are less than 200 years old in North America. I’ve found variants of the same design, and in groupings of one, two, three, and four (less common). I’m not sure if the number of cut-outs on a barn mean anything. I wonder what the carpenter who made them referred to them as?”

A Complicated Combined Witch Mark: 
An Incomplete Pentagram, The Virgin Mary, Virgo Virginum, and Ave Maria: 
Borwick Hall, Lancashire, UK

Holly Blackwell from Lancashire contacted me after reading my article about protective devices and witch marks online, and wondered if I could help, because her brother in law, Philip Blackwell, who works at Borwick Hall, had found a witch mark there, and hadn’t seen any similar examples after searching online, to tell him what it meant.

The witch marks exist upon the fireplace and upon a stone window mullion to what is thought to be the former Priest’s Room at Borwick Hall, in Lancashire, which is situated just to the south of the border with Cumbria.

Borwick Hall is a Grade I Listed stone manor house, incorporating an Elizabethan manor house, a late 14th century peel tower, and mid 16th century rear and east wings. The Hall was owned by the Bindloss family in the late 16th century, who extended the house, and built the large imposing Elizabethan mansion.

Borwick Hall is not open to the public.

Borwick Hall, Lancashire, 24th November 2010 
(© Copyright Karl and Ali of the Geograph Project @
reproduced under the ‘Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0’) 

The witch marks consist of a complicated combined form of spiritual defence, with three identical versions: two of which have been carved onto the stone fireplace surround and mantle; and one to a stone window mullion.

They have been carved above the fireplace to protect the opening from any evil spirit or entity coming down from the chimney and into the room; and upon the window mullion, to prevent any dark force from accessing the room through the window opening.

Before we look at the identical witch marks, we must give them some context, because their form relates to Catholicism, as we will see below.

Holly tells me that the former Priest’s Room (said to be one of two rooms allotted to the priest), is thought to be the most haunted room of the Hall.

‘A History of the County of Lancaster, Volume 8, Edited by William Farrer and J Brownbill, 1914, Pages 170-175’, tells us that the Priest’s two lodging rooms, next to the old Chapel within the old peel tower, next door, are housed in the mid 16th century east wing. It has a stone fireplace and full height square panelling, decorated with tied olive branches, with the joints of the framing, painted with gilded stars and fleurs de lis.

Holly also tells me that in the room there is a sealed off priest hole, which allowed Catholic priests to conceal themselves. This is also confirmed by books on the subject of priest-holes.

During Elizabeth I’s reign, Catholic priests who continued to perform mass, and try to convert Protestants, were hunted down, imprisoned, and often killed. These recusants were also hunted in James I’s reign, especially after the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

Holly has been told that the old Chapel in the old peel tower was disguised during the Reformation, due to the household being Catholic, who hid priests here, and the Hall was known as a Catholic stronghold. Even after the 1590s, the next owners of the Hall were suspected to be supportive of Catholicism and secret Royalists during the later English Civil War.

Roger Bindloss bought Borwick Hall in the 1590s, and built the large Elizabethan mansion, attached to the medieval peel tower, before his own death in 1595. His son Robert inherited the estate, and was the High Sherriff of Lancashire in 1613. Due to his eldest son, Sir Francis Bindloss, dying in 1629, before Robert’s own death, the estate passed to his grandson, also Robert. Francis was knighted in 1624 and became an MP in 1628.

Robert Bindloss, Francis’s son, was only young when he inherited his grandfather’s estate in 1630, and was looked after by his stepfather, the staunch Royalist Sir John Byron, who had married Sir Francis’ widow, Cecilia. He officially backed Parliament during the English Civil War, but is thought to have been sympathetic to the Royalist cause. He was knighted and made a Baronet by Charles I in 1641. It is thought he only officially backed Parliament for fear of losing his estate, even making sure he wasn’t at home when Charles II supposedly stayed there before the fateful battle of Worcester in 1651. He held many official posts, as well as being the Mayor of Lancaster between 1665 and 1666, High Sherriff of Lancashire from 1657 to 1658, and from 1671 to 1673. He was also a Member of Parliament at various times between 1646 and 1660. He died in 1688.

Borwick Hall then passed into the Standish family, via Sir Robert Bindloss’ only heir and daughter, Cecilia, named the same as his mother. She married William Standish. William’s son, Ralph Standish, was a prominent Catholic, and backed the Stuart claim to the throne in the early 18th century. He joined the Jacobite Rebellion in 1715, and marched south to Preston. At the Battle of Preston, the Jacobite and Scottish army was defeated, and Ralph was taken as a prisoner back to London. Although sentenced to death, he was allowed to go free, after some jail time, and was able to buy back his estates, which had been confiscated. He died in 1755.
(Sources: Wikipedia @ and Geni @ 

Interestingly, Sir Robert Bindloss appointed Richard Sherlock his chaplain in 1652, who was said to be a Papist in disguise, as well as being a chaplain to the Royalists, and who may have lived in the Priest’s Rooms within the Hall.

As well as that, William Standish who had married his only daughter Cecilia, was also a prominent Catholic.

The links of the Bindloss family to Catholicism and possible Royalist sympathies, during the 17th century, and the previous family who lived at the Hall before the 1590s, who were said to be Catholic, as well as using the Hall as a Catholic stronghold, during and after the Reformation, certainly give us context to why these witch marks, also contain elements of the Catholic faith, which we will now discuss.

The Fireplace to Borwick Hall’s Priest Room 
Copyright: Philip Blackwell, 2019 

The Witch mark on the Fireplace Surround to Borwick Hall’s Priest Room 
Copyright: Philip Blackwell, 2019 

The Witch mark on the Stone Window Mullion to Borwick Hall’s Priest Room 
Copyright: Philip Blackwell, 2019 

This protective mark is a combination demon trap as well as a Catholic Prayer to invoke the protection of the Virgin Mary, to protect the house from demon attack: from the fireplace opening two are situated above; and from the window opening.

It combines the protective qualities of the five pointed star or pentagram, with that of 'AVM' or the Catholic Prayer of 'Ave Maria', Hail Mary, with that of the 'VV' or the Marian Symbol, i.e. 'Virgo Virginum', Virgin of Virgins.

The pentagram is also incomplete, and when geometric protective devices are not finished, this can be interpreted as having an opposing effect of cursing any malevolent spirit which gains entry, rather than just protecting against evil. As well as inviting God to finish the pentagram, to make it perfect and complete, and therefore invoking the protection of God Almighty, from our imperfect world below.

It also includes to the centre of its design, if we trace over the lines repeatedly, an A, where the cross bar is formed from a 'v', where we can also form a 'V' and again with the legs of the 'A', a 'M'. We may also make an 'A' from the space between the two sets of upper parallel lines, as well as another 'V' and another 'M'. These symbols therefore represent 'AVM' as one letter, and both represent the Catholic Prayer of Hail Mary, i.e. 'AVe Maria'.

We may also make from the symbol, 'VM', both upright, as well as inverted, and this likely again represents and invokes the protection of the 'Virgin Mary'. This may also represent the phrase 'As Above So Below', and therefore invokes the protection of Heaven above, here on Earth.

We can also make out multiple 'V's, but the two formed from the extra lines which extend from the pentagram, rather than completing it, are the two most important ones, as well as the two sets of two, one small one large, which may be formed from the two lower triangles of the unfinished pentagram, and represent the phrase 'Virgo Virginum' or Virgin of Virgins.

We may also make an upright 'V' and an inverted 'V', again representing the Marian Symbol, and that phrase, 'As Above So Below'.

The Deciphering of the Pentagram and Coded Catholic Prayer of Ave Maria 
at Borwick Hall, Lancashire 

The Deciphering of the Pentagram and Coded Catholic Title of Virgo Virginum 
and the Virgin Mary at Borwick Hall, Lancashire 

Together they represent the Pentagram, the Virgin Mary, and the Catholic phrase 'Ave Maria Virgo Virginum' or in English, 'Hail Mary, Virgin of Virgins', and therefore invoke the protection of the Virgin Mary, to ward off evil. As well as symbolising the phrase 'As Above So Below'.

Also with the symbol being so confusing, this therefore means that it would confuse a demon or evil entity, perplexing it, and therefore trapping it.

As well as that it is also obviously confusing and a bit of a puzzle, to the untrained eye, to hide a person’s Catholic Faith, whilst it was outlawed, that's the most likely reason it is so complicated and hard to understand.

It is the most complicated protective or witch mark I have seen up to now, I have seen one ‘AVM’ mark, many 'VV's and quite a few five pointed stars or pentagrams. It is a very interesting example, and the Catholic link explains its complicated form.

Its form most likely means that it was hidden in plain sight from the Protestant regime, so I expect it was made during the Reformation, after this east wing was constructed in the mid 16th century, but most likely before the end of the 17th century, whilst Catholics were still being persecuted, and heavily shunned. I don’t think it dates after this, until the late 18th / early 19th century Catholic Emancipation.

As well as being spiritual protection marks, they also allow a quiet nod to anyone who visited the house, that if you were Catholic, you were safe here, amongst fellow worshippers, whilst to those not knowledgeable of its true meaning, it just looks similar to other witch marks, or a very odd unfinished pentagram.

The example to the stone mullion has been carved with a good degree of accuracy, and with the two on the stone fireplace, one to the curved and ogee moulded mantle, it means that these have been carved by someone who had at least some if not all of a stonemason’s skills. They certainly haven’t been carved by a household member overnight.

by Charles E S Fairey, 2018-2019