Magic, etc.

Hello all !

So. Here's what's up:

Over the past two months or so, I've been thinking seriously about research for my Master's thesis. I've known since I started grad school that my thesis would have something to do with witchcraft history (because, obviously). But my plan took an interesting turn into an area where witchcraft history, folklore, architecture, and archaeology intersect. I'm going to write my thesis on counter-magic, or "apotropaic" magic, specifically the type that can be found carved onto timber in seventeenth and eighteenth-century vernacular buildings in New England. 

Anyone who follows me on Instagram has probably gathered that I'm obsessed with markings scratched onto old wood. I can remember the moment when I became fascinated with them. Ryan, David, and I were giving Dr. Baker a quick tour of The Gables before a lecture he was giving there back in 2015. He saw some markings on the wood in the attic and asked if we had checked the house for "witch marks" or "hex marks," symbols carved onto timber to ward off witchcraft. My brain went "HOLY CRAP THAT'S A THING ?!" And I've been obsessively checking wood in early New England houses ever since. 

Apotropaic magic and protective markings have been fairly widely studied and written about in Britain since the seventies and eighties (I would be remiss in not mentioning Timothy Easton, the pioneer in the area of ritual marks on timber), but they are newer territory here in the States. Still, when I compare what I've found here with what has been documented in England, much of it is very similar. And that needs to be explored. 

Photo by me in 2015. An elaborate hexafoil carved onto timber in the attic of  Historic New England's Jackson House , c. 1664, Portsmouth, NH.  

Photo by me in 2015. An elaborate hexafoil carved onto timber in the attic of Historic New England's Jackson House, c. 1664, Portsmouth, NH.  

The use of counter-magic by Protestants in early New England fascinates me because, right off the bat, it presents two huge issues: first of all, they shouldn't have believed in the effectiveness of magic; and secondly, if they did believe in it, it was still definitely not ok to practice it. But the innate (?) human belief in magic persisted and orthodoxy was disregarded. People were so afraid that they risked upsetting God.    

I have so much more hunting to do before I can start writing this thing next year. But I'm very optimistic. And I hope my findings and my research can contribute to a more nuanced understanding of our forebears.

In the meantime, if you live in a seventeenth, eighteenth, or even nineteenth-century house and have noticed any unusual markings on timber, email me !!

If you want to learn more about apotropaiac magic, visit my friend Brian Hoggard's website at http://www.apotropaios.co.uk/ 

Brian is a veteran in the counter-magic field in the UK and he has been very generously helping me get my bearings ! 

Until next time.