“For a man’s house is his castle, and each man’s home is his safest refuge”
Sir Edward Coke 1628
For some the home is a place of luxurious comfort, like ye olde Norman Kings, one’s castle is little more than a status symbol, a demonstration of power, wealth and accomplishment. For others, probably the majority, the home is one’s fortress, the place where we feel safe surrounded by four walls to keep the dangers of the world out, a place we can nest, snuggle and be ourselves. Somewhat contradictory, I feel home should be a place we are safe enough to be vulnerable. Home is about walls and boundaries, anyone familiar with the runes will understand this concept as it is embodied by the rune Othala associated with the household, ancestral lands, estates and so on, even the shape of the rune is very reminiscent of an enclosure.
We expect our homes to protect us from the increment conditions of the outside world as well as human transgressions. For us Witch folk, we also tend to consider the magical or energetic harm that may come our way, not just from other magical practitioners but also bad health, bad luck, misfortune. With that, however, I say again…sometimes shit just happens. Not everyone is out to get us, when bad stuff happens, chances is are it’s because of a bad decision we made, maybe being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
This doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t endeavour to enhance the protection our homes afford us, after all, apotropaic magic is old and was probably the bread and butter work for most cunning folk. Spells to protect from harm and bewitchment, spells to attract good health, wealth, love and fertility were offered to fulfil the most basic of human needs and desires, and for that reason people were willing to pay, often repeatedly.
However, my view is that having loads of different charms hanging from every window in every room is like trying to hear a single voice in a room full of people shouting at once…keeping things simple and focused does, in my humble opinion, keep the magic more effective. So, as with all acts of magic, the first step is to consider and chose carefully what we will employ, I always ask myself ‘why’ at least three times. In addition I have these three simple ‘mottos’:
- Just because something is traditional doesn’t mean it’s necessary
- When something is necessary it doesn’t have to be traditional
- Keep it simple
Hopefully they are all self-explanatory and to illustrate here are a few examples of apotropaic magic I have employed to turn our house into our very own castle!
As per the previous post on Hearth Spirits, I reckon if you have a good relationship with your house spirit you have already gone a long way towards enhancing the protection of your home. A happy and well looked after house spirit will keep a watchful eye on the place and the family, some people feel that’s all you need, however that doesn’t happen overnight and it takes time to build a strong connection with one’s hearth spirits so there is also room for something a little more instant.
I also set up wards around the perimeter. I visualise this as an invisible, astral fortress invoked purely to guard. There are as many ways and preferred methods for doing this as there are practitioners, I’m sure. Some may like to call on the four angelic beings Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael, in a bit of an LBRP style, others may devise a similar method using animal spirits. The best thing is to research and decide what’s best suited to your needs and your abilities. I find it helps to re-energise these wards at least annually. I use a bind rune of my own creation which is traced astrally at the four compass points.
From previous posts you may have seen that I also love a horse shoe, it’s one if the first items I brought into our new home. The horse shoe has a whole wealth of lore associated with it, more than I could cover in one broad blog post. The Horse shoe is a traditional good luck charm, which as well as being made of iron holds a great deal of protective virtue in itself, but for me it’s also strongly linked to the land and people of Kent, the horse shoe isn’t employed just because it’s a traditional charm of good luck, when I hang the horse shoe I’m also saying to the power of the land, my ancestors and the White Horse Herself that we are one of them and hope they will endeavour to look after their own. Traditionally the horse shoe is nailed (with horse shoe nails of course) with the ends pointing upwards (to hold the luck in) over the door of the house, not always possible nowadays so near as dammit is good enough. Graham King, in his book ‘The British Book of Spells and Charms’, speaks to Horse shoe magic (as well as other forms of apotropaic magic) so is well worth reading!
For the first time, I have employed the aid of a Witch ball specifically to reflect anything unpleasant. (Interestingly I’ve heard it said or read somewhere, although I can’t remember where, that anyone who means to do harm will not cast a reflection in a witch ball, I would love to hear from anyone who knows where I may have got this from). A good few months before we moved in I begun hunting around for a suitable Witch ball and I eventually found the perfect one. It’s silver and highly reflective (exactly what you want from something which is ultimately used to reflect!) and large enough to have a ‘presence’ when hung in a window. Witch balls have a long and esteemed use in Witchcraft, Gemma Gary features a Witch ball in her ‘Cornish Book of Ways’ and I recall seeing one or two at the museum of Witchcraft.
All charms, protective or otherwise are comprised of items (keys, hag stones, rowan, cords, salt etc) which have an inherent virtue, life force, spirit, vibration…whatever you want to call it…which is naturally inclined towards certain magical goals. Most people familiar with any correspondence system (planetary or what have you) will note that sometimes, herbs especially, can have multiple correspondences, so in the case of objects it’s not just about hanging these objects around the home and job done, there needs to be a degree of pre-treatment in order to make them powerful talismans, you get out what you put in. A witch bottle can be created for anything…but it won’t do it on its own, it needs to be instructed, it needs to be enchanted! In the case of my Witch ball which is a manmade object, acquired second hand, from an unknown source, the first things to do was clean it, physically in warm soapy water and metaphysically with spring water and four thieves. I don’t tend to do this with natural objects such as stones, wood, shells and so on. Then the Witch ball is empowered, at an appropriate time (I chose dark moon on a Saturday), according to my preferred method. The following morning, the ball was hung in a suitably visible window. Again, I shall probably take this down, give it a clean and a bit more oomph once a year.
Another charm I like to employ is enchanted to protect against thieves, vandals and other human intrusions. This employs a hag stone and two old iron keys (church keys ideally). As far as I know I’ve not seen this anywhere or read it anywhere so I think it’s a charm of my own devising however the key and hag stone is a well-documented protection charm…so is partly based on that. The two keys are first cleansed and then crossed and tied in the centre to form the emblem of St Peter (St Peter being the guardian of the gates to Heaven). A hagstone is then tied to the keys and the entire assembly is hung, with the hagstone above the crossed keys, somewhere close the house entrance. Seeing as I am employing the use of His symbol I also call upon St Peter when empowering the charm (this is a hybridised form of a Prayer to St Peter merged with a traditional Charm against thieves):
Oh God, who hast given unto thy blessed apostle Peter
The keys to the kingdom of Heaven and the power to bind and loose
Grant that we may be delivered through the help of this intercession.
Whoever thou art that meanest me ill
STAND THEM STILL
As the river Jordan did when Jesus was baptized therein
In the names of the Father
In the Name of the Son
In the name of the Holy Spirit
A cross of spit is made upon the charm after each of the last three lines.
Chimneys (as well as thresholds etc) were another favourite place to hang, bury and conceal apotropaic charms. Shoes, cat skeletons and Witch bottles have all been uncovered in chimneys, all placed in the belief that these objects will protect the dweller from harm, mystical and otherwise. It’s well recorded that many a witch flew up the chimney to the Sabbat, and they or their familiar spirits also came down the chimney to inflict harm and of course we all know Santa visits us via the chimney, so it’s no surprise that the chimney is considered a place a real vulnerability. As ours is now open, it seemed appropriate for me to take care of this and I have employed another firm favourite of mine…Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), or Mountain Ash. Both the wood and the berries of the Rowan tree are favoured for their powers to turn away evil and malefic magic usually in conjunction with red thread. I like to fashion a cross from two pieces of rowan wood (cut at the appropriate time with due thanks and respect given to the tree). In the past I have fastened rowan berries also to the cross. Other times I have made a ‘God’s Eye’ from the crossed rowan wood, weaving red tread under and over each arm, other times I have done similar and criss-crossed the red thread around the wood in a more random, web like pattern. Sometimes, just a string of 45 rowan berries, each with a single knot of thread between them and tied into a ring has been used, it just depends on what I’m inspired to do…I like to be creative and experiment!
The only thing to note when employing Rowan is that its magic only lasts as long as the tree does, so if the donor tree dies, the charm will no longer work. This is probably why, in some parts of the country, there is such a taboo against the felling of Rowan trees.
Besides the obvious, there is another benefit to apotropaic magic. When practising (magic), there are certain skills and techniques employed which, unless we have a reason to practise, are in fact extremely hard to practise. Charms and spells geared towards personal and / or household protection (as well as good luck, good health and so on) provide a safe and useful opportunity to practise and experiment with different methods and techniques so if nothing else it’s worth exploring for that reason alone. Plus the beauty of apotropaic charms is that they only last as long as you want them to so if we want to try something new, it’s easy to replace one for another (providing it’s not been buried in the walls or foundations of course).
For those who may be interested here is a list of some other protective charms and objects I have heard and read about over the years. This list is far from exhaustive, and like I said above, we shouldn’t always favour tradition over necessity and tradition should never stifle creativity or experimentation…everything was ‘new’ once. Whilst I am a massive advocate of “If it aint broke don’t fix it” we do need to acknowledge that the world is changing and the dangers facing us today are very different than they were a century ago (I’m yet to read of anyone creating a charm to deter unwanted phone calls, computer viruses and hackers gaining access through all these cables…just as vulnerable as any chimney!)
- ‘Nailing down’ the four corners of the house (assuming you can access them)
- Witch Bottles
- Certain items buried in the foundations or within walls (bones, skulls, shoes)
- Skulls employed to ‘keep a look out’ as well as Stone gargoyles
- Rowan wood and rowan berries (and actual Rowan Trees planted near the front door)
- Hex Stars, Witch marks and Runes carved on door frames or hung over door ways
- Constructing the actual doors of the home out of protective wood such as Oak.
- Certain herbs such as Rosemary, Rue etc grown close to the house
- Houseleeks (sempervivium) planted on the roof to protect against lightning strikes
- Hagstones (naturally holed stones)
- Iron Keys (usually church keys)
- Creation of a familiar spirit / servitor with the purpose of protecting the home, can be used in conjunction with House Dolls
- Mirrors to reflect crap away from the home
- Written psalms / charms engraved around doorways or onto wood or paper and hung
- Hanging odd pairs and mismatched items outside to ‘confuse’ and distract spirits
- Knotted cords, may have objects tied into them (sometimes called ‘Ladders’)
- Certain fossils (such as Echinoids (‘Fairy loaves’) and Ammonites)
- Iron (Horseshoes for example)
- The traditional Besom Broom hung over the door
For more inspiration on this subject please visit the Museum Of Witchcraft, if you cant visit in person then visit the website (http://museumofwitchcraftandmagic.co.uk/) and I also highly recommend the website of Brian Hoggard (http://www.apotropaios.co.uk/)