Monday, 16 May 2016

Defence Against The Dark Arts

Despite the title this is not the world of Harry Potter, but the real world in West Sussex. Set against the hysteria created by the malevolent book "Malleus Maleficarum" [Witches Hammer] this became the handbook for those carrying out the witch trials. Innocent people lost their lives and everyday folk lived in dread of the evil actions of others upon their lives. One way to protect yourself was to make your home as impenetrable as possible to those intent upon causing you harm.

Knowing this background, a recent reading a library book called "Slow Sussex" by Tim Locke made mention of The Priest House in West Hoathly which is famous for its ritual marks which are designed to deflect harmful influences. The house itself is a charming timber framed house which I'd wanted to see anyway and this sealed the deal.

Having now visited I would say that the former inhabitants of the house had just about every avenue covered. The garden has box in it which would deter any would be witch as she/he would be forced to stop and count all the leaves. If they had got past the tedium of that challenge then they were faced with a unique iron doorstep [normally a witch bottle buried below the door step would suffice]- iron was believed to repel evil spirits.

Forget the chimney as a point of access as this had been filled with old shoes to fill the void and the windows and any other point of access was covered by various apotropaic marks including the unusual pair of spectacles. Some are undecipherable but the cross is a representative of the St Andrew's cross and the VM stands for Virgin Mary.

 Having spoken to the current resident and been round the exhibition, I would say that the whole village was well prepared.  The church has similar marks carved on the door and even the font has a carved cross inside at the bottom although this was hidden away under the lid away from prying eyes. One of the houses had a mummified cat's paw in the beam across the fireplace.

All this seems to have done the trick. Thankfully there were only a handful of trials and one execution in the county. Margaret Cooper was hanged for supposedly causing the death of three people. A terrifying episode in our history indeed.



  1. I have a sudden irrepressible urge for a witch bottle buried under my step too. How would I go about that one?! xx

  2. This reminds me of village Greeks who paint pictures of St Anthony on the bottom of their walls..... It's supposed to stop heavy drinking men from peeing on the sides of their houses.

    1. Interesting Cro- never heard that.

  3. Talk about being prepared! In our village several witch bottles have been found, shoes tucked in the eves and marks on houses. Very interesting x