Hob & Broom: Household Lore & Traditions

An exploration of the old spirits, symbols, customs, and crafts of the home.

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Witches’ Marks and Galdrastafir: Protection Symbols for the Home

Most of the time, I believe that bad things just happen. Not every misfortune is a product of the evil eye or a malefic spirit but part of the natural flux of life that keeps a necessary, healthy, wavering sort of balance. Rarely, however, I do find that something else seems to be at work. This can happen when a shift or transformation happens -- a birth, a death, moving house -- creating liminal times and spaces that make everything within its sphere more vulnerable (and desirable) to misery-making things. Scarlet Magdalene recently published a helpful guide on Patheos Pagan for deciding whether or not someone has been cursed or hexed; I recommend checking it out and giving it a good think if this sounds like your situation.

As I mentioned in my last post, my husband and I recently bought an old house in the mountains. Two months later, we still haven’t been able to really move in. January was a series of large and small disasters, expenses, inconveniences, and illnesses. It's almost comical, except that we’re so tired and overwhelmed and almost broke from it all.

Time to Do Some Warding!

Unfortunately, all of my tools (except my tarot cards and spiritual journal) are packed away in boxes. Fortunately, household folk magic is rooted in simplicity. It doesn’t require much in the way of tools: for protection, you can often make do with just a knife, a candle, or a pen and paper. There are a number of symbols to protect the household – which includes the land itself as well as the structures, goods, and all spirits (living and non-living) that dwell within its borders – that can be inscribed onto walls and door frames, marked onto skin, or written down and carried.

Some Traditional Protection Symbols

  • Hexafoils and intersecting circles – both beautiful and simple, these are one of many kinds of “witch marks” made on houses to keep out malevolent spirits  (image source: Vincent Reed)b2ap3_thumbnail_witchesmarks.jpg
  • Scorch marks made by taper or tallow candles – possibly the simplest witch marks, found in homes across England (image source: taper burns at Haddon Hall, via Wikimedia)b2ap3_thumbnail_1024px-Taper_burn_marks_-_Haddon_Hall_1.jpg
  • Pentangles -- ironically, often associated with witchcraft but can actually be used against witchcraft (image source: Vincent Reedb2ap3_thumbnail_ApotropaicPentangle.jpg
  • Galdrastafir – these more elaborate symbols have been recorded in magical Icelandic books written in the medieval period. They can appear virtually anywhere, depending on their purpose. b2ap3_thumbnail_lukkustafir.jpg

The symbol I’ve used most in the past is the lukkustafir (technically, a pair of symbols, shown above). The Huld manuscript in which it’s found states that “whosoever bears these staves on him will not meet with mishaps on sea and land." Essentially, it's a luck-bringing symbol. The first time I used it, I burned it into a wooden spoon as part of a gift I gave to my sister, and she has avoided quite a bit of misfortune since having it in her house.

Secret Symbology

Speaking of which, the Huld – named after the Norse word for "secret" – manuscript contains a number of galdrastafir (galdur meaning "magic," and stafir meaning "characters" or "staves") involving different areas of the household:

  • A thief symbol that reveals thieves by placing it under their doorstep, causing them to recoil when they step over it (if they're guilty, of course)

b2ap3_thumbnail_thief-symbol.jpg

  • The lockbreaker, to be placed on a lock and blown onto (perhaps by the thieves worked against above!)

b2ap3_thumbnail_lockbreaker.jpg

  • A livestock-killing rune, to be placed on a horse trail (most likely on the target's property)

b2ap3_thumbnail_killing-rune.jpg

You can see that not all of these staves are benign – some are meant to harm. Such is the way with traditional magic: there’s magic that harms as well as heals, and often you’ll find that the same practitioner does a little bit of both. This is why it helps to have a handful of apotropaic symbols, tools, and rituals in your (literal and metaphorical) toolkit.

As for me, I’ll be placing the lukkustafir in my new house on our next visit, as well as carrying them around with me. Here’s to luckier days!

References

“Huld Manuscript of Galdrastafir Witchcraft Magic Symbols and Runes.” Academia.edu. Trans. Justin Foster. Accessed 23 Feb. 2018. https://www.academia.edu/13008560/Huld_Manuscript_of_Galdrastafir_Witchcraft_Magic_Symbols_and_Runes_-_English_Translation?auto=download

Kennedy, Maev. “Witches' marks: public asked to seek ancient scratchings in buildings.” The Guardian. Accessed. 23 Feb. 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/oct/31/witches-marks-historic-england-evil-spirits

Reed, Vincent. “Insight: Witches Marks: Part One.” VincentReed.com. Accessed 23 Feb. 2018. http://www.vincentreed.com/blog/2017/1/19/witch-craft-marks

 

Main blog image by Peter Williams/PA, via The Guardian

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The Cunning Wife is an animist, writer, diviner, spirit worker and traveler, and folk magic practitioner guided by both philosophical Taoism and Germanic folk traditions. Her written work has been published in a number of online and print magazines, including Witches & Pagans. She gets excited about scholarly essays and books on folklore, magical tales, and ancient spiritual practices, and is passionate about sharing that information in ways that are accessible and relevant. She is also an avid crafter of magical and mundane items. She believes that there is magic in the mundane, just waiting to be remembered.  

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