Protection against witches

Preserve me from harm

In folklore, brass is used to repel evil spirits and witches. Bells crafted from brass were hung on the necks of livestock to prevent them from falling to the evil eye.

From about the 12th century on, candles were placed on church altars. Holy candles were used by priests in the ritual of exorcism, and by farmers to protect their livestock from bewitchment. The Malleus Maleficarum instructs inquisitors to used holy candles "for preserving oneself from the injury of witches."

Charms are magical phrases, words, chants, incantations, or prayers which protect against or cure disease, and ward off witchcraft, disaster, and evil. Although witches were believed to make use of charms, common people weren't above using them for themselves as protection against witchcraft. The most common charms concert witchcraft, illness, and health.

In the 17th century, copies of St. John's Gospel were sold as a charm against witchcraft. To break witches' spells, herbs were prescribed along with the recitation of one Creed, five Aves, and five Paternosters.

During the Middle Ages, the cock was an important Christian symbol of resurrection and vigilance. A rooster represented God, goodness, and lightness. Cocks' places were earned at the top of buildings, domes, and church steeples. They crowed at the birth and death of Christ, and they herald the dawn, "which brings light to the sins of the night and rouses men to the worship of God."

Witches Sabbats were dispersed, and enchantments were dissolved, by the crow of a rooster. The rites of Satan ended because the Holy Office of the Church had begun. The 4th-century Christian Latin poet Prudentius sang, "They say that the night-wandering demons, who rejoice in dunnest shades, at the crowing of the cock tremble and scatter in sore affright." In the time of Saint Benedict, Lauds and Matins were recited at dawn and became known as Gallicinium, or Cock-crow.

According to Nicholas Remy, a 16th-century witch prosecutor and demonologist, cocks were despised by all sorcerers and witches. However, roosters did not keep witches away. Cocks were a frequent sacrifice victim by witches because killing one was tantamount to spitting in the eye of God.

Garlic is best known for its properties of averting vampires. However, it was considered equally effective in warding off the evil eye, demons, and witches. Many healing remedies contained garlic, and garlands of garlic worn around the neck or hung inside a house were used to repell evil spirits, spells, and creatures.

Many gemstones were believed to protect against witchcraft and the evil eye. These stones were often worn in rings or amulets. Amber and coral protected against the evil eye, and cat's eye, saronyx, and ruby protected against witchcraft. Small stones and pebbles scattered on a floor were also considered effective in keeping witches at bay.

A hagstone is a stone with a hole in it hung in stables and homes to keep aways witches or hags at night. If hung on the bedpost, it protected the sleeper from having a hag ride one's chect and causing a nightmare. Hung in the stable, it prevented witches from riding horses all night to exhaustion.

Although hazel was purported to have been used by witches witch hazel, it was also used to protect against witches. Hazelnuts and hazel wood were believed to offer protection against faery bewitchment, demons, and witchcraft. Horses were protected by wearinng hazel breastbands on their harnesses. In Scotland, double hazelnuts were hurled at witches, and cattle were singed with hazel rods at Midsummer and Beltane fires to keep faeries away.

Horseshoes are still used as good luck charms and wards against evil. It has long been used as an amulet against the evil eye, evil spirits, the Devil, faeries, and witches. Nailed over the doorway of a church, stable, house, or other building, its iron makeup prevents evil from crossing the threshold. Placed in the chimney, a horseshoe prevents witches from flying in on their brooms. Nailed to one's bed, it repels demons and nightmares. In Ireland, nailed on the threshold of a door, a piece of a horseshoe keeps faeries out of the house.

To be truly effective, a horseshoe must never be removed once it is put in place. To protect against sorcery, demons, and witchcraft, the ends of the horseshoe must point downward. As a good-luck amulet, the ends should point upwards so that the coming luck does not spill out.

Iron is believed to be one of the top charms against evil spirits, demons, sorcerers, and witches. European folklore says witches cannot pass over cold iron, and that burying an iron knife under your doorstep will ensure no witches will ever enter your house. In some areas, iron was used to protect entire villages. Iron was also considered a choice ward agains malicious faeries. In some areas, it also repelled ghosts.

Iron was a popular metal for the creation of amulets which protect against the evil eye, bad luck, danger, evil spirits, and witches.

In Wales it was believed that faery wives would vanish when touched with iron. A story was told "of a young man at last winning a fairy maid, but she told him if he ever struck her with iron she would go away never to return" (of course, anyone being hit with iron probably wouldn't want to stick around).

Mistletoe is an evergreen parasitic plant which grows on deciduous trees in Europe and North America. It bears white berries, and its seeds are spread by bird droppings.

Along with being used in aphrodisiacs, medicinal potions, teas, and powders, mistletoe was hung in stable, homes, and barns as an amulet against bad luck, fire, and witchcraft. A sprig of mistletoed hung over a doorway prevented witches from entering.

According to English folklore, a witch's power can be destroyed by sticking pins in the heart of a stolen hen or by pricking a pigeon with pins.

Witch hunters often used pins to prick suspected witches when looking for Devil's marks. Crooked pins were also used by witches for nefarious deeds.

Salt has been long considered anathema to evil and demons. In folklore, salt provides protection against witches, witchcraft, demons, and the evil eye. Salt also was used to break evil spells.

During the Middle Ages, it was a common belief that witches and the animals they bewitched could not eat anything salted. "Inquisitors who interrogated accused witches were advised by demonologists first to protect themselves by wearing a sacramental amulet that consisted of salt consecrated on Palm Sunday and blessed herbs, pressed into a disk of blessed wax." A common torture method was to force-feed an accused witch heavily salted food and then deny them water.

Salt superstitions still exist today. Spilling salt leaves someone vulnerable to bad luck or the Devil. The bad luck may be averted by tossing a pinch of salt over the left shoulder with the right hand.

Certain trees were believed to protect against misfortune and evil. Ash, rowan, birch, hazel, holly, oak, hawthorne, and bay were believed to repel evil, faeries, and witches. In Russia, aspen was laid on the grave of a witch to prevent here ghost from riding out at night to terrorize people. One Old English charm against witches goes as follows:

Black-luggie, hammer-head,
Rowan-tree, and red thread
Put the warlocks to their speed.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, wizards and cunning women and men used urine for diagnosing and curing illnesses caused by witchcraft.

Boiling a person's urine helps determine if and how bewitchment has occurred. Urine is thenused to effect cures, usually by boiling, baking, burying or throwing it upon a fire. Ann Green, a witch or cunning woman of northeast England, said in 1654 that she cured headaches caused by bewitchment by putting a clipping of the victim's hair in his own urine, boiling it and throwing it on a fire. The fire was supposed to destroy the spell.

Boiled urine also was said to cure nephritis. Urine boiled in a pot containing crooked pins was a common remedy for bewitchment.

A case in Yorkshire in 1683 involved a sick man whom a doctor said suffered from bewitchment. To break the spell, the doctor prescribed a cake made of the patient's urine and hair, combined with wheat meal and horseshoe stumps. The cake was to be tossed in a fire.

One of the most effective counter-charms against witchcraft was to secure the witch's own urine: if it was bottled and buried, the witch would be unable to urinate. During the Salem witch trials of 1692, a local doctor named Roger Toothaker claimed his daughter had killed a witch with urine. The daughter spied on the witch until she saw the woman go to her outhous. The daughter collected the witch's urine and boiled it in a pot until the foul-smelling smoke blocked the chimney flue. The next morning, the witch was dead.

Since antiquity, water has had associations with all that is pure and holy. From the Middle Ages until the 19th century, accused witches were bound and thrown into water to see if they would sink or float. Since water is the medium of holy baptism, it was believed that it would reject an agent of the Devil: witches would float. According to folklore, demons, vampires, and witches were unable to cross running water. The safest thing to do if you were being chased by one was to ford a stream.

One of the Catholic Church's most powerful weapons against the supernatural was holy water. Holy water is a mixture of salt and water that has been blessed by a priest. Witches, vampires, and other nasty evil creatures were considered violently allergic to holy water. During the Medieval and Renaissance periods, holy water was sprinkled on homes to drive awya "pestilential vapours" and evil spirits, on farm animals to protect them from bewitchment, and on crops to promote fertility and protect them from witches. Like a sort of milkman, the holy-water carrier came by regularly, ensuring no one was caught short of divine protection. When storms hit, villagers would race to the local church for extra holy water to drive witches away and to protect against lightning.

Witch Bottles
In Elizabethan England, especially in East Anglia, people maintained witch bottles: charms used to counteract witches' spells. These charms were small bellarmine flasks into a witch's urine, nail or hair clippings were placed. When the flask was buried, the witch's spell was cancelled and the witch was purported to be put in agony. The bottles were sometimes thrown into a fire. When the exploded, the spell was broken or the witch was killed.

Witch bottles were sometimes hung in chimneys to prevent witches from flying through them.

Witch Boxes
In the 16th and 17 centuries, witch boxes were popular wards against witches. They were made up of small wooden boxes full of pieces of human bone, herbs, bits of rowan, and other odds and ends over which a spell of protection had been cast. Witch-hunters frequently sold witch boxes as they journeyed from village to village, whipping up witch hysteria.

Wolf's Head
According to Reginald Scot's 1665 work The Discovery of Witchcraft, "in some countries they nail a wolf's head to the door, to prevent and cure all mischiefs by charms and witchcrafts."