Ritual protection marks and symbols, or "witch marks", are a well-known sight on the older buildings of the Midlands. Thought to be inscribed to protect the place against evil in its more intangible forms, such as curses, demons and the work of sorcerers, they take many forms. One of the most common of these etchings is the hexofoil or "daisy wheel", usually inscribed as the result of crossing many circles over.
Here in the Midlands you might see these marks somewhere else entirely, somewhere not even on land. Some of the the many narrow-boats that travel the length of our canals actually feature protection marks too. I have spotted lots of them on my walks, all of them in the form of the hexogram.
It seems evident that the practise began on water around the time that it stopped on dry land, this would align roughly with the migration of workers away from the villages and their semi-rural traditions to an unknown world of navigation along the new artificial waterways. It's hardly surprising then that when a new boat was launched it would feature symbols of protection from whatever forces lay along the canals.
With the canals no longer used for the transport of freight the tradition has now passed to the decoration of barges used simply for pleasure - or even to live on. It is heartening to see the custom continued today and now I can't help but look for them each time I walk along a canal. Have you ever seen a witch mark on a narrow-boat?
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Narrow-boats moored in a marina, both showing hexofoils
The hexofoil, or daisy-wheel, in the more common setting of a church wall