Ancient Protection: Using Apotropaic Magic to Ward Off Evil
Ancient cultures regularly called upon the powers of magical, or apotropaic, symbols and rituals to guard them and their loved ones from evil. While some of these images seem to have faded into obscurity, one can still find them in their various forms — especially in the United Kingdom — often hidden in plain sight.
“Apotropaic” is derived from a Greek word, meaning “to ward off” or “to turn away,” and when applied to magic, it becomes an umbrella term for various symbols used on a house to keep evil from entering, as well as specific objects imbued with magical powers that protect those wearing or traveling with them.
Traditionally found engraved or etched onto, or burned into areas of entry, — especially windows, fireplaces, and doors — apotropaic symbols are seemingly commonplace on ancient buildings with inhabitants who were fearful of evil spirits. Those interested can find them on houses, barns, churches, and cellar doors.
In February 2019, the largest discovery of British apotropaic marks was made during one of many tours in Creswell Crags, a limestone gorge replete with cliffs and caverns. Here, one can get a feel for the way caves were used during the Upper Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, and Roman ages. More than 100 of these so-called witches symbols were found, covering the walls and ceilings of the gorges’ numerous caves, and etched over dark holes and large crevices.
More than 50,000 visitors a year tour Creswell Crags, now considered a world-renowned heritage site. Until late, these medieval symbols were dismissed as common graffiti, but now experts claim that the scrawls are “actually the work of locals who once believed the ominous deep openings were a gateway to the underworld. The etchings were an apparent attempt to keep devils, witches and other evil occupants from spilling out.”
Lines and Shapes
Apotropaic symbols were most commonly created in three forms: a circle, a pentacle, and a “VV” shape. Less frequently, they have also found in diagonal lines, boxes, and mazes — and as hundreds of other variations on these themes.
The Daisy Wheel, or flower of life — a symbol resembling an encircled six-petaled flower — was the most frequently used witches’ symbol. Its single, continuous line was believed to be followed by evil spirits, and was used to confuse and trap them. Two small daisy wheels have even been discovered by the door leading into a beer cellar at Shakespeare’s birthplace at Stratford-upon-Avon, and many are still to be found in surviving English churches, as well as in medieval houses and farm buildings.
While the pentacle symbol is presently associated with paganism, it was regarded as the opposite in the Middle Ages— a mark imbued with the power to ward off witches. The five points on these stars were believed to represent the five wounds of Christ, and pentacles were most often worn as protective charms rather than etched into buildings.
In addition to designs, various letters are still believed to have significant power, depending on their associations. Most popular at the pinnacle of apotropaic usage was the “VV,” thought to evoke the protection of the Virgin of Virgins, or the Virgin Mary. Variations on this symbol appear as well, including “AM” for “Ave Maria,” and “M” for “Mary.”
In an era before scientific materialism, inhabitants of medieval villages attributed sickness, crop failures, and an array of misfortunes to the mischief of evil spirits — witches, demons, the devil, and so forth.
“Witches’ marks are a physical reminder of how our ancestors saw the world. They really fire the imagination and can teach us about previously held beliefs and common rituals. Ritual marks were cut, scratched or carved into our ancestors’ homes and churches in the hope of making the world a safer, less hostile place. They were such a common part of everyday life that they were unremarkable and because they are easy to overlook, the recorded evidence we hold about where they appear and what form they take is thin.”
– Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England
What are now considered eerie and curious representations of a bygone era of a superstitious people, apotropaic symbols continue to resonate with people who profess a profound connection with the unseen world.
Apotropaic symbols may have grown out of popular favor, but their use is far from extinguished. While it may be difficult to assess the exact number of witches and pagans in the modern era, researchers from Trinity College conducted three surveys from 1990 to 2008 and found that, while there were an estimated 8,000 Wiccans in 1990, that number grew to 340,000 in 2008. Many of these individuals still use apotropaic symbols in their rituals and sacred texts.
Want to learn more about ancient signs and symbolism? Check out our series Secret Life of Symbols with Jordan Maxwell:
The Book of Enoch Might Tell a Different Story of the Pyramids
Biblical stories are often fantastical, unbelievable, and sometimes confusing when it comes to interpreting their meaning. Of the apocryphal biblical texts, there are few more enigmatic and fascinating than the Book of Enoch, and in certain sects of Christianity, these books are still part of the dominant biblical canon. But could clues from these texts provide evidence of a completely different story of our ancient ancestors, namely one involving visits from an advanced extraterrestrial race?
Giants in the Book of Enoch
When the Book of Enoch was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, it became clear it was a piece of literature that influenced biblical writers of the time including those who wrote the New Testament. So why is the Book of Enoch not in the Bible?
Today the Book of Enoch is only included in the main canons of Ethiopian Orthodox sects but was popular for hundreds of years in ancient Jewish perspectives. In fact, in understanding the Book of Enoch, some have pointed out that it was likely the inspiration for the Book of Genesis, due to a number of parallels.
Within the book, we find the story of Enoch who was the father of Methuselah and grandfather of Noah. He lived for 365 years up until the great flood that wiped out much of the population. Enoch was taken away in a fiery chariot before the great floods by the Archangel Michael, who some have interpreted as being extraterrestrial. Could that fiery chariot actually have been a spacecraft powered by a jet-engine?
The book that details the story of Enoch is extensive with over 100 chapters dispersed throughout several books, detailing accounts of the Nephilim and the Watchers. These giants, known as the Nephilim, are also described in the Book of Genesis. The giants are said to have been the progeny of angels, known as The Watchers, and female humans.
The ancient astronaut view of these biblical stories sees these Watchers as an advanced extraterrestrial race, who were perceived as angels, some good and some bad. Their presence among our human ancestors is thought to be either the reason we exist on this planet — the extraterrestrials being our progenitors — or the reason we advanced rapidly as beings capable of starting complex civilizations.
Some point to a particular passage that describes an account from Enoch’s grandson, Lamech, during the birth of his son, which read:
“And his father, Lamech, was afraid of him and fled, and come to his father Methuselah. And he said to him: ‘I have begotten a strange son, different and unlike man, and resembling the sons of the God of heaven; and his nature is different and he is not like us, and his eyes are as the rays of the sun, and his face is glorious.”
This was a description of Noah who would later go on to build the ark and survive the flood, sent to wipe out the Nephilim and cleanse humanity of its impurities.
But what was Enoch’s relationship with the Nephilim and the gods who created them? Enoch’s grandson was chosen to build the Ark to survive the flood, while Enoch himself was taken away by the “angels.” Could Enoch have left behind any clues for humanity that could have survived the flood? Some point to the ancient pyramids in Egypt as the answer.
The Book of Enoch and The Ancient Sumerians
There is some crossover in the biblical texts of Enoch and ancient Sumerian texts, particularly when it comes to the Watchers. Known as the Annunaki, or visitors from a planet called Nibiru, the Sumerians also looked upon these Watchers as gods, showing a crossover between the two ancient cultures. In the Book of Enoch, there is also mention of the great Sumerian ruler Gilgamesh, who often describes the Annunaki in much the same way Enoch describes the Watchers.
Throughout the bible and the Epic of Gilgamesh, the gods often did not like to show their faces and communicated through transmitters where the voice of the gods could be heard, but not seen. Today, we have technology like this, allowing us to speak to people without seeing their face, could they have been referencing something like a telephone or telecom?
Ancient astronaut theories have interpreted this secrecy as extraterrestrials not being able to take off their helmets and having bases on mountains, which were kept hidden from humans. This is a recurring theme in biblical texts and particularly the Epic of Gilgamesh. In fact, in the seventh tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh, he describes being brought to a door that speaks like a living person — much like the intercoms we’re familiar with today.
The ancient Sumerians also built pyramids of their own, called ziggurats. These ziggurats were places of protection during floods and were also topped with thrones for their gods. Erich von Däniken says he believes that the Egyptian pyramids could have also been built for a similar purpose, protecting something from the great flood of biblical texts.
Like the Epic of Gilgamesh, some believe there to be a lost 10th Sumerian tablet that details how the Annunaki built the pyramids in Egypt, which could draw a definitive connection between these two advanced ancient civilizations and an advanced visitor race.
A False Narrative of the Pyramids
As it turns out, the Great Pyramid at Giza, otherwise known as the Pyramid of Cheops or Khufu, may not have been attributed to the person who ordered its construction. It seems there is actually significant evidence the pyramid was not built by Khufu, and the only reason historians and archeologists date it to the 4th dynasty is due to a questionable discovery by English Egyptologist, Major-General Richard Vyse.
Author and alternative theorist, Zecharia Sitchin, found that there is ample evidence that Vyse, after spending over a million dollars on an expedition into the upper chambers of the Great Pyramid, came up empty-handed and forged the cartouche of Cheops.