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A wizard in a cave

Experts Map Cave Full of Witches’ Marks Used to Counter Evil

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Originally written off as graffiti, experts have now declared that the hundreds of markings of squares, letters, mazes, and lines in an English cave system are actually witches’ marks – apotropaic marks that were used as a sort of protective ‘magic’ to ward off evil or bad luck. And it seems these worries were still rampant in the East Midlands, central England less than 200 years ago.

The witches’ marks, or witch marks, were not a hidden feature in the Creswell Crags, a well-known archaeological site in the East Midlands. As Heritage facilitator John Charlesworth, the acting tour leader when the discovery was made a year ago, stated: “These witches’ marks were in plain sight all the time.” They were just disregarded as modern tourist graffiti until some experts decided it was time to take a better look at the variety of signs covering the walls.

But ITV reports that Hayley Clark and Ed Waters from the Subterranea Britannica group noticed some faint connecting ‘VV’ symbols during a cave tour and, as Ms. Clark said, “both of us knew that this was the sort of thing we had seen in other locations.” Several experts now agree.

A Virtual Tour to See the Witches’ Marks

Tours highlight the sections of Creswell Crags where witches’ marks have been located, however not all of the marks are accessible to the public. For example, Live Science says that the chamber holding the largest concentration of the markings is not open for public viewing. To remedy this inconvenience and curiosity, site officials joined up with Sheffield Hallam University researchers to create a virtual tour of the site.

To accomplish the task, the researchers used LiDAR (‘Light Detection and Ranging,’ which pings lasers off of a surface and measures the reflected light), and photogrammetry to create a 3D map of the surface. The combination has created a virtual cave complete with the witches’ marks, for people to virtually tour in place of the real thing. This may help with preservation of the site.

What are Witches’ marks?

Despite their name, witches’ marks were not left by witches, instead they were meant to keep witches away, perhaps a better name would be ‘anti-witch marks’ or ‘ritual protection marks.’ The Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey explains that they were one element used “in multiple layers of spiritual defence,” often used alongside prayer and other rituals.

Witches’ marks have been found in houses, churches, and at other sites or on objects that people believed needed some layer of spiritual protection. The symbols were often placed near entryways into a space, around doorways, windows, and fireplaces.

Some popular ritual protection marks

Some popular ritual protection marks. (Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey)

Their usage and the symbols created have changed over time and space; for example the Romans and English Christian churches liked Hexfoil compasses for different purposes – the Romans may have linked the symbol to the sun and for the Christians it was connected with Baptisms. For many people, witches’ marks also served a role in warding off witchcraft, but several of the symbols were then adapted for a general purpose to ward off evil, or just bring good luck .

The most popular witches’ mark designs in the Creswell Crags are religiously linked. ‘VV’ is believed to be a reference to Mary, Virgin of Virgins , and ‘PM’ - Pace Maria – asking the holy mother for peace. Other designs are mazes, boxes, and diagonal lines to trap evil.

The most popular witches’ mark designs in the Creswell Crags are religiously linked, such as the connect ‘VV’ sign

The most popular witches’ mark designs in the Creswell Crags are religiously linked, such as the connect ‘VV’ sign. (Historic England)

The Biggest Concentration in Britain

Scientists have been studying the carvings for about a year now, and according to CNN they believe this “may be the biggest concentration of apotropaic marks ever found in Britain.” Somerset previously held the record with 57 witches’ marks.

Experts haven’t been able to pinpoint any dates yet for when the markings were made, but it’s said similar designs have been found in houses built between 1550 and 1750. It’s been suggested that these markings were meant to help people prevent illness, death, and poor harvests.

Hundreds of anti-witch marks have been found in caves at Creswell Crags.

Hundreds of anti-witch marks have been found in caves at Creswell Crags. (ITV News)

There’s also a strong possibility that locals feared what may come out of the caves. Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, explained:

Even 200 years ago, the English countryside was a very different place, death and disease were everyday companions and evil forces could readily be imagined in the dark. We can only speculate on what it was the people of Creswell feared might emerge from the underworld into these caves.

Not the First Discovery in Creswell Crags

Creswell Crags is already recognized for its prehistoric past. Metro reports the site, which is naturally formed, was a Neanderthal and human shelter during the Ice Age as well as the location for “Britain’s earliest cave art, with 13,000-year-old pictures of birds, deer, bison and horses.”

A representative with Creswell Heritage Trust also told Live Science “Artifacts found in the cave are mostly from the Ice Age — when creatures and early humans took shelter in there. These include bones of creatures such as hyenas and horses, and flint tools used by early humans.”

Top Image: A wizard in a cave. The witches’ marks were discovered in Creswell Crags, England. Source: fotofrank / Adobe Stock

By Alicia McDermott



Mary Madeline's picture

I think the VV means trying to come together for peace. The letter V in Roman numerals is 5 so 2 VV make to 5 , my 5 and your 5 coming together wich makes a score of 10.

Mary Madeline

Alicia McDermott's picture


Alicia McDermott holds degrees in Anthropology, Psychology, and International Development Studies and has worked in various fields such as education, anthropology, and tourism. Traveling throughout Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, Alicia has focused much of her research on Andean cultures... Read More

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