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Gargoyle from Bayeux Cathedral, France
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Apotropaic magic is used to avert evil influences; the word is derived from the Greek apətrəpeɪɪk, which means “to turn away”.[1] Belief in such a form of magic has existed since at least the beginning of written history. Witches in particular were believed to be able to harness harmful magic, and many accidents or diseases were attributed to their malign influences, including impotence, strokes, fevers and many skin complaints. Thus a variety of practices and talismans emerged to provide potential victims with some protection.[2] One hypothesis about the purpose of grotesques such as gargoyles in architecture for instance, suggests that their presence was meant to frighten away evil.[3]

By the early modern period it had become common to hide objects such as written charms, dried cats, horse skulls, witch bottles and shoesConcealed shoes hidden in the fabric of a building have been discovered in many European countries, as well as in other parts of the world, since at least the early modern period. in the structure of a building. The locations of such finds – around fireplaces and entrance doors among others – suggests that at least some were concealed as magical charms to protect the occupants of the building against evil influences.[4]