I’ve been catching up on some reading and magical research of my own recently and a thought occurred to me. Are our homes less protected from spirits and outside forces than homes were historically?
The short answer is yes, of course they are. Historically speaking, it was culturally relevant to place simple household protections in the home, even if you weren’t superstitious. Parents and family would gift good luck charms to newlyweds setting up a new house and houses were built with supernatural protections in mind.
That’s what really switched me onto this line of thinking. The building of the home. In the past, there were many things people would do, worldwide, to strengthen and magically protect a new building. It’s an universally seen phenomena. Some of those things truly are done merely for supernatural protection and others were done for some middling ground of supernatural protection and mundane protections.
Here’s a few folkloric bits that come to mind specifically.
Walls need to be painted to keep ghosts away.
Walls had to be painted so ghosts couldn’t enter. Any color would do, but the paint should be put up as soon as possible.
I believe I read this in Scott Cunningham and David Harrington’s book The Magical Household, but I’m also 80% sure I’ve read this elsewhere too.
I think this stems from the idea that the house is “unfinished” when it isn’t painted. And, historically, that’s true. Paint helps preserve wood, especially when the paint is continually (even ritually) reapplied regularly. This is true even today. So a house may be considered unfinished if it wasn’t painted. I think even painted wood with a sealer, like linseed oil, probably also counts.
Burying things in the foundation or walls will strengthen the home.
This is a recorded thing. You almost certainly have heard this folklore, in some way, shape, or form before. Essentially, you bury or place an object or corpse while building the home as a sacrifice. Sometimes, it’s even a living sacrifice.
Most often, these objects are hidden by or under the hearth, threshold, corners of the home, floors, walls, and attic. What is buried varies, but it’s often animals or material objects. Snakes, frogs, rabbits, cats, dogs, horses, cattle, and even humans have all been buried ritually. Other objects are witch bottles, shoes, coins, tools, weapons (like arrows), and paper talismans (sigils) have also been found.
I would also link this behavior to witch bottles. Modern witches often joke that witches love jars and much of our solid evidence for historical witchcraft stems from witch bottles being discovered. It’s the same idea and some witch bottles were made as sacrifices, so to speak, to the household foundations.
I will admit that there is one major flaw with this: we have few ways of knowing whether something was trapped inside the foundations or put there intentionally. Some are found with gifts or coffins, indicating intentions in a clear way. Others are discovered in places where it’s difficult to imagine the item would get there naturally. But a letter or coins can fall through a floorboard. A snake may crawl up through some mouse hole and curl up under the hearth for warmth in the winter and die.
Another consideration is the smell of decay. Any living or corpse sacrifice would rot. You would have to deal with the decay (and the smell of it and the maggots/flies) that come from decay. It would have to be worthwhile. Yet we know that some of these sacrifices were made with fresh or still living animals. It makes you think.
Nevertheless, it’s actually quite easy to stick a witch jar on a crossbar in the interior of the wall. I’ve done it myself. I store several witch bottles in this manner in a side room, tucked out of sight but easy to access without the wall-boards in the way. When my home was remodeled, I drew protection symbols on the wood framing and I enchanted the sealant I used on the wood working.
Mostly, this behavior is recorded in western Europe. It’s noted especially in the UK, but it’s been seen elsewhere such as Finland, France, Iceland, and New England. (I know some other places too, but I can’t recall them off the top of my head.)
To be fair, not every single thing buried in the walls, floors, or attic is for protection. Protection is, widely, the number one reason, but it can also be for fertility, luck, to curse someone, for health prosperity, abundance, repelling pests, and so on.
The anthology book Hidden Charms – A conference held at Norwich Castle April 2nd, 2016 by editors John Billingsley, Jeremy Harte, Brian Hoggard gives plenty of evidence to this end in the papers presented inside the book. It’s not an easy text to track down, but if you can find it, it’s worth the read.
You already know this. People have always picked materials for certain magical or spiritual properties as much as they are selected from prettiness or strength.
This is especially true though on how it affects modern houses vs old houses. Modern houses tend to be built with concrete, pine wood, and Sheetrock wall boards. We use linoleum, vinyl, and plastic. All ingredients can be magical, but these aren’t typically thought of as magical and are often scorned. Older homes have more handmade or crafter built items in it, so the artisan’s energy also plays into the household’s protection. Just like how an artist can pass on a message through their artwork, an artisan of any kind can do the same.
We can, of course, remodel and add our own selection to the house. You can put new flooring down. You can add furniture of a particular material to balance out the house. All these things can be done to balance out and protect the home.
Planting certain plants for protection.
If you work with plants or herbs, even in the very slightest, then you’ve already seen what magically selecting the right plants can do for magical protections. Planting trees, bushes, flowers, and more in various (and sometimes extremely specific) locations on the property can protect a home. Sometimes not planting an item can do the same.
Some of this is for agricultural reasons – a nut producing tree can provide food and shade. Some for less noticeable reasons – hydrangeas planted by the door was said to make women living there spinsters because the flowers were more stunning then the women. Lavender by the door was said to keep away witches. Oak and rowan are great protectors but elder is nothing but bad news.
Of course, items made from these things also need to be taken into account. So oak flooring might have been used over pine, for example, not just for the sturdiness of it, but also for magical merit.
These days the easiest way to help balance out a home’s protection is relatively the same if you use plants. Plant a protective plant where folklore indicates you should and call it a day. Be sure to check local ordinances, as some places are pretty specific on what can and can’t be planted and where those plants can go.
You can also hang a bunch of drying protection herbs over the door (beside your lucky horseshoe) for protection. This was and still is really well known folklore witches use today.
It may have been a normal part of house building to make adjustments or pauses in work to add in these magical protections. They may have been viewed as superstitions, but chances are people still upheld them as a matter of cultural rote, even if they weren’t superstitious by nature.
That’s why I think that our newer houses may, by their very nature, be less protected. They don’t have the years of people hoping their house is safe and full of good life (wishes can be powerful spells too, after all). They probably don’t have people who go out of their way to ensure that the house is built facing the best direction for some magical reason or allow time to place items in the wall. How many of you can dig up your hearth or move a hearthstone to put something under it? Not many I wager. Newer homes have less problems (if they’re well-built), because they’re new, but I think we also put ourselves into a lot of supernatural trouble because houses aren’t as well protected by years and years of wishes, belief, faith, and magic.
As magical practitioners, we found ourselves at a disadvantage and know that we’re at a disadvantage. I also think that normal people are also victims here. It may be that people are more susceptible to ghosts or hauntings because there’s less magical intentions and protections built into the house. I mean, that stuff all still happened, but you find more old stories that spirits in the house were invited first, then caused trouble, and that most spirits couldn’t enter the house. Once popular opinion and thinking switched to more scientific thinking, people shed those superstitious actions they might have done by rote, and thus we have more hauntings and ghosts.
(Did I just give a possible reason why we see more spirits from the 1800s than earlier? Yes, yes I did, but I think there are other reasons for that this trend too. That’s a different topic for a different day.)
Anyway, since I haven’t yet run into any construction crews that build with magical intentions in mind, then we have to take steps ourselves to build in those protections. Trace a symbol in a corner close to the floor in paint before layering on paint when repainting a room. (I recommend this because you can and will pick up the symbol under paint layers, if you’re only putting a layer or two on.) Add a protection symbol to a newly poured cement walkway (hey, people but their hand-prints and dates on that stuff all the time!) Enchant the water you wash your floors, windows, and walls with. Add witch jars to the corners of your house. These are things we can still do, but are often pushed aside for more exciting protection methods. I like the idea of setting up multiple protections in a house, so that you’re covered from many, many angles.
Don’t get me wrong. Modern houses are just as good as old houses.
I love old houses because of the history and detail in these places are amazing, but often there’s a lot of weirdness that happens as buildings age and different people use if for different things. Homes get remodeled, rooms added or removed, doorways and whole apartments added or removed. New piping, old piping, and more. It can be a mighty task to keep up an older home. New homes will have less maintenance (except the standard maintenance of course), but often don’t have the fine details or history attached to it. Shoddy workmanship is also a factor when it comes to modern homes, because they haven’t withstood the test of time. I love new homes because there’s can be so much cleverness and purpose built into new ones, especially when combining with technology today.
There are pros and cons to each of these homes that need to be considered when moving into or purchasing one of them. There’s a lot of factors that need to be considered and this may be one that you should keep tucked in the back of your mind.
What do you all think? Have you heard of something magically done while building a house? Do you know someone who constructs, remodels, or designs homes with magical intentions in mind?