Tag Archives: Home protection folklore

Witch Wheels & Old Shoes: Home Protection Folklore Practices

By Romany Reagan

Everyone can identify with the desire to protect our homes. Today, we might use alarm systems or family dogs to keep our domestic spaces safe from human predators, but our ancestorsโ€™ fears werenโ€™t only for these terrestrial threatsโ€”they felt that their homes could come under attack from unseen forces as well.

The following is an excerpt from a talk I gave at the Museum of the Home (formerly the Geffrye Museum) in November 2019, ‘Witch Bottles & Worn Shoes: Home Protection Folklore Practices’.

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Chimney Shoes

A common home protection folklore practice was to conceal shoes behind walls and in chimneys. Why the shoe? ๐Ÿ‘ข It’s the only garment we wear that retains the shape, the personality, the essence of the wearer. According to footwear historian June Swann on a number of occasions she found that the bereaved had no problem dealing with the deceased’s belongings, until it came to the shoes, and then would ask, “Would I take what we want for the Northampton Museum and dispose of the rest?” Most hidden shoes have been discovered around fireplaces, hearths, and chimneys ๐Ÿ•ฏ๏ธโ€”understandable when the hearth was the centre of the home before 21st century heating made most rooms habitable in winter. โ„๏ธ

Home Protection Sacrifice

Our ancestors left behind numerous clues in the buildings we continue to live in today of how they attempted to protect their homes and families over the last 500yrs. Like the human body, a house was believed to have vulnerable points where witches ๐Ÿง™๐Ÿปโ€โ™€๏ธ faeries ๐Ÿงš๐Ÿปโ€โ™€๏ธ and evil spirits ๐Ÿ‘น could enter more easily. In Scandinavia and the Alps ๐Ÿ—ป venomous adders ๐Ÿ were buried alive under thresholds to ward off unwelcome visitors, such as witches & thieves. Poor snakes!