It’s been 5 years since the largest collection of Witch Marks in the country was discovered inside one of the caves at Creswell Crags. Hundreds of protection marks, also known as Witch Marks, were discovered at Creswell Crags in 2018. These Apotropaic marks, from the Greek apotrepein, meaning ‘to turn away’, were discovered scribed into the walls and ceilings of the caves over dark holes and large crevices. This was a huge find and a significant national discovery; and it was made by chance!
Two keen-eyed enthusiasts, Hayley Clark and Ed Waters from the Subterranea Britannica group were on a cave tour when they noticed the rare protection marks scribed onto the cave surface. They alerted the tour guide, who was delighted to be there at the moment of discovery of the importance of these marks, which had previously been dismissed as graffiti.
Ritualistic protection marks are most commonly found in historic churches and houses, near the entrance points, particularly doorways, windows and fireplaces to protect the inhabitants from evil spirits. The number of marks at Creswell Crags is in the high hundreds, and the variety of different marks is also unprecedented. The marks appear to have been added over time and may indicate a need by the people of Creswell who carved them to protect themselves from a period of sickness, death or poor crops. Dating from between 16th and 18th Centuries, it was a time of great superstition in England, and these marks may have allayed peoples’ fear of bad spirits coming out of the caves.
To celebrate the 5th Anniversary of the discovery, the team at Creswell Crags are inviting visitors into Robin Hood Cave on Saturday 28th October at different times during the day to see the Witch Marks. Between 10am and 11am and 1pm and 2pm a member of the Learning Team will be on hand to show visitors the marks and explain their role in historical superstitions. It will be free entry into the cave during these times, and the team will be encouraging visitors to make a donation to Creswell Heritage Trust, the charity that looks after the caves.
The open cave sessions are part of a wider celebration about the Witch Marks and superstitions. Throughout October and November, the team have been running a variety of events, including a Superstitions Trail, protection bag making in Mother Grundy’s Parlour, a special Twilight Cave Tour and evening online talks about the persecution of Witches.
Hannah Steggles, Head of Public Engagement said,
‘The discovery of the Witch Marks 5 years ago revealed a whole other aspect of history at Creswell Crags. The focus of the site has been predominantly about the Ice Age, but the reveal of human impact during our more recent past highlights just how important the Crags have been for people throughout history. It’s wonderful to engage our visitors about such a wide spectrum of history, and we hope that people will be enthralled by stories of historical superstitions and folklore as much as they are about tales of mammoths roaming the Crags thousands of years ago!’
To find out more about the special open cave sessions and all of the Witch Mark anniversary events at Creswell Crags this autumn, visit www.creswell-crags.org.uk/witchmarks2023.
Posted on 24 October 2023