Medieval Musings

Witch's Marks & Gargoyles

Rabbits! Not just any rabbits - KILLER RABBITS! - are in the margins of many medieval texts. Monty Python certainly noticed them! The star mark on the medieval page is a six pointed star while the witch's marks stars at Rosslyn Chapel appear to be five pointed.Is this significant? Symbolism and superstition are rife permeating contemporary thought and lives still.

It's highly unlikely that the marginalia in these manuscripts is merely 'doodling'. Ink and parchment were extremely costly. The marginalia is detailed and was time consuming to produce. Books were rare and expensive for as yet there was no mass printing process available.

The Gutenberg press of 1439 was the first to use moveable type, and was the forerunner of mass produced documents and books.

Scholars have shown, including Australia's own Lynne Kelly, that medieval memory techniques could be the reason for the bizarre and vivid images in the margins of medieval manuscripts.

Read more about these in my new book (forthcoming) Shame & Sexuality on the Goldfields where I discuss the constructs of shame and sexuality: where they originated, how they related to the goldfields, and how they have changed over time.

Geoff Says

Apopotraic (evil averting) marks, sometimes known as witches marks are evident in churches, chapels, houses and some of the most unusual places! Not only are they on medieval churches in England and Europe but they are in Australia too.

Above are some examples of gargoyles and marks at Rosslyn Chapel, Scotland. Gargoyles in many grotesque forms were meant to protect the boundaries of buildings from malevolent other worldly beings or supernatural dangers. There is a belief that gargoyles were put on the outside of churches to scare away the Devil. However, does this theory hold up when we find examples of these frightening beasts inside holy places or chapels?

Folklore dictates that they were used to ward off evil beings and the supernatural. Old shoes, horseshoes, dead cats and other paraphenalia can be found in houses in Victoria.

In Ballarat, a water channel contains over 60 different masons' marks carved into the hard bluestone that lines kilometres of its walls.

See Mystery, Marks and Masons.

Mystery, Marks & Masons

Excerpt: Chapter 18

Sixty different masons’ marks are carved into the hard bluestones that line the south

wall of the Yarrowee channel that runs through Ballarat in the central goldfields

region of Victoria, Australia. The channel winds its way through the city before it

reaches the Leigh catchment area, the Barwon River and then to the sea near the

port city of Geelong. There are no visible marks on the stones that are used to pave

the channel floor, or on the stones at the top of the walls. The marks appear to be

randomly placed, facing either up or down, and even sideways. These marks are a

rare example in Australian architecture and colonial industrial heritage. They are

significant for their quantity quality, diversity and the era in which they were built.

This chapter explores the comparison between the 60 different masons’ marks

on the Yarrowee channel with masons’ marks on stones in the United Kingdom. It

excites the senses for the scope for further studies based on more extensive research

and methods. A new study for investigation in Australia, stonemason’s marks,

inscriptions, the placement of stones and other items often relate to previously hidden

information about the culture and life of the people who instigated them, and can be

a rich source for historians.

The Yarrowee channel, part of a storm water system that runs through

Ballarat, Victoria Australia was transformed by the two municipalities of Ballarat

East and West into the present waterway, part of a network of channels and associated

structures. The bluestone lining the south wall of the channel was installed around

the 1890s. The storm water channelling system was a direct result of gold mining

activities that formed the basis for the establishment and development of Ballarat

from the early 1850s.

In Australia the study of such masons’ marks is an emerging field of academic

historical research that potentially offers new information in the general area of

colonial history including, but not limited to, the transmission of construction

techniques, folklore, and the early origins of the masonic movement in Victoria.


Dorothy Wickham & David Waldron, Pay Dirt: Ballarat & Other Gold Towns, Chapter 18, BHS Publishing, 2019.

There are over 60 different masons' marks on the bluestones lining the yarrow Channel in Ballarat.


Dot's Drunkards and other Doings.