CHRISTOPHER A LONG - Les Découvertes en Campagne de Christopher Long [No. 2]

Les Découvertes en Campagne de Christopher

[No. 2] Contre le diable — La Voix Le Bocage — 28-10-2010

By Christopher Long

A daisy versus the devil

In our series "Christopher's Country Discoveries" this month a symbol designed to drive off the devil. Focus on a very ancient tradition.

In the Bocage Virois, as everywhere else in Europe, one occasionally finds strange circular designs scratched into the doors of old houses, farm buildings and even into the masonry around church doors. The symbols often take the form of daisy, with six or eight petals, set within a wheel.

A few weeks ago, not far from Sept-Frères, the Guernsey archaeologist John McCormack found a good example of the form. John spends much of his time in England and Normandy, being a specialist in the Anglo-Norman world and its varying architectural styles from the C11th to the C17th. He finds that the links between the kingdom of England and the duchy of Normandy have been so close that one often finds they have almost identical forms and methods.

So, for John, it was quite normal to find a daisy-wheel variant engraved on the door of a C16th house in the Bocage Virois. It's a symbol he meets more or less everywhere.

But what was the significance of this symbol to our forebears until well into the C19th? Certainly our ancestors often feared the night, the dark, the unknown, death and hell. In pagan times there was a festival which marked the end of the long days of summer and the start of the long nights of winter — today's autumn equinox. This was the time when the living believed themselves closest to the dead. The little daisy opens its petals to the sun but closes them again at sunset.

Scratched onto a door the daisy protected the building's occupants from threats outside.

And even if our great-grandmothers didn't entirely rely of the power of a daisy, perhaps they saw the flower's emblem as a sort of insurance which didn't cost very much.

Does that seem funny to us in 2010? Today we continue to drive devils away with Halloween. The Irish had a custom of putting candles into hollow turnips to frighten them off.

With many thanks to Georges de Coupigny for the photograph that accompanied the original press article.

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