Boots, shoes, toys and dead cats were just some of the objects concealed in early Australian buildings to ward off evil spirits, a historian says.
In a talk given to the Museum of Sydney on Sunday, Ian Evans said the folk magic custom was used by Australians between 1788 and about 1935 in a desperate bid to divert evil spirits from their homes.
"When appeals to God failed to protect their children, people turned to magic for protection," Dr Evans, an architectural historian and writer, said.
The practice, which dates back to at least the 14th century, was brought to Australia by early settlers and convicts.
"The same objects, used in the same way, are found throughout the United Kingdom," Dr Evans said.
Since Dr Evans began studying the ritual in 2004 he has discovered more than 200 sites where "concealments" occur within a building's voids throughout the country.
Among the objects found at cottages, mansions, courthouses, police stations and lighthouses were dead cats, children's toys, trinkets and clothes.
"Science in all its form was at a very early stage until the 20th century and a high level of superstition existed, particularly at the grass-roots level," Dr Evans said.His findings formed the basis of a PhD thesis, Touching Magic: Deliberately Concealed Objects in Old Australian Houses and Buildings, which he completed at the University of Newcastle in NSW.
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