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What Are Witches Stairs? Were They Built To Ward Off Witches?

October 2023 | Steve Travels

Witches Stairs, also known as alternating tread staircases or ships ladders, have been surrounded by folklore for quite some time, often associated with the idea of warding off witches. Let's delve into the origin, construction, and folklore surrounding witches stairs:

What Are Witches Stairs?

Witches Stairs, also known as alternating tread staircases, have a peculiar yet intriguing origin rooted in ancient folklore. While today they are appreciated for their space-saving design, their initial purpose was believed to be of a more mystical nature.

Origin and Construction:

The unique construction of witches stairs with alternating treads was believed to have been conceived as a means to ward off witches. This design creates a steep ascent, which according to folklore, witches found difficult to navigate. The idea was that the unusual step pattern would confuse or prevent witches from climbing the stairs, thus keeping the home's residents safe from harm.

Folklore and the Name:

The name "witches stairs" stems from the ancient belief that witches were a common menace and that homeowners needed a way to protect themselves from these supernatural intruders. The alternating tread design was thought to baffle witches, preventing them from ascending the staircase and causing mischief or harm to the inhabitants.

Warding Off Witches:

The folklore surrounding witches stairs paints a picture of a time when the supernatural was feared, and inventive architectural designs were employed as protective measures. The belief that witches could be thwarted by such a staircase was taken seriously by some, leading to the name witches stairs. This name and the associated folklore capture a captivating blend of architectural ingenuity and mystical belief.

Modern Interpretation:

In modern times, while the mystique surrounding witches stairs has faded, the intriguing lore adds a layer of charm to these practical structures. The belief that they were initially built to ward off witches adds a historical, albeit mythical, dimension to their appeal. Today, they are appreciated for their space-saving design, but the tales of their witch-warding ability continue to enchant and amuse.

In conclusion, witches stairs offer a fascinating glimpse into a time when architectural designs were believed to possess the power to ward off supernatural forces. While we now understand their practical purpose for space conservation, the lore surrounding witches stairs continues to intrigue and add a whimsical touch to this unique architectural feature.