To the layperson, a Witch Window is innocuous, quite often unnoticed and unimpressive. So rare, that if you travel the nation, you will probably never see a single one outside of central and northern Vermont. And the ones you can spot are usually found in old farmhouses which were built during the 19th Century; a time when witches and witchcraft conjured up terrifying thoughts and gave cause for fear.
A Witch Window may appear like an architectural flaw at first, almost as if the builder had cut a corner or misread the plans. Modern day thinking cannot grasp that someone would purposely install a window at a 45-degree angle. The questions likely run rampant through the heads of those seeing one for the first time and are usually tied to a great and obvious mistake. What kind of builder would do that? Why is that window crooked when all the rest are normal? If a window wouldn’t fit, then why try to wedge one in? And so on and so forth.
Looking at the History
What we call a Witch Window, is also know as a coffin window or Vermont window. And as stated, they are nearly exclusive to central and northern Vermont. They were first seen in houses built around the 1830’s. Legend says that these windows were purposefully added to homes to protect them from witches. This premise was based on an ancient belief that witches were unable to fly their broomsticks through angled windows. Alternatively, those who call them coffin windows cite another old superstition that they were used to slide coffins out of the second floor so they could be slid down the roof and lowered to the ground. They cite this was necessary because of the fact that many old farmhouses had very narrow or angled staircases, which wouldn’t allow for large object navigation.
The coffin window theory sounds plausible at first, but under scrutiny really doesn’t hold water for many reasons. A wooden casket with a body inside would weigh between 150 and 400 pounds, depending on the person’s size and the type of wood used for construction. Looking at the shape of the window, in order to get it through the window, it would need to be lifted and tilted at a very specific angle, just to match the opening. Also since the window was not always close to the roof line, nor were there any platforms for people to stand and assist the moving of a casket, it would be a disaster-in-the-waiting to simply push one out. Plus there was no mechanism for lowering the coffin to the ground once it hit the edge of what were usually steep roofs. Odds are that any coffin moved in this manner would end up as a pile of broken wood and a broken body somewhere on the ground below. It would be much easier to simple carry a body downstairs and put in the coffin in the parlor.
Witchcraft in the New England Area
Witchcraft had been a subject of constant fear, some say dating back to the late 1600’s, with the Salem Witch trials in nearby Massachusetts, others say it goes back to long before. Citizens in rural areas of the nation, such as central and northern Vermont were at the time, were very superstitious and sought out reasons as to why bad things happened. Since science was not really a part of everyday life, people relied on the word of their ancestors for guidance in explaining things. Often time when it was impossible to find a rational explanation, witchcraft was deemed the culprit.
One of the old stories which influenced this type of thinking, also was one of the reasons why someone might add a witch window to their home. The take says that long ago, sometime in the early 1800’s, a Vermont family was being plagued by witches. Throughout the night, a coven of witches would fly through the windows on the upper floor, wreaking havoc, causing fear, and keeping the family awake and exhausted. The father watched the flying patterns one night and found what he thought was a solution. Early the next day, he went to work cutting, hammering, and redesigning the placement of his upstairs windows. The next night the witches returned as usual, but, when they tried to fly through the windows, they banged their heads and some even fell off their brooms. Over and over they tried to enter the house, but without any success. They flew off and never returned, and as the idea spread across the countryside, so did the number of homes with witch windows.
Now some might respond with the answer that most homes only have one witch window and what would stop the witches from flying in the many other normal windows? The answer isn’t obvious, but it is clear. With an entire coven of witches flying randomly through the upstairs windows of a house without always knowing the floor plan, none would take the risk that they might find themselves faced with trying to fly OUT of that witch window. The possibility of being injured or worse, de-broomed and trapped inside of the house by the homeowners was too large of a risk. Being caught practicing witchcraft, especially flying around on a broom, would be a death sentence by some horrible means. Witches just avoided those houses at all costs.
Our modern world is always in such a rush to find a plausible explanation for everything; much like our ancestors. We take our close-minded view and try to force it to fit every model or situation. Yet, despite the ‘absolute certainty’ that modern science tries to tell us, so many people remain skeptics. It’s always up to the individual to decide if they believe or don’t believe in the things called superstition or old wives tales. In this case, if it is simply an old wives tale, why would people actually make witch windows a part of their houses? Could that same skepticism we see today, have been the root cause? Or was it possibly a case of ‘better safe than sorry’. Whichever way you choose to believe, that’s up to you, but one last though before you go. Have you every seen a witch flying on a 45 degree angle?
Additional Reading: Witches, Witchcraft, and the Strange
- Hunter’s Moon 2021 – Looking Toward the Future - October 20, 2021
- Mabon 2021 – Celebrating the Second Harvest on the Fall Equinox - September 20, 2021
- Full Harvest Moon – Looking Forward Rather Than Behind - September 17, 2021