Iron in ghost lore

In folklore, cold iron protects against witches, fairies (see Fairy) and evil spirits, who are unable to cross it. In India, iron is believed to repel the Djinn, the Demonic children of Lilith and the Devil. In classical times, iron was used to ward off illness and bad luck, which were believed to be caused by evil spirits; it was especially important in the protection of women in childbirth and of small children, who were more vulnerable to evil than others. Pliny, in his Natural History, writes that a circle traced three times with iron or a pointed weapon would protect a woman and her infant from all noxious influences. Iron ore from the British Isles and Europe was transplanted to the American colonies. Large pieces of cast iron or iron ore traditionally are laid at the threshold of dwellings or set in the main door frame in order to prevent undesirable beings from entering. Other iron Amulets include knives buried under doorsteps or gates, horseshoes hung over doorways, and fire irons crossed over or beneath a cradle. Similarly, iron scissors placed in a cradle prevent fairies from stealing an infant and replacing it with a changeling. Iron coal rakes, scythes, hoops, hooks and shears also serve as a deterrent to evil, and if kept in the bedroom will ward off the nightmare (see Old Hag). Nails carried in the pocket serve protection while travelling. Iron seems to have little or no effect against Ghosts or Vampires. The Saxons, however, did not put iron rune wands in cemeteries because they feared the iron would scare away the spirits of the dead. Many a house with an iron threshold or charm reputedly has been haunted. A few classic ghosts haunt with their rattling of iron chains. (See Haunting of Athenodorus.) Vampires must be warded off with silver, garlic, wolfbane and other charms.


  • Garrad, Larch S. “Additional Examples of Possible House Charms in the Isle of Man.” Folklore 100 (1989): 110–112.
  • Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. New York: Facts On File, 1999.
  • Tebbett, C. F. “Iron Thresholds as a Protection.” Folklore 91 (1980): 240.


The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley  – September 1, 2007


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