Pins are used in some magical spells and in sympathetic Magic. Stray pins always should be picked up, according to superstition; otherwise a witch will pick them up and use them in magic. Witches were said to throw crooked pins into their brews to cast evil spells and also to break evil spells. To bless a friend with happiness and prosperity, a witch plucked a lemon at midnight and recited an incantation while sticking the fruit full of pins of various colors. To curse an enemy (see Curse), the witch took the lemon, uttered a different incantation and stuck it with at least several black pins among other colors.
In the witchcraft trials of earlier centuries, pins were used to prick the bodies of the accused in order to locate spots insensitive to pain. Such spots, called Devil ’s Marks, were considered proof that the accused was a witch.
In English lore, a witch’s power could be destroyed by pricking a pigeon with pins or by sticking pins in the heart of a stolen hen.
In cases of possession, pins are often vomited by the victims, along with other strange objects (see Allotriophagy).
In folk magic, crooked pins are tossed into magic wells to help effect both curses and wishes. In Vodun, Santería, Macumba, folk magic and various tribal and other cultures, pins are stuck into effigies and poppets to cause discomfort, pain and even death. The victim supposedly feels the distress in the part of the body that has been pierced by the pin. Such magic is proscribed by the tenets of modern Witchcraft, which hold that magic is not to be used to harm or manipulate others (see Wiccan Rede).
- Leach, Maria, ed., and Jerome Fried, assoc. ed. Funk & Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.
- Opie, Iona, and moira Tatem. A Dictionary of Superstitions. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.