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Posted by Kim Winter, Monday 30th April, 2012

Daisy wheels

Image: Ric Kemp

Ric Kemp, our local songwriter, is interested in apotropaic marks - symbols intended to ward off evil. Here he summarises some of the research he has done on some marks he spotted at Brixton Windmill.

The apotropaic mark on the grain hopper at the mill is known to many modern folklorists as a 'daisy wheel'. Children can fairly easily make a daisy wheel with a set of compasses, ideal for primary school maths. You draw a circle then intersect it with the original circle's arc - this forms the daisy wheel, a six petal flower within a circle.

The daisy wheel is a very widespread and ancient symbol - its meaning varies between different cultures. The primary symbolism for the wheel is the sun; flowers also are generally associated with it. In Britain, florets may be pre-Christian symbols reused by the Church: the Virgin Mary was particularly associated with flowers.

This lore was progressively lost after the Reformation in the 16th century. What remained were 'lucky' symbols whose specific meaning was no longer recognised - horseshoes are another example.

Contemporary masons and carpentry enthusiasts maintain that daisy wheels were scribed as practical figures for finding angles but there is no hard evidence for this, and other geometrical figures can fulfil the same purpose.

Daisy wheels have also been found on some timber in Eskdale Mill in Cumbria that are thought to date from the 18th century.