Before the items we call locks came about, there was magic and superstition. Valuable property was protected by armed guards, or animals.
People have always been superstitious, and magical beliefs existed at all levels of society worldwide. The idea of supernatural phenomena worried and frightened people and led them to look for ways to protect themselves from these illusions.
Before locks and keys existed, people protected their privacy and valuable property in hidden chambers or water-filled ponds guarded by armed sentries or hungry animals – dogs, snakes or crocodiles.
At the same time, superstitions and religious beliefs were used to threaten would-be intruders. Apotropaic magic means magic to ward off evil. Even as locks and keys gradually took the place of living guards, people still used apotropaic means to protect their valuables.
In the Middle Ages, many doors were fitted out with lion heads, dragon heads or dragons to ward off malevolent forces and malicious spirits. These carved animal guardians watched over keyholes and other entrances into homes, churches and storage buildings. The oldest churches in Scandinavia still have dragons guarding their keyholes.
The first attempts at a rational explanation of mysterious phenomena appeared in the late 17th century with the birth of the Enlightenment, when man began questioning the world around him. All beliefs that were contrary to religious doctrine were considered to be superstition.
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Published 17 May 2011
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