In folklore, the key was a magic object with great power. Church keys were especially magical. The giant, heavy key, forged of iron by the blacksmith, could help alleviate or even cure illness. Drinking north-flowing brook water out of a church key was said to cure whooping cough in mid-Sweden. The power of the key was enhanced if the bit or bow had a cross in it, or if it was borrowed on the sly.

Leonard Fredrik Rääf has compiled Swedish superstitions, published by K. Rob. V Wikman in 1957. Here are a few extracts, in which church keys played a crucial part.

Unruly children

“If small children are unquiet with much crying, shalt thou take a fresh birch switch and thread it through the church key, or break off such a switch on the church road, and with it strike them until they be goode.” (Törner 182, Ydre).

“When children are sickly, one should thread their linens through a church key” (Turner 980).

To treat whooping cough

“Pour water through the church key for the childe to drink. In the Parish of Ed in Tjust, this key is often on loan to the villages for this purpose.” (Havton).

To catch one’s true love

“During the early morning service on Christmas Day, or a Sunday on which the priest reads the Gospel, thread your handkerchief three times through the church key and state your intent; when you strike a girl with this handkerchief she will fall in love and be compliant,” (Tångby).


Biedermann, Hans. Symbollexikonet. Stockholm 1991.

Karlsson, Lennart. Medieval Ironwork in Sweden. Vol I, II. Royal Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities. Uddevalla 1988.

Tillhagen, Carl-Herman. Barnet i folktron. Falköping 1983.

Wikman, K. Rob V. Svenska skrock och signerier samlade av Leonard Fredrik Rääf. Stockholm 1957.