Across history, from the very beginnings of communicated existence, human beings have sought to influence the outcomes of their lives and ward off the influence of evil through magic, religion and ritual.
From the ancient practice of 'knocking on wood', used to awake and deter spirits in trees, to painting eyes on seacraft - a tradition that perhaps has its origins in Phoenician culture - to the use of circles and fire, all peoples have sought to secure their small lives in the giant cosmos.
Australia, as a colonised land, has paid scant regard to the existing beliefs of its Indigenous owners as well as introduced superstition.
All regarded as sinful by prevailing Christianity, the practices were condemned and repressed. Nevertheless, white colonists in country continued to make gestures in small, often hidden ways. Ill-understood by those who professed to be educated, the ritual markings and beliefs gave those who practised them some hope of protection in the face of a god who appeared to be indifferent and impassive.
Now a team of university researchers is unearthing the existence of ritual magic behaviour across the Ballarat region.
The Tasmanian Ritual Magic project, which looks for signs of folk magic practices in early 19th Century homes and buildings, is in central Victoria to investigate over 100 properties between July 8-19.
The project is a collaborative research project between Federation University's Collaborative Research Centre in Australian History, La Trobe University and the University of New England Armidale
Known as apotropaic marks (the Greek for superstitious belief generally isdeisidaimonia), they're being found in homes and working buildings, stables and blacksmiths' forges all the way to the western border of the state.
Dr Ian Evans OAM is leading the team. The renowned writer and historian, one of the driving forces behind a resurgence in learning about the heritage of Australia's built environment and of ritual superstition in our history, says there are wide variations in what people practised.
"There are different forms of magic used by different people in the community," says Dr Evans.
"Builders had an ancient tradition of concealing objects in houses and buildings. Other forms of magic were carried out by grooms and professional men who managed horses."
A version of these marks were made by burning a part of a horse stable with a candle to create a charred line, digging it out and burning again to make a small depression or groove.
"The hollow they created in the timber at the entrance to the stable, along with the black mark, was their magic, to protect the animal housed there," says Dr Evans.
Blacksmiths had a similar secretive form of marking they applied to their metalcraft to deter the influence of evil. They would cut crosses and other chisel marks into their forged iron hinges, near their trefoil tips, before the hinges were placed on farm gates and doors.
An example of this can be seen on a cider house at Woolmers in Tasmania, says Dr Evans.
"The have these enormous doors and these big strap hinges, and on the terminals of the hinges there is an 'X' mark which bars entry to evil spiritual beings," he says.
"Now at that time it was thought there was an underworld as well as the world in which we inhabit, and evil spiritual beings, the devil, lived in the underworld and could filter through into our world and seek to do harm."
These beliefs of course were anathema to the churches of the time, and it didn't help that many of those who made the superstitious marks were Roman Catholic.
Drawn from Gaelic mythology and tradition, Catholics used the rituals to keep the influence of the evil from their lives. The widespread appearance of the marks fed into an existing sectarian mistrust of the Irish and 'popery', as did the practice of hiding children's shoes and other items of clothing under floorboards and in crawl spaces in houses.
"The people making these marks were for the most part tradesmen; the concealment of objects was also carried out by middle-class people," Dr Evans says.
One of the most numerous marks found by Dr Evans's team is a 'hexafoil' - a circle mark, made with a protractor or compass.
"Within the bounds of the circle are marks made with the same instrument, which look like the petals of a flower," Dr Evans said.
He says they have turned up in odd places: on walls and furniture, window sills and out buildings. The are graven into plaster and timber. They were made throughout the Nineteenth Century and into the beginning of the Twentieth, before beginning to fade as old cultures disappeared and new medicines made juvenile death less common.
While Dr Evans hasn't been able to reveal specific uses for specific marks, he says the widespread use of them reveals the prevalence of fear at the time.
"This was the magic of the ordinary people of the cities, towns and countryside," Dr Evans says.
"People took power into their own hands and practised magic, when God didn't listen.
"People didn't talk about it. There are no records written down or recorded interviews, but somehow everyone knew. There's nothing in the contemporary documentary record that throws any light on these practices. Generations of researchers have searched books and memoirs, and they haven't found a word about it - because they were looking in the wrong place. The right place is in, and on, the buildings of the time.
"These marks are clues to the mindsets of the people of time. We're picking the truth out of these marks, revealing a lost and secret history of Australia, that was hidden in plain sight."
The research group has been scouring farming properties near Terang and Mortlake for evidence; Dr Evans said he would welcome any information or input from members of the public, especially with tips about where the group may head.