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Marks of a Witch.

Written and compiled by George Knowles

The marks of a witch has often been confused with the Devil’s mark and throughout history mistakenly used interchangeably.  While both were indicative marks of a witch’s supposed allegiance with the devil, their physical characteristics are quite different.


The witch’s mark is generally described as a natural physical abnormality, most commonly in the form of an extra breast (polymastia) or extra nipple (polythelia), the latter being more common in men rather than in women and a phenomenon that occurs regularly in a small percentage of the population.  On the other hand, the Devil’s mark (stigmata diaboli) sometimes called a Devil’s seal (sigillum diaboli) was commonly a scar, birthmark or other blemish on the skin.


During the witch hysteria of the 17th century such people as Matthew Hopkins the infamous Witch Finder General, plus others before and after him in their efforts to persecute witches, used the ignorance and fear of the general public to turn such natural phenomena to their own advantage.  It soon became the case that any natural physical malformation, a wart, mole, spot, fleshy skin protuberance or discoloration of the skin would be taken as mark of a witch, and most particularly if it secreted liquid or blood.  God forbid if you were found with a bleeding tumour, piles, ulcers or seeping boils.


In the early sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, particularly in England, it was presumed that any such protuberances or teats were used by a witch to suckle imps and familiars, ‘the agents of the devil’, and when found on a person it was taken as a sure sign and condemnation of witchcraft.  Similarly, it was thought that the devil sealed his compact with witches by leaving them some mark of identification on the body, hidden in some secret place.  Therefore, anyone found with unusual scaring, birthmarks or even tattoos were equally suspect and condemned.  As a result, many innocent people were tried, found guilty of witchcraft and executed.


After the early writers on witchcraft had established the main features and principles of the heresy of witchcraft, the main being Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer in their Malleus Maleficarum (first published in 1486).  They were followed in the late 15th century through to the early 17th century by a whole host of “authoritative” writers calling themselves Demonologists.  In their own books, these demonologist refined and deepened the now accepted theories on witchcraft, and by doing so helped to inflame and spread the fear of it throughout the land.  In addition to being writers, many were men of importance and influence:  lawyers, theologians and even trial judges, who had an unrivalled opportunity to see their theories put in to practice.


The most notable of these writers were: Lambert Daneau – Les Sorciers (1564) later translated into English as A Dialogue of Witches (1575), Jean Bodin – De is Démonomanie des sorciers (Paris, 1580), Peter Binsfeld – Tractatus de Confessionibus Maleficorum et Sagarum (Treves, 1589), Nicholas Remy – De Démonolatreiae (Lyons, 1595), Martin Antoine Del Rio – Disquisitionum Magicarum (Louvain, 1599), Henri Boguet – Discours des sorciers (Lyons, 1602), Francesco-Maria Guazzo – Compendium Maleficarum (Milan, 1608), Pieierre de Lancre – Tableau de L’inconstance des mauvais anges (Paris, 1612) and Ludovico Maria Sinistrari – De Demonialitate (1700).


Lesser writers of note soon imitated their writings and a whole plethora of books documenting arguments, anecdotes, trial reports and personal experiences appeared on the scene.  Frequent reprinting of these books ensured their continuing popularity and many local types of councils; judges and witch-finders used them as a guide to determine “who and what constituted a witch”.  One such writer was Michael Dalton who wrote in his Country Justice (London 1618, 1630, 1647):  “Their said familiars hath some bigg, or little teat, borne by the witch upon their body, and in some secret place, where he sucketh there”.  Of the devil’s mark he wrote:  “being pricked it will not bleed, and be often in their secretest parts, and therefore require diligent and careful search”.


During the Hopkins hysteria many of the women he had taken, after depriving them of sleep for several nights and forcing them to keep moving by walking them up and down until their feet were bloody from the rough stone floors of their stinking cells, in near states of total exhaustion they soon confessed and confirmed Daltons theories.  So it was at the Suffolk trials of 1645 that - “Margaret, wife of Bayts, of Framlingham, after two or three days walking, confessed that when she was at work she felt a thing come upon her leg and go into her secret parts, and nipped her in her secret parts, where her marks were found.  And at another time when she was in the churchyard, she felt a thing nip her again in those parts, and further that she had two teats and they might be made at once sucking”.


Of the devil’s mark, the demonologist Lambert Daneau in his A Dialogue of Witches wrote: “There is not a single witch upon whom the devil doth not set some note or token of his power and prerogative over them.  Judges should always, when suspects are presented to them, pull out hair and shave, where occasion shall serve, all the body over, lest haply the mark may lurk ender the hair in any place”.  Ludovico Maria Sinistrari in his De Demonialitate similarly believed that:  “The demon imprints on the witches some mark, especially on those whose constancy he suspects.  That mark, however, is not always of the same shape or figure; sometimes it is the likeness of a hare, sometimes like a toad’s foot, sometimes a spider, a puppy or a dormouse.  It is imprinted on the most secret parts of the body, with men, under the eyelids or perhaps under the armpits, or on the lips or shoulders, the anus, or elsewhere, with women, it is generally on the breasts or private parts.  Now, the stamp which makes these marks is simply the devil’s talon”.


In modern times we would expect a wart or corn not to bleed and to be insensitive to the prick of a needle, likewise an old scar might also become insensitive, but in the 16th and 17th centuries such insensitivity proved witchery.  Francesco-Maria Guazzo in his Compendium Maleficarum, relates such an incident at Brindisi in November 1500:  “When Claudia Bogarta was about to be tormented, she was shaved to the skin, as the custom is, so that a scar was revealed on top of her bare brow.  The inquisitor then suspecting the truth, namely, that it was a mark made by the devil’s claw, which had before been covered by hair, ordered a pin to be thrust deep into it.  And when this was done, she neither felt any pain, nor was the slightest drop of blood seen at the wound.  Yet, she persisted to deny the truth, saying that the insensitivity was caused a long time ago by a blow from a stone.  Later she was tortured until she confessed”.


Many records of witch trials carried out in England, Scotland and New England are especially rich in their accounts of witch’s marks.  Take an account from 1621 - Elizabeth Sawyer, the Witch of Edmonton was found to possess a “thing like a teat the bigness of the little finger, which was branched at the top like a teat, and seemed as though one had sucked it”.  In another case Temperance Lloyd was hanged for witchcraft in 1682 at Exeter, she was searched by Ann Wakely who reported that:  “Upon search of her said body, she, this informant, did find in her secret parts two teats hanging nigh together like unto a piece of flesh that a child had sucked.  And that each of the said teats was about an inch in length (Howell, State Trails, 1816)”.  In 1692 Bridget Bishop was examined during the Salem witches trials and:  “a jury of women found a preternatural teat upon her body, but on a second search, within three or four hours, there was no such thing to be seen (Cotton Mather, Wonders of the Invisible World, 1693).


Not everybody believed that finding such marks was a sure way of identifying a witch, for even in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there were skeptics who voiced their concerns at the idea.  One such was ‘Thomas Ady’ who dismissed all their claims by writing in his book A Candle in the Dark (London, 1656):  “Very few people in the world are without privy marks upon their bodies, as moles or stains, even such as witch mongers call the devil’s privy mark… and many an honest man or woman have such excrescences growing upon their bodies, as these witch mongers do call the devil’s biggs (teats)”.  In times more contemporary, the eminent anthropologist Margaret A. Murray carried out an experiment to prove just such a theory.  Out of 315 randomly selected people, she found that 7 per cent of them had supernumerary nipples.


Pleadings that these protuberances were natural availed the witch of little, and such was the fear of being found with them, many ignorant people endeavoured to cut them off, thus creating scaring which would then be interpreted as the devil’s mark.  An example of this is given in accounts about Thomas Darling, ‘The Boy of Burton’ who accused Elizabeth Wright and her daughter Alice Gooderidge of bewitching him.  Wright and Gooderidge were arrested and examined in 1596:  “The old women they stripped and found behind her right shoulder a thing like the udder of a ewe that giveth suck with two teats, like unto two great warts, the one behind under the armhole, the other a handful off toward the top of the shoulder.  Being demanded how long she had those teats, she answered she had been born so.  Then did they search Alice Gooderidge, and found upon her belly a hole of the bigness of two pence, fresh and bloody, as though some great wart had cut off the place.  Alice said a knife had caused the wound when she slipped from a ladder two days previously, but a physician said, “It seemed to be sucked”.


Adding to the discomfort of those accused of witchcraft was the spectacle of being searched for the marks of a witch.  The initial searches were often conducted in public and provided much entertainment for a jeering ogling crowd of curiosity seekers.  As late as 1717 in Leicester it was reported that an old woman suspected of witchcraft was inspected:  “publicly before a great number of good women in that town.  They deposed there were found on her secret parts two white pieces of flesh like pap’s, and some swore they were like the teats of an ewe, and some like the pap’s of a cat”.


If no immediate imperfections where found, the victim was remanded and made to await inspection by the professionals.  The services of the likes of Matthew Hopkins and his assistant Stearne were in great demand during these times, and for a fee, they would be called in to search the victim’s for the elusive devil’s marks.  Not an easy task in those days, for by this time the demonologist’s had refined their ‘visible’ description and definition of the

Devil’s mark to include the ’invisible’ devil’s mark, and these could only be discovered by pricking with a needle until some insensitive spot which did not bleed was allegedly found”.  Hopkins and others like John Dick of Scotland,

John Kincaid of Tranent and John Balfour of Corhouse, quickly became the leading experts and were paid handsomely for their efforts, sometimes as much as twenty shillings a piece for all they could condemn as witches.


These were unscrupulous men and not beyond faking a witch for their own personal gain and prestige, often by using trick tools.  One outspoken critic of the time, Friedrich von Spee in his Cautio Criminals (Rinteln, 1631) warned that:  “The torturer should be watched very closely, lest he only pretend to prick and then cry out he had distinguished a devil’s mark, and lest he employ cheating pricks, whether magic or charmed, or so made that at pleasure they enter and wound or only seem to do so by sliding back into themselves”.


Not all of them got away with such tactics however, indeed one of them ended up on the gallows himself because of his evil deeds.  A good example of how one of these fellows worked is revealed in a book by Ralph Gardiner - England’s Grievance Discovered in Relation to the Coal Trade (London, 1655, 1749).  In March 1649, the magistrates at Newcastle decided to invite “the man that trieth the witches in Scotland” (his name is not actually recorded in the account) to give his tests in Newcastle and to be paid “twenty shillings a piece for all he could condemn as witches, and free passage thither and back again”.


Of the incident Gardiner reports:  “When the sergeants had brought the said witch finder on horseback to town, the magistrates sent their bellman through the town, ringing his bell and crying:  “All people that would bring in any complaint against any woman for a witch, they should be sent for and tried by the person appointed”.  Thirty women were brought into the town hall and stripped, and then openly had pins thrust into their bodies.  And most of them were found guilty, near twenty-seven of them, by him and set aside”.


Today in more modern times given our knowledge gleaned from two or more centuries of medicinal research and psychology, we are better able to understand the psychological effects that severe trauma can have on the body, and how it can sometimes effect paralysis or anaesthesia to certain limbs and bodily functions.  Imagine then the tremendous emotional shock the poor victims of the witch craze went through when publically stripped, shaved of all bodily hair, probed, prodded and pricked in all their secret places before a jeering crowd of onlookers, neighbours and friends.


Gardiner goes on to give an account of how during the preceding trials a watchful and perceptively discerning judge saved one fortunate witch from the gallows:  “The said reputed witch finder acquainted Lieutenant Colonel

Hodson that he knew women, whether they were witches or no by their looks, and when the said person was searching of a personable and good-like woman, the said Colonel replied and said, “Surely this woman is none and need not be tried”.  But the Scotsman said she was, for the townspeople said she was, and therefore he would try her.  And presently in sight of all the people, he laid her body naked to the waist, with her clothes over her head, by which fright and shame, all her blood contracted into one part of her body.  And then he ran a pin into her thigh, and suddenly let her coats fall, and then demanded whether she had nothing of his in her body that did not bleed.  But she being amazed replied little.  Then he put his hand up her coats and pulled out the pin and set her aside as a guilty person and a child of the Devil.  And he fell to try others, whom he made guilty.


Lieutenant Colonel Hodson, perceiving the alteration of the foresaid woman, by her blood settling in her right parts, caused that woman to be brought again, and her clothes pulled up to her thigh, and required the Scot to run the pin into the same place, and then it gushed out of blood, and the said Scot cleared her, and said she was not a child of the Devil”.


As a result of these trails fifteen women were executed, confirmation of their deaths is recorded in the parish register of St Andrew’s, Newcastle, which names fifteen women who “were executed on the town moor for witches” at that time.  Of there deaths Gardiner writes:  “Those poor souls never confessed anything, but pleaded innocence.  And one of them, by name Margaret Brown, beseeched God that some remarkable sign might be seen at the time of their execution, to evidence their innocency, and as soon as ever she was turned off the ladder, her blood gushed out upon the people to the admiration (astonishment) of the beholders”.


Of the said witch finder who precipitated their deaths, he went next to Northumberland were he increased his charges to ‘three pounds’ for each witch he had convicted, and this at a time when the average weekly wage was just sixpence.  However his time was running out, Gardiner reports: “Henry Ogle, Esquire, a late member of Parliament, laid hold of him, and required bond of him to answer the sessions, but he got away for Scotland.  And it was conceived that if he had stayed he would have made most of the women in the North witches for money”.


Justice finally caught up with the man in Scotland, were he was indicted (the charge is not given).  Gardiner reports:  “And upon the gallows he confessed he had been the death of above 220 women in England and Scotland, all for the gain of twenty shillings a piece”.



The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology - by Rossell Hope Robbins

(A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature)


The Encyclopedia of Witches & Witchcraft  - By Rosemary Ellen Guiley

Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft  - By Raven Grimassi


To many websites to mention.


Best Wishes and Blessed Be.


Site Contents - Links to all Pages


Home Page


A Universal Message:


Let there be peace in the world  -   Where have all the flowers gone?


About me:

My Personal PageMy Place in England / My Family Tree (Ancestry)


Wicca & Witchcraft


Wicca/Witchcraft /  What is Wicca What is Magick


Traditional Writings:


The Wiccan Rede Charge of the Goddess Charge of the God  /  The Three-Fold Law (includes The Law of Power and The Four Powers of the Magus) /  The Witches Chant The Witches Creed Descent of the Goddess Drawing Down the Moon The Great Rite Invocation Invocation of the Horned GodThe 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief /  The Witches Rede of Chivalry A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality


Correspondence Tables:


IncenseCandlesColours Magickal Days Stones and Gems Elements and Elementals




Traditions Part 1  -  Alexandrian Wicca /  Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) /  Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) /  Blue Star Wicca /  British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) /  Celtic Wicca /  Ceremonial Magic /  Chaos Magic /  Church and School of Wicca /  Circle Sanctuary /  Covenant of the Goddess (COG) /  Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) /  Cyber Wicca /  Dianic Wicca /  Eclectic Wicca /  Feri Wicca /


Traditions Part 2 Gardnerian Wicca /  Georgian Tradition /  Henge of Keltria /  Hereditary Witchcraft /  Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) /  Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) /  Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition /  Nordic Paganism /  Pagan Federation /  Pectic-Wita /  Seax-Wica /  Shamanism /  Solitary /  Strega /  Sylvan Tradition /  Vodoun or Voodoo /  Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /


Other things of interest:


Gods and Goddesses (Greek Mythology) /  Esbats & Full Moons Links to Personal Friends & Resources Wicca/Witchcraft Resources What's a spell? Circle Casting and Sacred Space  Pentagram - Pentacle Marks of a Witch The Witches Power The Witches Hat An esoteric guide to visiting London SatanismPow-wowThe Unitarian Universalist Association /  Numerology:  Part 1  Part 2  /  Part 3A history of the Malleus Maleficarum:  includes:  Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites /  The Native American Sun DanceShielding (Occult and Psychic Protection)  The History of ThanksgivingAuras  - Part 1 and Part 2 Doreen Valiente Witch” (A Book Review) /   


Sabbats and Festivals:


The Sabbats in History and Mythology /  Samhain (October 31st)  /  Yule (December 21st)  /  Imbolc (February 2nd)  /  Ostara (March 21st)  /  Beltane (April 30th)  /  Litha (June 21st)  /  Lammas/Lughnasadh (August 1st)  /  Mabon (September 21st)


Rituals contributed by Crone:


Samhain / Yule Imbolc Ostara /  Beltane Litha Lammas Mabon




Tools of a Witch  /  The Besom (Broom) /  Poppets and DollsPendulums / Cauldron Magick Mirror Gazing




Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar and Totem Animals) /  AntelopeBatsCrow Fox Frog and Toads Goat / HoneybeeKangarooLion OwlPhoenix Rabbits and HaresRaven Robin RedbreastSheep Spider SquirrelSwansUnicornWild Boar Wolf /  Serpent /  Pig /  Stag /  Horse /  Mouse /  Cat /  Rats /  Unicorn




In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar.  For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following:  Birch /  Rowan / Ash /  Alder /  Willow Hawthorn /  Oak /  Holly /  Hazel /  Vine /  Ivy /  Reed /  Elder


Sacred Sites:


Mystical Sacred Sites  -  Stonehenge /  Glastonbury Tor /  Malta - The Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni /  Avebury /  Cerne Abbas - The Chalk Giant /  Ireland - Newgrange /


Rocks and Stones:


Stones - History, Myths and Lore


Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:


Apophyllite  / Amber Amethyst Aquamarine Aragonite Aventurine Black Tourmaline Bloodstone Calcite Carnelian Celestite Citrine Chrysanthemum StoneDiamond  /  Emerald / Fluorite Garnet /  Hematite Herkimer Diamond Labradorite Lapis Lazuli Malachite Moonstone Obsidian Opal Pyrite Quartz (Rock Crystal) Rose Quartz Ruby Selenite Seraphinite  /  Silver and GoldSmoky QuartzSodalite Sunstone ThundereggTree AgateZebra Marble


Wisdom and Inspiration:


Knowledge vs Wisdom by Ardriana Cahill I Talk to the TreesAwakening The Witch in YouA Tale of the Woods I have a Dream by Martin Luther King /


Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:


Murdered by Witchcraft The Fairy Witch of Clonmel A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) /  Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife /  The Story of Jack-O-Lantern The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) /  The Two Brothers - Light and Dark


Old Masters of Academia:


Pliny the ElderHesiodPythagoras





A "Who's Who" of Witches, Pagans and other associated People

(Ancient, Past and Present)


Remembered at Samhain

(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)


Pagan Pioneers:  Founders, Elders, Leaders and Others


Abramelin the Mage /  Agrippa Aidan A KellyAlbertus Magnus - “Albert the Great” Aleister Crowley - “The Great Beast” /  Alex Sanders - “King of the Witches” /  Alison Harlow /   Allan Bennett - the Ven. Ananda MetteyyaAllan Kardec (Spiritism) /  Alphonsus de SpinaAmber KAnn Moura /  Anna FranklinAnodea JudithAnton Szandor LaVey /  Arnold CrowtherArthur Edward Waite /  Austin Osman SpareBalthasar Bekker /  Biddy EarlyBarbara Vickers /  Bridget Cleary - The Fairy Witch of Clonmel /  Carl " Llewellyn" Weschcke Cecil Hugh WilliamsonCharles Godfrey Leland /   Charles WaltonChristopher PenczakChristina Oakley Harrington Cornelius Loos /  Damh the Bard - "Dave Smith" /  Dion Fortune /  Dolores Aschroft-NowickiDonald Michael Kraig Doreen ValienteDorothy MorrisonDr. John Dee & Edward Kelly /  Dr. Leo Louis Martello /  Edain McCoy /  Edward FitchEleanor Ray Bone - “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” Eliphas Levi /  Ernest Thompson Seton /  Ernest Westlake /  Fiona Horne /   Frederick McLaren Adams - Feraferia Friedrich von Spee /  Francis Barrett /  Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca /  Gerald B. Gardner - The father of contemporary Witchcraft /  Gwydion Pendderwen Hans HolzerHelen Duncan /   Herman Slater - Horrible Herman /  Heinrich KramerIsaac Bonewits Israel RegardieIvo Domínguez Jr. /  Jack Whiteside Parsons - Rocket Science and Magick /  James "Cunning" Murrell - The Master of Witches /  Janet Farrar and Gavin BoneJean Bodin Jessie Wicker Bell - “Lady Sheba” / Johann Weyer  / Johannes Junius - "The Burgomaster of Bamberg" /   Johann Georg Fuchs von Dornheim  -  the “Hexenbrenner” (witch burner) /  John Belham-Payne John George Hohman - "Pow-wow" /  John Gerard /  John Gordon Hargrave and the Kibbo Kith Kindred /  John Michael Greer /  John Score /  Joseph “Bearwalker” Wilson /  Joseph John Campbell /  Karl von Eckartshausen Lady Gwen Thompson - and "The Rede of the Wiccae" /   Laurie Cabot  - "the Official Witch of Salem" /  Lewis SpenceLodovico Maria Sinistrari Ludwig LavaterMadeline Montalban and the Order of the Morning Star /  Margaret Alice MurrayMargot AdlerMichael Howard and the UK "Cauldron Magazine" /  Margaret St. Clair - the “Sign of the Labrys” /  Marie Laveau - " the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" /  Marion WeinsteinMartin Antoine Del Rio Matthew Hopkins - “The Witch-Finder General” /   Max Ehrmann and the "Desiderata" /  Michael A. Aquino - and The Temple of Set /  Monique WilsonMontague Summers /  Nicholas CulpeperNicholas RemyM. R. SellarsMrs. Maud Grieve - "A Modern Herbal" /  Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning GloryOld Dorothy Clutterbuck /  Old George PickingillOlivia Durdin-Robertson - co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis /  Paddy SladePamela Colman-SmithParacelsus /  Patricia CrowtherPatricia Monaghan /  Patricia “Trish” TelescoPaul Foster Case and the “Builders of the Adytum” mystery school /  Peter Binsfeld /  Philip HeseltonRaven GrimassiRaymond Buckland /  Reginald Scot /  Richard BaxterRobert CochraneRobert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and the "The White Goddess" /  Rosaleen Norton - “The Witch of Kings Cross” /  Rossell Hope Robbins /   Ross Nichols and the " Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids" (OBOD) /  Rudolf SteinerSabrina Underwood - "The Ink Witch" /  Scott CunninghamSelena Fox - founder of "Circle Sanctuary" /  Silver RavenwolfSir Francis Dashwood /  Sir James George Frazer and the " The Golden Bough"S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” /  Starhawk /  Stewart Farrar /  Sybil LeekTed Andrews The Mather Family - (includes:  Richard Mather, Increase Mather and Cotton Mather ) /   Thomas AdyT. Thorn CoyleVera ChapmanVictor & Cora Anderson and the " Feri Tradition" /  Vivianne CrowleyWalter Brown GibsonWalter Ernest ButlerWilliam Butler YeatsZsuzsanna Budapest /  



Many of the above biographies are briefs and far from complete.  If you know about any of these individuals and can help with additional information, please contact me privately at my email address below.  Many thanks for reading  :-)



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