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Cold iron

Cold iron is a poetic and archaic term for iron, referring to the fact that it feels cold to the touch. In modern usage the term has been most associated with folkloric beliefs that iron could ward off ghosts, fairies, witches, and/or other malevolent supernatural creatures.

Francis Grose's 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue defines cold iron as "A sword, or any other weapon for cutting or stabbing." This usage often appears as "cold steel" in modern parlance.



Iron was thought to be a potent charm in a number of forms:

  • Nailing an iron horseshoe to a door was said to repel evil spirits or later, to bring good luck.
  • Surrounding a cemetery with an iron fence was thought to contain the souls of the dead.
  • Burying an iron knife under the entrance to one's home was alleged to keep witches from entering.

In his story, "Redgauntlet", the Scottish author Sir Walter Scott wrote, "Your wife's a witch, man; you should nail a horse-shoe on your chamber-door."

Later usage


Rudyard Kipling's poem Cold Iron used the term poetically. Kipling also embodied the symbolism of iron in the Iron Ring ceremony he developed for the calling of engineers in Canada. Kipling also referenced Cold Iron in a story of the same title, having Puck, a fairy, say "folks in housen, as the People of the Hills call them, must be ruled by Cold Iron."


Some sources have claimed that "cold iron" referred only to iron that was wrought without heat. This is a mistake from modern fantasy fiction. As can be seen in the folklore section above, iron was thought to repel evil spirits whether it was wrought using heat or not.

See also the brief but excellent subheading under wrought iron, explaining the amenability of that material to coldworking but not to tempering treatments.

Cold iron in fantasy fiction

Cold iron as a special kind of iron (separate from any historical usage of the term) also appears in a number of fantasy role-playing games and novels, such as Dungeons and Dragons. In the most recent version of that game cold iron is described as, "'iron mined deep underground, known for its effectiveness against fey creatures is forged at a lower temperature to preserve its delicate properties.'" Weapons made of cold iron in the game are more effective at damaging Fey and Demons, whereas traditional weapons often have trouble doing any significant damage. It is also much more expensive to enchant than ordinary steel weapons. Similarly, in the role-playing game Changeling: The Lost, cold iron is equated with wrought iron, and actively negates the magical protections of the fae.


  • Bealer, Alex W. (1995). The Art of Blacksmithing. Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 41–42. ISBN 978-0-7858-0395-9. 
  • Kosmerl, Frank (December, 2001). Pennsylvania's goosewing axes and early iron and steel technology. Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc., The.]
  • Books cited by some of the above web pages:
    • Briggs, Robin. Witches & Neighbours: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft. Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk: HarperCollins Publishers. 1996. ISBN 0002158442.
    • Elworthy, Frederick Thomas. The Evil Eye: An Account of This Ancient and Widespread Superstition. New York: Bell Publishing Company. 1989. ISBN 0517679442. Reprint of the 1895 original.
    • Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. New York: Facts On File, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8160-2268-7.
    • Lawrence, Robert Means, M.D. The Magic of the Horseshoe with Other Folk-Lore Notes. Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1898.

See also

  • European mythology
  • Superstition
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Cold_iron". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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