The motifs known as ‘merels’ derived their name from the similarity of the designs to a number of medieval board games, most notably Merels and Nine-Mans-Morris, and has led to them being thought of as smaller versions of the same games.
Gaming ‘boards’ are indeed found in churches and cathedrals, where they are located on horizontal surfaces (the games were played using counters) such as benches and window reveals. Most of the inscriptions found, however, are on vertical surfaces, where they could not have functioned in this way, so must have had another purpose or meaning.
The motifs also appear in manuscript illustrations, where they are associated with astrology and the making of horoscopes. The fact that they share many features with other recognised symbols of protection, and are found in close proximity to such symbols, suggests that they were regarded as having a similar function.