Witch Bottles

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In distant times, the unknown world of witchcraft, sorcery and demons was much closer to the general populace. Without a modern scientific understanding of the world deaths, disease and famine were popularly attributed to dark forces - or sometimes as the wrath of God himself. In such times, wise (or 'cunning') men and women would operate on the fringes of society, offering insight into such events and claiming to be able to protect people from them. Alternatively, their powers could be turned to evil and be used to invoke terrors on individuals or communities.

Theologically, the existence of witches was broadly accepted - and the law recognised witchcraft as a real crime. Although it was prosecuted less frequently than commonly believed today, witches were still subject to periodic investigations, convictions and executions - as seen in famous cases such North Berwick and Lancashire.

Against this backdrop, it was perhaps merely prudent for to take measures to protect themselves against potential witch attack. Witch bottles were one commonplace method which could be employed to protect one's home from witches.

A witch bottle was generally a day-to-day piece of earthenware or glassware filled with an odd - but specific - assortment of items, stoppered tightly and hidden about the house.

The typical ingredients of a witch bottle were urine - usually that of the woman of the house - pins, nails, clumps of hair, nail clippings and other bodily effluvia which could include menstrual blood or belly button lint. When filled thus, the bottle was then buried within the house. Some believed that the bottle should be buried at the furthest point of the house from the hearth, while others contended that burying the bottle beneath the doorway would be the best way to prevent evil spirits entering the house. Witch bottles have been found under fireplaces, bricked up in walls, under doorsteps and in the corners of houses.

While closely associated with witches, most known witch bottles actually date from later than the height of the witch trials - mainly in the late 17th century and into the 18th century.

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Author: Ian Freud   |  Last updated: 14th August 2013 | © Weird Island 2010-2021
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