Hello! And welcome to the Fascinating Podcasts blog.
Here I will be sharing updates on the podcasts, and publish some of my writings that aren't podcast-related.
This week I wanted to share a magazine article that I wrote for the Paranormality Magazine.
A Discovery of Witch Bottles
The history of witchcraft is, in my opinion, deeply fascinating. A large part of that is due to the fact that witchcraft has been viewed in every lens through history from benevolent to malicious. The belief in sorcery and it’s powers were important to the people of the ancient East and ancient Egypt. Because of this, defensive spells became fairly popular to those wishing to protect themselves and their families in times of crisis.
A great example of this would be the use of semi-circular pieces of carved ivory used by midwives and healers. Carved into the “wands” were depictions of dangerous creatures fighting off demons. These objects were used to ward off evil or the threat of outside terrors while a mother was pregnant or giving birth.
Superstitions like that, in uncertain times, can be a source of comfort. Utilizing spells as a type of protection against harm is referred to today as Apotropaic magic. Just like our ancestors had thousands of years ago, today we have our own set of superstitions. Personally, I am a strong believer in the idea that knocking on wood three times will keep bad luck away caused by my own hubris. Alomancy, which is a form of divination wherein you throw salt into the air in order to read patterns, led to the popular belief that spilling salt is bad luck or that throwing salt over your left shoulder is good luck.
In the 1600s defensive witchcraft became a popular ritual for people wanting to defend their homes and loved one from harmful intentions. One of the easier ways to do that was to create a witch bottle. Essentially, witch bottles served as a counteractive spell. Anyone could have a witch prepare one for them, and they were generally thought to bring the residents of a home a long and healthy life. Whatever diabolical wish an unpleasant neighbor or stranger would cast upon you or your home, would end up only bouncing back to them. Despite eras of witch hunts being a common time for the creation of witch bottles, the use of these spells can also be placed in times of turmoil. Wars, plagues, droughts, or an unsuccessful year of crops caused believers in dark witchcraft to prepare for the worst, and get to work on creating a witch bottle.
Originally, witch bottles consisted of salt-glazed stoneware that today are referred to as Bartmann Jugs or “Greybeards.” This was due to the fact that they usually were embossed with the figure of a bearded man. Centuries later they would consist of small and clear or colored glass bottles. According to what archeologists have been able to find and test, witch bottles usually included biological samples such as human urine, hair, fingernail clippings, or even menstrual blood. This would be combined with sharp objects like rusty nails, thorns, pins, broken glass, or even shards of bone. In some versions, rosemary and red wine would also be added in. After being secured shut, preferably as tightly as possible, it was then hidden in one of several places with owners going to an incredible amount of effort to hide the bottles. Chimneys or fire pits were popular areas, but they were also placed in the framework of buildings or at the furthest ends of a property to help broaden their powers.
The contents would then work their magic on any evil spirits that would enter a home. The human clippings or liquids would trick and attract the spirits to enter the bottle, and the sharper objects would impale and trap them. Sometimes the bottle wasn’t hidden, but rather heated until it exploded. This was believed to have caused the ill wisher a slow and painful death unless the bottle was uncorked.
The first recorded description of a witch bottle being used was in Suffolk, England, in 1681. Joseph Glanvill’s Saducismus Triumphatus, or Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions was one of a handful of books that would later serve as a guide for those wishing to persecute witches in the Salem Trials. The book described an event wherein a traveling man called on the home of a couple only to find that the wife was ill and slowly getting worse. The traveling man then advised the husband to create a witch bottle and to put it near a fire so that it would explode. After the bottle exploded, the wife continued to feel ill and so the traveling man again advised the husband to make a witch bottle but that time to bury it deep underground so that the spirits couldn’t escape. Not long after that the wife began to regain her health, and one day from the outskirts of town came a woman crying out that they had killed her husband. When asked what she meant she told them that her husband, a man that lived at the edge of town, was a wizard. On his deathbed he admitted that he “had bewitched this Mans Wife and that this Counter-practice prescribed by the Old Man, which saved the Man's Wife from languishment, was the death of that Wizard that had bewitched her.”
Three years ago, in 2019, the demolition of a pub and Inn in Watford, England led contractors to the interesting find of a glass bottle full of mysterious objects stuffed into the chimney of the building. Eerily, the bottle was not only filled with fish hooks, pieces of broken glass, and a mysterious liquid but also with a few human teeth. The house was later linked to the story of Angeline Tubbs, a woman that in the 1700s was nicknamed the Witch of Saratoga. She emigrated from England to New York at age fifteen to follow a soldier fighting in the Revolutionary War. He promptly abandoned her when the British were defeated. She was left homeless to wander the streets. According to her story, she ended up walking fifteen miles to Saratoga Springs, NY, where she continued to live and make a living telling fortunes surrounded by a brood of cats.
The discovery of that particular witch bottle was not an isolated incident. Over one hundred bottles just like it have been discovered in England where superstition primarily existed.
In England, a more well-known witch bottle was featured on the popular show, Antiques Roadshow. In 2016, a bottle was found in a man's home in Trelissick, Cornwall, who afterward took it to the show in hopes of gaining a little more knowledge as to the meaning behind the mysterious object. Glass specialist Andy McConnell ended up tasting a small amount of the contents and believed it to be wine, noting as well that it also tasted like rusty nails. About three years later the contents of the bottle were revealed to be human urine, a very small amount of alcohol, some brass pins from the 1840s, and a single strand of hair.
Witch bottles haven’t just been found in England. Less than a dozen witch bottles have been found in the United States but they have still left their mark in the history books. Archeologists even believe that a jade blue bottle plucked from an area that served as a Civil War battleground was just such a protective talisman. Despite the Civil War occurring 170 years after the famous Salem Trials, it’s believed that witch bottles were still being created in an effort to ward off bad intentions.
The history of witchcraft is, whether you like it or not, something that has had a deep impact on how people view the world. Something that I would like to point out is that witch bottles weren’t just a counteractive measure against malevolent witches. They were also created by witches as protection against every sort of misfortune or villainy someone else could wish upon you. Taking that into account makes me wonder whether we as a modern society are taking enough precautions to ward ourselves against malice. Even if the magic of yesteryear is all just a bunch of hocus pocus, would it be worth it just to have peace of mind in troubling times? All I know for a fact is that the next time I move I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for a hiding spot to slip a witch bottle into.
If you are interested in learning more about the history of witches, werewolves, haunted houses, or a variety of other strange topics, be sure to check out Strange Origins wherever you listen to podcasts or go follow me @StrangeOriginsPodcast on IG.