Piddle and Spikes: an introduction to witch bottles

Witch Bottle

Witch Bottle

Witch Bottles or Witch Jars are a European, and especially English, tradition of warding off malevolent attention, and directing it away from your house and grounds.  There is some discussion about whether they are used as a general preventative, or as a response to a specific threat aimed against  an individual or property.  Simply, a Witch bottle is a small bottle that has certain items placed into it before being sealed and buried.  Often these items include sharp things such as pins, nails, razor blades, fish hooks or barbed wire, some will state that iron nails are an absolute must, others that any metal object which is sharp and pointy will do just fine.  Personal samples are often also included, such as nail clippings, human hair and also the infamous inclusion of human urine.

More than 200 Witch Bottles have been rediscovered to date, sadly only a few have their seals and contents.  The tradition began around 1500, reaching it’s height around 1600, tailing off until about 1850-ish.  The bottles themselves were either ceramic bottles, up to 9″tall, often used for other things before being transformed into a witch bottle.  Other examples have been found to be glass wine bottles, sealed in the same manner and often with similar contents.  Frequently buried under the hearthstone or doorstep, witch bottles have also been found plastered into walls, in attics, behind fireplaces and buried in gardens.  People went to great lengths to hide their witch bottles, their presence only being discovered when the house was demolished or extensively redesigned.  Generally the bottle is placed on a focus point in the house or grounds, an entranceway or point at which any hostile intentions would most likely pass through or by.  The presence of a witch bottle would deflect the malevolent intentions back to their sender and you and yours would remain unharmed.  Alternatively, the bottle would ensnare and hold negative energies directed at you.  After the deflection, some sources say that the bottle should explode, its power spent, and others that the bottle remains intact to continue its work.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries witch jars often had faces stamped in the glass or stoneware. Originally known as Bartmannkrüge (Bearded-man jugs), the jugs were renamed in Germany and the Low Countries after the bearded Inquisitor Robert Bellarminein (one of the Roman Catholic leaders of the counter-reformation – read: very unpopular in Protestant England and Germany at the time) who first appeared on them in the Netherlands, but equivalents were made all over Europe.

Bellarmine Jar from Staffordshire

Bellarmine Jar from Staffordshire

Of around 200 English witch-bottles on record, 130 are ‘Bellarmines’.  Of the contents which are identifiable, by far the most common was iron pins or nails (95%). The second most common was human hair (25%). Another ingredient which is very difficult to test for if the bottle has leaked at any point is urine. Roughly 25% of those with contents have been tested for the presence of urine and all proved positive. So, we have iron, urine and hair as the most common ingredients. Other ingredients such as small bones, thorns, pieces of wood and, in a few cases, pieces of fabric cut into the shape of a heart are sometimes found.  The original jars included the face of a bearded man, and some modern practitioners advise the inclusion of a face on the surface of the bottle, either painted on or made as part of the jar, this was to represent the individual who desired protection, and some view the face on the jar as a decoy for the victim, so that any negative energies found the bottle and mistook it for the target instead.

The Reigate Witch Bottle was found in-tact in 2007, sealed, still with contents undamaged.  Inside were nine bent pins, human hair and urine.  This bottle was found in Reigate, Surrey and is thought to have been deposited somewhere between 1700-1750. It was discovered corked in a disturbance adjacent to the chalk floor of a 17th century building being excavated in London Road.  The Greenwich Witch Bottle, discovered in 2004 contained brass pins and bent iron nails, urine and adult fingernail parings.  There’s a beautiful example from Staffordshire (picture above) , reported on here, and here.  Although the 6″ high bottle was found whole and upright, there’s no report to date on any contents.  There’s a late example from Navenby, Lincolnshire, made from an inkwell or candlestick, dating from around 1830.  One example has also been found in America.

In more modern times, a witch bottle can be created just the same, although modern makers tend to favour rosemary, red wine, and pins or needles as contents.  There’s no set recipe as it where, and a quick interwebs search reveal people making them from coffee jar’s with screw top lids, to wine bottles and chemistry test tubes sealed with cork.

How to make one:

There are lots of different ways of making witch bottles available on the interwebs, just type ‘witch bottle’ into your favourite search engine… here are my own thoughts offered for your perusal.  I’m practically minded, so sue me.  There’s a lot less of what I know as fluff, and a little more pragmatic suggestion here – not that I’m against the more spiritual aspects of what we all do, it’s just that ignoring basic practicality can lead to all sorts of awkward situations later, especially when crafting something like this…

.

Get jar, bottle or suitable container – one which you have a method of sealing!  Check the seal works before putting the contents in, it could get difficult to get them out again if you find your seal doesn’t work properly.  Decide if you want a face on your jar or not.  You could even make your own container from modelling clay if you are planning on using just dry ingredients.  Figure out how much space you have for contents – there’s no point in buying 9x 6″ nails if you’re using a test tube…  You can even go skinny minny and just have a some pins, a finger nail clippping or two, a spring of rosemary and a little red wine placed into a miniature glass jam jar ( like the kind you get at hotels) or a minature wine or 5cl spirits bottle.  Alternatively, you can use any size container you like, as long as you can bury/hide it afterwards (so that means laying off the 44 gallon oil drums…) Whilst we’re on the subject, figure out where exactly you’re going to put it afterwards.  Burying is all good, as long as you can guarantee it won’t be disturbed… likewise with a hiding place inside the home.  Not only would it mean the task of re-placing the witch bottle somewhere else less discoverable, but would also probably mean at least one embarrassing conversation with the person who inadvertently discovered it.  There are two schools of thought on exactly where, for some it’s buried at the furthest boundary of your property, so that negative energies are caught as they enter, and for others it’s inside the house, to divert the negative energies away from people and into the bottle.

.

Get contents – the most common historical inclusion is iron pins or nails.  After that, any other sharp objects: pins, shards of metal, thorns, anything like that will do fine.  The other broad category grouping is something which comes from you: I would suggest hair or fingernail clippings, or if you feel comfortable with it, some of your own urine. (If you decide to use your own pee, double-check that your intended container seals properly, you really don’t want a spill… If you are using pee, obtain it right at the last minute, as it were… it’s somewhat impractical to keep it about the house until you’ve collected everything else and have time and space to put it all together.  Also please do the washing hands and cleaning every surface thing – here endeth the public safety broadcast.)  This defines the bottle’s ownership as yours, and ensures that any negative energies pointed in your direction find the bottle instead.  Modern methods use herbs, with the most common being rosemary, and tend to replace the urine with red wine.  Aside from that, any contents which you feel are appropriate, or which come to you.  Discreetly ensure that your contents will actually get past the neck of your bottle (if you’re using one).

.

Find a quiet place and time.  This is so important that it has a point all to itself.

.

Get comfy, chant, take a salt bath, meditate, cast a circle or dedicate the space, light incense  or candles, put your pagan bling on, pray.  Do whatever it is that puts you in that frame of mind to achieve something with focus and intent. Perhaps not all of the above, that would probably take a lot longer time than actually creating the bottle…
Put the contents one by one into the container.  Think of what you want the bottle to achieve for you, leave any liquids until last.  You may want to chant as each component goes in, or dedicate each one to your particular Gods, ask for the spirit of the material to aid you, or simply sit and meditate for a while on each one before placing into the container.  As long as whatever you do focusses your intent on protecting you and your space, it’s all good 🙂

.

Seal it.  With cork, a screw top lid, wax, or whatever.  Make sure that it’s nice and tight, imagine your intent and focus inside the container and think on the fact that it’s already working for you.  Release the circle if you cast one, thank the Gods if you invited them to witness, de-bling.  Generally tidy away and end the working.  I find that after something spiritual, doing something entirely different can help, such as eating a meal, going for a walk, or doing the housework.  It helps me to create a break between the spiritual and the ordinary and defines when my time is split between one and the other.  You can choose to bury or hide your bottle straight away as your intent is already focussed, or, given the fact that getting two minutes peace in a busy life is challenge enough, bury or hide it later.  If outside is your choice, make sure that the burial is done discreetly.  If you’ve worked hard to create peace with your non-pagan neighbours, and they’re under the happy illusion that you’re not strange in any way shape or form, then burying a bottle filled with your own pee at night by candlelight, whilst wearing some long robes and chanting probably won’t endear you to them.  In fact, you might just end up right off their Christmas card list.  Just a thought ;p

Further reading:

Brian Hoggards site on ‘averting evil’

Allan Massey 2000 “The Reigate Witch-Bottle’, Current Archaeology, no 169, pp34-6

Ralph Merrifield, 1954 ‘The Use of Bellarmines as Witch-Bottles’, Guildhall Miscellany, no 3, February offprint.

Ralph Merrifield, 1987The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic, Batsford, London.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s