Magical objects have a dual nature: on one hand, they’re physical things, on the other, they’re metaphysical, a “spirit” arises from their having been conjured. Protective amulets take on an equally double meaning, as amulets are intended to combat a spell or a curse that precedes them. During the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, very specific witch protection practices took place in the British Isles (later they were carried to the United States). One was the custom of marking spots in a house to drive away these evil beings. Another, perhaps one of the more curious, was the use of witch bottles.

Made of glass or ceramic, witch bottles sometimes had designs with human faces. They were talismans inside which fingernails, bones, hair, wood, blood, and urine were collected. Along with these were sharp and pointed objects. Nails, pins, and thorns have been found inside such bottles. Usually the nails were bent before being put into the bottle. It was thought that they, the nails, were thus killed ritually, and that they thus reached the dimension by which witches traveled. Urine, on the other hand, was used to attract these beings.

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Like the anti-witch marks, the bottles were placed or even embedded within houses, in strategic locations: near doors, inside fireplaces, under floors, and in other spaces that might serve as entryways for witches (accustomed as they were to entering homes through abnormal means). When a bottle was placed near the fireplace, the heated nails or pins forced witches to move away.

These witch bottles are intimately connected with the history of medicine. When a treatment failed to alleviate a condition, it was attributed to the presence and bad faith of a witch. During the 16th and 17th centuries, urinary tract ailments were very common. Those who suffered from them used the bottles to transfer the disease from their body to a witch. The practice often resulted in false accusations of witchcraft, for if someone close to the afflicted contracted the same affliction, that person was accused of being the sorcerer or sorceress who’d coonjured the initial spell. Witch bottles abounded in periods of epidemics, social crises, and even after poor harvest seasons.

The bottles are valuable anthropological records, too. Nearly 200 of them have been found in Britain and a few more in the United States. Recently, the Museum of London Archaeology began a project to search for and conserve them, asking anyone who finds such a bottle in their home to leave it where it was found and to call the specialists. They ask that the contents be left intact, too, so that these historical folk practices can be better researched and understood: bottled spells and examples of the physicality of magical thinking.

Image: 1) Public domain 2) Malcolm Lidbury – Creative Commons

Magical objects have a dual nature: on one hand, they’re physical things, on the other, they’re metaphysical, a “spirit” arises from their having been conjured. Protective amulets take on an equally double meaning, as amulets are intended to combat a spell or a curse that precedes them. During the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, very specific witch protection practices took place in the British Isles (later they were carried to the United States). One was the custom of marking spots in a house to drive away these evil beings. Another, perhaps one of the more curious, was the use of witch bottles.

Made of glass or ceramic, witch bottles sometimes had designs with human faces. They were talismans inside which fingernails, bones, hair, wood, blood, and urine were collected. Along with these were sharp and pointed objects. Nails, pins, and thorns have been found inside such bottles. Usually the nails were bent before being put into the bottle. It was thought that they, the nails, were thus killed ritually, and that they thus reached the dimension by which witches traveled. Urine, on the other hand, was used to attract these beings.

brujas1-1

Like the anti-witch marks, the bottles were placed or even embedded within houses, in strategic locations: near doors, inside fireplaces, under floors, and in other spaces that might serve as entryways for witches (accustomed as they were to entering homes through abnormal means). When a bottle was placed near the fireplace, the heated nails or pins forced witches to move away.

These witch bottles are intimately connected with the history of medicine. When a treatment failed to alleviate a condition, it was attributed to the presence and bad faith of a witch. During the 16th and 17th centuries, urinary tract ailments were very common. Those who suffered from them used the bottles to transfer the disease from their body to a witch. The practice often resulted in false accusations of witchcraft, for if someone close to the afflicted contracted the same affliction, that person was accused of being the sorcerer or sorceress who’d coonjured the initial spell. Witch bottles abounded in periods of epidemics, social crises, and even after poor harvest seasons.

The bottles are valuable anthropological records, too. Nearly 200 of them have been found in Britain and a few more in the United States. Recently, the Museum of London Archaeology began a project to search for and conserve them, asking anyone who finds such a bottle in their home to leave it where it was found and to call the specialists. They ask that the contents be left intact, too, so that these historical folk practices can be better researched and understood: bottled spells and examples of the physicality of magical thinking.

Image: 1) Public domain 2) Malcolm Lidbury – Creative Commons