Oct
08
2009

Return of the Night of the Witch Bottle

A "Bellarmine" or "Greybeard": Sort of an industrial strength pottery witch bottle. Look at that scary, bearded face. Wouldn't that scare you off, if you were a curse?
A "Bellarmine" or "Greybeard": Sort of an industrial strength pottery witch bottle. Look at that scary, bearded face. Wouldn't that scare you off, if you were a curse?Courtesy Public domain
Wrap yourselves up in your least haunted quilts, Buzzketeers, and warm up a mug of your holiest liquid, because it’s that time of year again. It’s the time to throw out your old pumpkins, to put a towel over that spot on the stoop where the pumpkins were, to brush up on your circles of protection, to cover your orange sweaters in black marker, to splash your black sweaters in orange paint, and to prepare some fresh witch bottles.

Because witches are frisky this time of year, and a frisky witch is a dangerous witch.*

That’s right, it’s October, the season we call Halloweeny. And if we want to survive Halloweeny curse-free and with all digits and eyeballs intact, we’re absolutely going to need witch bottles. I don’t know about you, but I want that.

Do you remember a Buzz post I made two years ago about witch bottles? Rhetorical question—of course you remember. Here it is. You’ll recall that we covered some of the basics of apotropaios techniques. What you have to do, more or less, is think like an eleventh century peasant, and fill a bottle with some stuff that might cause discomfort in a witch’s urinary tract. What should go in there, exactly? Just follow your heart—this was before science, really, so whatever seemed like it would absorb evil magic and/or give a witch trouble in the bathroom and/or kill a witch from a distance was what you would go with. Nowadays, the scientific method has shown us what the best materials are for achieving each of these goals (the ShamWow, White Castle sliders, and lightening, respectively), but it’s nice sometimes to do things the old timey way.

So, a refresher: Get a little bottle, fill it with bent pins, thorns, and spiky things (for the witch’s discomfort), as well as items from your body, like hair, fingernails, or belly button lint, and then top it all off with good, old fashioned urine. Then you’re going to want to bury that bottle somewhere close, like under your fireplace. Apparently, whatever curses were directed at you will be confused by the other pee-soaked bundle of lint, fingernails and hair in your house, and it’ll attack that. Alternatively, some sources say you can throw the bottle in your fireplace, and when it explodes the witch will die. But then you’ve got a house full of broken glass and boiling hot urine, so I wouldn’t recommend it.

I’m bringing witch bottles back up partially because it has been two years, and witches, like diarrhea and terrorism, are an ever-present threat. But the subject was brought to my attention yesterday because I noticed this article: Archaeologists unearth 17th century bottle used to scare off witches. Pretty neat, huh?

The artifact, among many others, was buried under a parking lot in Staffordshire, in England. You might not think it, but big, old cities are swimming in potential archaeology. People have been living in some cities for thousands of years, after all, just building over older stuff, and archaeology is all about finding where people were a long time ago, and finding out what these people did.

Several large pottery kilns have been dug up in the same area, suggesting that the region may have been a major pottery producer and exporter. A pit full of leather scraps, left over from shoe making seems to indicate that a shoemaker lived and worked at that spot 400 years ago. And the witch bottle implies that someone in the neighborhood was concerned about witches. (JK—we’re all concerned about witches. That’s why I’m just putting the finishing touches on (in) a milk jug beneath my desk. Try to curse me now, Springsteen!)

Also, I put this link in the old post, but I had totally forgotten about it. Apotropaios—all about how people used to protect themselves from perceived malicious forces. Wild.

*I might be thinking about frisky lions here, actually.

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