Oct
28
2007

Witch bottles: a Halloween, do-it-yourself apotropaios project

An unhappy Halloween for Hagatha: She just wants to use the bathroom, okay?  Photo courtesy of slworking2 on flickr.com
An unhappy Halloween for Hagatha: She just wants to use the bathroom, okay? Photo courtesy of slworking2 on flickr.com
How to treat a witch? An important consideration at any point, but particularly so in this season of Halloweeny.

Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast answer. It all depends on the type of witch – your crones and matronly witches are best treated with cautious respect, while drinks and flowers might be the best strategy for a foxy witch. Cardboard cutout witches can generally be handled and stored without much difficulty. Sandwiches can be eaten or thrown away (one hates to waste food, but if you made it, that’s your prerogative).

But what about a witch that means you harm? I would strongly discourage burning – even if it seems like a good idea at the time, it probably isn’t, and it’s really not the sort of thing you can take back.

The other day, however, I stumbled across this helpful article in Current Archaeology. It concerns “witch bottles,” archeological evidence of a certain method of dealing with witches from several hundred years ago.

Here’s what you do:
First, get yourself a bottle. Most 18th century Anglo-Saxons would have used ceramic or glass bottles (like the one mentioned in the article, the Reigate Bottle), but I don’t see any reason not to be a little more modern. Try Mountain Dew; that way you get a liter of soda, and a particularly magic-looking bottle. Next, you need to put some stuff in the bottle that will do harm to the witch. Old witch bottles often contain bent metal pins. That’s still pretty workable, but be creative if you want. Maybe break up a CD (I recommend the Titanic soundtrack – it’ll probably be cheaper than pins, and is pretty harmful even before it’s been shattered. Ha ha.). You then have to add some human hair. I’m not sure if it has to be yours, or the witch’s, or what. Just put any old hair in there, I suppose – you’re trying to pull one over on a witch, not a geneticist. Next, put some wool and “prickly grass” into your bottle. Finally, top the whole thing off with some urine. A little icky, I know, but this is magic we’re dealing with. Plus, if you already drank the Mountain Dew, it shouldn’t be too tricky to get your hands on some grade A P.

What to do with your spiky concoction? Well, first of all, don’t drop it. Then you have to clean everything up, and the witch wins. No, seal that sucker off, and hide it. Originally, witch bottles would have been buried someplace warm, like under the fireplace. That could be awfully tricky these days, especially if you rent. My suggestion would be to tape the bottle to your water heater, or maybe just put it in the garage someplace and forget about it. If you’ve done everything correctly, when the witch tries to, you know, pass water, she will “suffer dreadful torments and may even die.”

The whole thing is supposed to work even if you don’t know exactly who the witch is – you just have to keep an eye out for the friend or neighbor who appears to be having urogenital trouble. It’s nice, too, because if it turns out that you have just an inflamed appendix and aren’t actually under a hex, no one has to get burned.

As I mentioned, there’s a lot of room for creativity, and I the whole thing is an excellent idea for a family craft project. You could even make several witch bottles ahead of time, and then, ah, fill them up as they become needed. Even if you never have any witch troubles, your unused bottles will give archaeologists of the future something to think about.

Here’s another interesting site with information on apotropaios-related archaeological finds. “Apotropaios,” by the way comes from a Greek word meaning “evil-averting,” and the site covers all sorts of fun things, from hidden shoes and horse skulls to dried cats. With an open mind, you could have a very full Halloween.

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