Witchcraft and the belief in magick has been a part of humankind for as long as humankind has existed. It predates Christianity, Islam, and even Hinduism; which is considered the oldest religion known that is still practiced today. It’s roots can be found in every ancient culture across the world. Primitive cave paintings have been discovered which depict magickal rites being practiced. Oral histories tell tales of humans clad in animal skins dancing around bonfires while calling out to their primeval deities, asking for protection or rainfall or any number of other things. Powerful men and women reached deep into the spirit world through meditative or drug-induced trances to do dream work or to predict future events. These were the first Shamans of the world.
As civilization evolved, so did witchcraft as well as the understanding of demons, ghosts, and other spirits, including the spirit within each living being. Simultaneously the world also saw the birth and growth of magickal tools which included amulets, charms, and many other protection items and talisman. Some people chose to be on the light side while others chose to be on the dark side; each side further developing their skills and tools to combat one another. Many names were used to describe these various actions which ranged across many cultures and civilizations; some of the more common were witchery, spellcraft, sorcery, black magick, divination, shamanism, occultism, and mysticism. Notably absent from this list of terms are terms which are more modern. These include Wiccan, Stregheria, neopaganism, and even Satanism.
Regardless of how old or how new the name, witchcraft has been misunderstood and mischaracterized for at least the last 1500 years . Practitioners of the magickal arts were highly respected in ancient civilizations as they were healers, seers, and provided the people with spiritual guidance in troubling times. This unfortunately all changed in the 5th Century, mainly because of one man, Saint Augustine of Hippo. Augustine was a Christian theologian who proclaimed all pagan practices and those who performed them, to be in league with the Christian Devil, and therefore criminal in nature. Those who were practitioners of any of the named or unnamed magickal arts were branded as heretics, devil-worshipers, servants of Satan, necromancers, and many other horrible and negative terms. As time passed, others in the Christian Church carried on Augustine’s work to craft witches and witchcraft into the greatest scapegoat in world history.
Witches and witchcraft were blamed for anything and everything bad that happened in the ancient world as well as things which couldn’t be explained. This would include plague, pestilence, crop failures, unexpected deaths of children, livestock, or even entire villages. Natural disasters such as severe storms, tornadoes, hail, lightning, and even extreme drought caused by heat, were also thought to be the work of witches. Anti-witchcraft laws were passed and the world went through a very dark time that saw countless thousands of people tortured and executed using some of the most brutal tactics known.
Witches were always found guilty when caught. Anyone who associated with a suspected witch was considered just as guilty as the witch and often paid the same penalty. By giving so much credit to witches for such a wide array of evil deeds, society created their own worst enemy; and it was an enemy which could change the course of history. The church used the umbrella of Witchcraft as a tool to control their parishioners and also as a unified topic for all “God Fearing” people to get behind and collectively hate. During the terrible times of the Witch Trials, anything even remotely associated with witchcraft was a certain death sentence, but as time passed things relaxed. People were still in mortal fear of witches, but how they dealt with them changed; 0ddly enough they adapted practices which seemed to go against the teachings of the church. In this time period, the first Witch Bottles emerged.
We aren’t certain when witches bottles were first used, but there is evidence dating back to the late 1600’s to supporting their use. Written accounts of their use in both Europe and America exist to validate the claim. One thing to note is that Witches Bottles are different from Spell Bottles. Spell Bottles were constructed with a narrow purpose to aid the owner in achieving a per-determined outcome. Witches Bottles were more broadly defined as general protection against witchcraft and witches. It’s likely that some were more focused, depending on the geography and known witchcraft lore of the area.
An interesting fact is that Witches Bottles were used by witches and non-witches alike as protection against magick or unwelcome witchcraft. Good witches protected themselves from black or dark magickal attacks and enchantments. Common folk would use them as protection against both types of witches and magick..
Some of the earliest witches bottles were known as “Greybeards,” “Bartmann Jugs,” or “Bellarmines.” Greybeards and Bellarmines were made of brown or gray stoneware that was glazed with salt and embossed with a bearded face. Bellarmine jugs were similar in design except for being named after the infamous Catholic Inquisitor Robert Bellarmine,. As time went on, earthenware and later glass bottles were used.
Some of the Ingredients Used
The oddest thing about witches bottles, was that they required a witch to create. White witches or practitioners of folk medicine would be employed to assemble the necessary ingredients. Once completed, the bottle would be transported to the property of the person who commissioned it and summarily buried. The location of the burial would vary but included the furthest corner of the property, or if the house was under construction, under the hearth. Some families would hide the bottle inside the home in a place out of sight. It was believed that burying the bottle added strength to some of the items included inside.
The contents of each of the many hundreds of witches bottles found were always different. There were many recipes for what to include or exclude, and the creation of such a protection charm is usually customized for the recipient. In many cases, the person would provide the witch with fingernail clippings, hair, blood, or urine to connect it to them specifically. Over time, herbs, oils, and magick or near-magickal items were added.
The following list are some of the things found in witches bottles over time, but it’s not comprehensive.
Pins, needles, salt (both sea salt and mined salt,) rose petals and thorns, glass shards, blood, urine, iron nails, bent nails, human hair, fingernail clippings, teeth, bones from small animals or birds, feathers, seashells, knotted cords and threads (especially red thread), hag stones, wine, coins, essential oils, herbs of almost every type, sacred wood, sand, soil, coffin nails, crystals and stones, chalk, ashes, leaves, grain, corn, small birds nests, eggshells, vinegar, flowers, dried roots, pine needles, small carved wooden objects, keys, water, amulets, and small scrolls.
The Importance of Placement
For Witches Bottles to work, they had to remain hidden. It was believed that if unearthed or broken, the bottle would lose its power for protection. Usually if a homeowner took the time to have a bottle made, they made sure it was safely hidden. Many of the ones we have today were found underneath heaths of homes which were being razed to make way for modern construction.
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