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Bottled Superstition: Then and Now

Back in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries there was a powerful belief that evil spells could be fended off by trapping them in a “witch bottle,” which if properly prepared, could actually reflect the spell itself while also tormenting the witch, leaving the witch with no option but to remove the spell. These days, while actual "witch's bottles" may no longer be available for purchase, superstitious remnants still remain.

Workers at a London construction site were mystified when they unearthed a sealed stoneware bottle with some very strange markings including the image of a scary bearded man. The bottle, obviously buried a long time ago, was identified by archeologists as a “witch bottle,” meant to provide protection from witches’ spells. Back in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries there was a powerful belief in witches and their ability to cause illness by casting a spell. But the evil spells could be fended off by trapping them in a “witch bottle,” which if properly prepared, could actually reflect the spell itself while also tormenting the witch leaving the witch with no option but to remove the spell allowing the victim to recover. More than two hundred witch bottles that had either been buried in the ground or hidden inside walls have been found, but the only one that was completely sealed was the one discovered at the London construction site. 

After x-rays revealed that the bottle was half-filled with liquid and contained a variety of pins and nails, it was carefully opened and found to contain human urine, hair, fingernail clippings, brass pins and a dozen iron nails, one of which pierced a small leather heart.  The liquid was handed over to chemist Alan Massey who determined it to be of human origin. More specifically, it was the urine of a smoker, as evidenced by the presence of cotinine, a metabolite of nicotine. Historians suggest that the shape of the bottle represented the witch’s bladder and the nails and bent pins immersed in urine would somehow cause the witch to suffer pain every time he or she passed urine. The only option for the witch was to therefore remove the spell. As far as the leather heart pierced by the iron nail goes, we can only assume that it was to cause heartache for the witch. The hair, nail clippings, and pieces of what may have been belly button fluff were perhaps placed in the bottle to identify the person or persons who were to be protected or cured. And the bearded face etched into the bottle was probably there with the hope of scaring off evil.

Such superstitions were understandable at a time when there was little understanding of disease and when physicians did not have much to offer in terms of effective remedies. But what can we say about the numerous formulas offered today on the Internet to prepare witch bottles to protect against entities, spirits, demons and negative energies?  hey even throw in some scientific terms.  “After charging, the bottle becomes an energetic trap for any force that intends to cause you harm. It is aligned to your energy field through the use of your on DNA.” What is to be put into the bottle? Rusty nails, broken glass and dead bugs along with menstrual blood or semen, which I guess provide the DNA. As you fill the bottle you have to recite the following: “Insects from beneath a rock, needles, nails rusting fast, Keep all harm inside and locked, within this dungeon made of glass.” 

Then you start peeing into the bottle to “provide a link for the energy to follow into the jar and remain.” Follow this by adding “three pinches of salt and a handful of earth, feeling its connection to the planet and its ability to transform waste into fertility.”  ou then seal the bottle with drippings from a black candle as you intone: “I charge you bottle to trap all harm.  Keep me safe away from danger. Inside darkness calls to darkness to be carried below into the grave.”  ow the bottle is ready to be buried. We’re told not to worry should the bottle should be disturbed or broken since, “the negativity will not be released because it has already been neutralized by the salt and the handful of earth.” But alas, we’re informed, the bottle will cease to function. No problem, as a replacement can be readily made. The ingredients are not hard to gather.

Granted, not many people today are likely to be making use of witch bottles. At least not of the variety I just described. But there are plenty of witch bottles available for purchase, they’re just not called witch bottles.  hat’s because we’re too smart these days to believe in witches’ spells. But how about a belief that illness stems from a disruption of the body’s “energy field”, despite the fact that there is not one iota of evidence that any such energy field exists. Yet, you can buy an Electro Physiological Feedback Xrroid machine or a QuWave harmonizer, or just a simple hologram equipped “energy bracelet” to realign or repair the body’s non-existent energy field that has been disrupted by exposure to the damaging effects of modern life such as electromagnetic radiation, genetically modified foods and of course, “chemicals.” These devices have as much chance of affecting our health as a witch bottle. The belief in nonsense does not change, it is just bottled differently.


@JoeSchwarcz

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