Friday, 23 May 2008

Witch Bottle


OVER THE LAST few days this Witch Bottle will have been crossing some of your house thresholds. So I thought it time to introduce her, and tell you why her crossing your threshold might have been quite a horrifying thought had you been living centuries ago. She is painted with oils on burr walnut wood and the idea is based on an old English folk magic, evidence of which has come to light in the rebuilding and renovating of old buildings in recent years. The practice of making witch bottles dates back at least to the 15th century and is a form of apotropaic charm (i.e. one that wards off evil).

If someone believed that they were the victim of a witch's spell, they would take an old pot-bellied bottle, often made of blue or green glass, or a stoneware container known as a Bellarmine (named after the rather dreadful bearded face that decorated the side of these bottles, which reminded folk of Cardinal Robert Bellarmine who was a persecutor of protestants and labeled a demon), and fill it with various curious ingredients...
First the worried spell victim would drop in some bent iron nails or pins, then some of their own hair, and lastly their urine. Sometimes other items like thorns or pieces of wood, nail clippings, stones, bones, ash, menstrual blood, oil or coins were added to this. Then the bottle would be corked and buried in a significant place. Many witch bottles have been discovered underneath the hearth stone, hidden in walls or at the threshold of the house.

The idea behind this was that if a witch was sending her spirit to harm you, she would most likely try to enter your home through a doorway, chimney, or other entranceway. If there was a concoction made from your own bodily fluids in her way, she would turn her attentions on that, presuming it was you and get herself caught on the bent iron nails. It is thought that in the case of bellarmines, the frightening face on the side of the bottle would further ward off evil.
So if there appeared in the nearby vicinity someone with a dreadful sudden affliction or who experienced terrible pain whilst urinating, then it was likely to be the witch!

Archaeologists have found only four bottles still completely intact with evidence of urine and hair and all sorts of other delights within. In fact, these witch bottles were often thought to explode on the death of the witch, so perhaps these are cases where the charm did not work.
If you are interested in learning more about strange popular superstitions, dried cats, old shoes and other Things Hidden In Walls, there are some excellent articles here at Apotropaios, where you are invited to send details of any odd things found hidden in your walls and under doorsills.



My witch is currently hiding here under my etsy doorsill, waiting to tell you her tale.

19 comments:

MORNA said...

Oooh, I LOVE this.

willow said...

Very intriguing post, as always, Rima. :)

Raluca C said...

aaaaah,what a great story(again!!I would say:)).When you´ll think about a book with drawings,words,stories for kids and even more for adults in the same time:))!!

d. moll, l.ac. said...

A Witch bottle sounds like a very handy thing indeed. And yours is very beautiful as well. The Taoists, I understand, write the character for tiger (Hu) on the front door calling all the spirits of dead tigers to protect the threshold.

Ciara said...

Oh, what a beautiful image! And a great story too, thank you!
When we were children my parents extended their house and my Dad made a time capsule into which each of us five children put things that were important to us at the time, and it was hidden in one of the new walls. I would love to see it some day as none of us remember what we put in!

tlc illustration said...

Wonderful stuff Rima (as was the post on your amazing parents). I especially like that first, glass bottle. What a great shape.

Have you looked at Dr. Galubrious' blog? (You can find it in my links). His very first post tells a cautionary tale of finding things in the walls...

Ellen-Mary said...

I found the print of Witch Bottle in my mail box today! I love it! Thank you so much!

MORNA said...

My Witch Bottle print arrived today! What a wonderful gift. Thank you, Rima. I only wish the collective effort could have saved your hard drive. :)

MORNA said...

p.s. Does anyone else see this as a somewhat fetal-womblike? What do you think Rima?

MORNA said...

Rima - As you know, I LOVE your blog and today at my blog I have passed the Sweet Home Blogger award to your blog! This award is for sharing of beauty, love and joy in your blog.

As my bestower said - please feel no obligation to pass it on, but rather receive it as a happy thanks for the enjoyment you bring me!

If you are inclined, the form is to pass it on to five others, whose blogs bring beauty, love and joy to you.

Jess said...

This is the most equisite painting (and drawing!)yet! I was fascinated by these in the Boscastle witch museum when we went to visit there a few years ago before the disaster.
Putting a shoe within the wall of a house is supposed to bring good luck too. :)

Erica-Jane said...

Dear Rima,

my lovely, lovely prints arrived on Friday! Thank you so much, I will treasure them :0)

Erica
xoxo

Rima said...

Hello folks :) Many thanks for your lovely words of encouragement and contribution as always... so pleased you like this witchy person in a bottle ... and Morna - womb like? Hmm... might be :)
Hope she is happy on your walls :)
x Rima

Shelley Noble said...

It was a pure delight to receive this package from you, Rima. The best kind of treat. Something from the other side of the world. Something written with your own hand.

I love your paintings and the tales that inspire them. Thank you for the treasures, Teller of Tales.

Simply Wired Custom Jewelry said...

Received today; what a lovely treat waiting patiently inside my mailbox! Thanks so much, Rima; they are beautiful, as is all of your work. Thanks for all of the stories, too.

Brilig said...

An incredible blog.

Ash said...

Thank you for my very own witchy print - your blog always makes fascinating reading and I too have felt the pressing need to present you with virtual award....blame it on Gretel and drop over to Tart's Tales to see your illustrious fellow winners!

Blog Princess G said...

I learnt something new and fascinating today - thank you Rima!

Hayden said...

I'd heard vague mentions, but this is the first time I've read a recipe...

sounds like the very thing to bury in my doorstep foundation! Excellent idea.