You are on page 1of 1

WHATISAWITCHBOTTLE?

Nearly200ceramicandglassjars,jugs,bottlesandvials containingbentnailsandpins,bitsoffabric,humanhair, fingernail clippings, and other unusual artifacts, have beenreportedinEnglandandtheUnitedStates(Becker 2005; Hoggard 2004). Known as witch bottles, they represent a form of sympathetic magic intended to counter the harmful spell of a suspected witch or to protectahouseholdfromevilandmisfortune.

BURIEDBOTTLES:
THEARCHAEOLOGYOFWITCHCRAFTANDSYMPATHETICMAGIC

WITCHBOTTLESINTHEORALANDWRITTENRECORD

Accounts of witch bottles are common in both England and the United States from the 17th century onward, appearing in witchcraft trial proceedings, printed sermons and essays, and collectionsoffolklore.

TheHolywellWitchBottle,anEnglishexample of a 17th century Bellarmine jar that contained60bentpins(MuseumofLondon).

The earliest known examples of witch bottles date to themid16thcenturywhenwitchcraftandmagicwerea part of everyday life (Merrifield 1955, 1987). Historians havegenerallyassumedthatbeliefinwitchcraftinboth Europe and the United States gradually declined in the 18th century, disappearing with the emergence and spreadoftheEnlightenment(Becker1978:2).However, thereisevidencetosuggestthatthepracticecontinued muchlongerthatpreviouslyrealized,andinsomeareas isstillaliveandwelleventoday.

DEPARTMENTOFANTHROPOLOGY DEPARTMENTOFANTHROPOLOGY

M.CHRISMANNING M.CHRISMANNING

AMERICANWITCHBOTTLES

HOWDIDTHEYWORK?

OnlyahandfulofexamplesofwitchbottleshavebeendocumentedintheUnitedStates,theearliestdatingtothe mid18th century.Although there are many parallels, American witch bottles differ from English examples in that theyareallglassbottlesorvialsinsteadofstonewarejugs.Thosethathavebeenidentifiedtodatehaveallbeen foundintheNewEnglandorMidAtlanticregions,withtheexceptionofapossibleexamplefromKentucky(Barber 2006;Davis,pers.comm.2011).ArchaeologistMarshallBeckerwasthefirsttoidentifyawitchbottleintheUnited States,laterreportingfiveadditionalexamplesthathadlargelygoneunpublished(Becker1978,2005).Inrecent years,twomoreexamplesofpotentialwitchbottleshavebeenexcavated(Barber2006;King1996),althoughnot everyoneisconvincedthattheselatestcasesareindeedwitchbottles(Becker,pers.comm.2011).

In his 1684 sermon against socalled white magic, Increase Mather wondered How persons that shall unbewitch others by puttingUrinintoaBottle[...]canwhollyclearthemselvesfrom being witches (Mather 1684:269). Seven years later his son, Cotton Mather, also expressed his disapproval of the Urinary experimentinwhichtheUrinemustbebottledwithNailsand Pinns,andsuchInstrumentsinitascarryaShewofTorturewith them, if it attain its End (Mather 1691, quoted in Godbeer 1992:44).

IncreaseMathersIllustrious Providences(1684).

Witch bottles can be recognized by their unusual contentsgenerally a combination of pins, needles and nails, or less frequently, other sharp objects such as thorns,shardsofglass,andsplintersofwood.Alongwith sharp objects, witch bottles usually contain elements conducive to sympathetic or image magic, including humanhair,fingernailclippingsandurine.Onoccasion,a heartshaped piece of felt, fabric or leather pierced with pinsandneedleshasalsobeenfound.

ESSINGTONWITCHBOTTLE,TINICUMISLAND,DELAWARECOUNTY,PENNSYLVANIA
TheEssingtonwitchbottlewasthefirstexampleidentifiedintheUnitedStates(Becker1978).Itisdescribedasa squat,darkolivegreenwinebottledatedto174050,containingsixbrasspinsandtightlysealedwithawhittled wood stopper (Becker 1978, 2005). The bottle was found during the excavation of a mid17th century structure occupiedbyanEnglishfamilyduringmuchofthe18thcentury,whenitisbelievedthebottlewasdeposited(Becker 1978).Thebottlewasfoundinaninvertedpositioninasmallholedugnearthebaseofachimney.Inadditionto thebottle,asherdofblackglazedredwareandthelongboneofabird(possiblyapartridge)werealsofoundinthe feature,directlyundertheshoulderofthebottle.Inaddition,Becker(1978,2005)hassuggestedthatatonetime the bottle also contained urine and a felt heart long since decayed or evaporated, although physical evidence is inconclusive.

In the first decades of the 20th century, American folklorists collected numerous accounts of the continued use of witch bottles and similar magical objects. Puckett (1926) recorded a method for curing someone who is conjured. The African American informant described how an afflicted person could get nine needles, ninebrasspins,andninehairsfromyourownhead.Corktheseupinabottlewithsome of your urine and set the bottle in the back of your fireplace. [. . .] When the bottle bursts, all your ailments will leave you (Puckett 1926:299). Hyatt (1935) recorded a similaraccountfromaGermanAmericaninformantinAdamsCounty,Illinois:Wehada neighborwhowethoughtwasbewitchingmyson.SoItookabottleandgotapaperof pinsandputtheminthebottle,thenputmyurineinandcorkthebottleupandputit down in the cellar in a dark place. And sure enough, that neighbor came to our house withherfaceallfulloflittlepinholes.Andmysongotwellafterthat(Hyatt1935:544).

21STCENTURYADAPTATIONS

Fromdocumentaryevidenceweknowhowwitchbottles were both constructed and used. When someone experiencedunexplainedillnessormisfortune,witchcraft Bellarmine witch bottle and contents, wasoftensuspected.Tocuretheafflicted,thenecessary found in the mud of the Thames River, ingredientswereputinsideabottlethatwasthentightly London(Merrifield1955). sealedandplacedinahotfireplace.Asthecontentsofthebottlesimmered,thewitch responsibleforattackingtheunfortunatevictimwouldexperienceexcruciatingpainand have trouble urinating. If the bottle exploded (as it often did), the witch would be instantly killed. To induce a slower death, thebottlecouldbeburied,preferablynear thehearthwheretheheatofthefirewould continue to warm the contents, thereby amplifyingthepain.

MARKETSTREETWITCHBOTTLE,PITTSBURGH,PENNSYLVANIA
In 1981, during excavations at the Market Street Site in downtown Pittsburgh, an Americanmade, freeblown, aquamarineglassbottlewasexcavatedfromthebottomofabricklinedcistern.Thebottlewastightlysealedwitha corkandcontainedamurkyfluidthatmighthavebeenurineaswellastwofabricshoeinsolepatternswrapped up inside a roughly triangular or heartshaped piece of felt pierced with nine brass pins and three needles (Alexandrowicz1986;Becker2005:1920).Thepinshadstampedheads,aprocesspatentedin1824,whichdatesthe bottleto the first half ofthe19th century. The presenceof the shoeinsolepatterns is particularly interesting,as there is evidence that shoes served a magical or apotropaic function in both England and the United States (Merrifield1987).Becker,however,hassuggestedthatthevictimofthebewitchmentmayhavehadsometypeof footdisorder,possiblywithbilateralsymptoms,andattemptedtousethesepatternsasameansofcounteractingits effect(Becker2005:19).

EssingtonWitchBottle(top),thewoodstopperandfourpinsfoundinside,andanassociated redwaresherdandbirdbone(bottom)(Becker1978,2005).

In the United States, the English tradition of witch bottles as countermagic appears to have merged with African religious and magical traditions. Hoodoo, a syncretic belief system incorporating elements from both African and European sources, was (and appearstostillbe)widelypracticedintheSouth,particularlyamongBlackAmericans.It appearsthatconjurebottlestooktheplaceofmalevolentconjurebagsinsomeareas, particularly those settled by the English (Anderson 2005:61). The contents of conjure bottles are adapted to a wide variety of magical functions and frequently contain typicallyAfricanelementssuchashotredpepperpowder,graveyarddirt,and/orgoofer dust, plus a piece of paper containing the intended victims name (Yronwode 2000). Furthermore,modernorNewAgewitchesthosewhosubscribetotheWiccafaith construct bottle spells in a similar fashion. In the case of both hoodoo and Wicca assemblages,thetermwitchbottleisnotbeappropriateandthemoregeneraltermsof conjurebottle,bottlespellorbottlecharmarepreferable.

LEWESBOTTLE,DELAWARE
Inthe1960s,aglassbottlecontainingpinswasexcavatedatthesiteofacolonialDutchfort,fromanintrusivepit featurebelievedtobeassociatedwiththedoorwayofamorerecentfarmhouse.Thebottleanditscontentsarenot describedintheoriginalreport,butBecker(2005)datesthebottleto170050.Unfortunately,nootherdetailsare availableconcerningthisexample,asitwasnotwelldocumentedatthetimeofexcavation.

Databasedonasurveyof187witchbottles,approximatelyhalfof whichhadnoassociatedcontents(Hoggard2004).

AsurveyofEnglishwitchbottlesconducted by Hoggard (2004) reveals that among bottleswithknowncontents(abouthalfof the sample), 90% contained iron pins or nails, suggesting they are a good indicator of this artifact type. In addition, witch bottlesarefrequentlyfoundinaninverted position,buriedunderornearhearthsand chimneys, or under thresholds, walls, and foundations. Merrifield (1955) has also observed that in certain parts of England, witch bottles were regularly deposited in rivers, streams, and ditches as well as in churchyards.

COVELANDSCHARM,PROVIDENCE,RHODEISLAND
A small, hand blown clear glass medicine vial containing six straight pins was recovered from the site of an early 19th century building near Providence, Rhode Island. The vial has been dated to 17801820 and is probably associatedwithanearlierstructurethatoncestoodonthesite(Becker2005:18).

HORNPOINTWITCHBOTTLE,DORCHESTERCOUNTY,MARYLAND
Duringexcavationsatamid19thorearly20thcenturytenanthousesiteonMarylandsEasternshore,thebroken neck of an olive green glass wine bottle dating to the mid18th century was recovered. Part of the stopper still remainedinthebottleandatotalof17nickelplatedcopperpins,bothstraightandbent,werestuckintoboththe insideandoutsidesurfacesofthecork(Becker2005:1718;Morehouse2009).

Bottle charms continue to be made today and provide an interesting comparison to historic witch bottles (Yronwode 2000). In 1988, a small plastic medicine bottle containing a halfpenny, a dime, teeth, a wrappedpieceofmetal,andasmallvialof Written spell found inside a plastic bottle charm recovered from oil was found on the banks of Englands Louisianas Vermilion River (left); modern plastic bottle charm recoveredfromtheThamesRiver(right). Thames River (Powell 2008). In Ontario, Canada,apoliceofficerapprehendedamaninpossessionofaplasticbottlecontaining urine and razor blades, for protection from bad people (Andrews 2009), while in Louisianamorethanfourdozenbrownplasticprescriptionbottlesfilledwithpowderand writtenspellshavebeenrecoveredfromtheVermilionRiver(Blanchard2004).
LinedrawingoftheMarketStreetWitchBottleanditscontents,includingaheartshapedpieceof feltpiercedwithpinsandneedles,andtwofabricshoeinsolepatterns(Alexandrowicz1986).

REFERENCES

GREATNECKWITCHBOTTLE,VIRGINIABEACH,VIRGINIA

OPENINGANENGLISHWITCHBOTTLE

In 2004, a sealed saltglazed ceramic Bellarmine jug was excavated from a site in Greenwich, London. Because the Greenwich example was recognized as a witch bottle early on, researchers were able to conduct extensive analysis in laboratory conditions, thefirstsuchwitchbottletobestudiedinthisway.

In1979,asmall,narrow,lightgreenglassmedicinevialwasdiscoveredattheedgeofacliffnearthesiteofa17th century structure at Virginia Beach. The vial, dated to 16901750, was found buried in an inverted position and containedapproximately25brasspinsandatleastthreeironnailsfusedtogetherbyoxidation.Therealsoappeared tobealightambercoloredfilminthelowerportionofthevialthatwasinterpretedashumanurinebutwasnever testedduetocontaminationduringinitialcleaning(Becker2005:18;Painter1980).

PATUXENTPOINTSITE(18CV271),CALVERTCOUNTY,MARYLAND
During salvage excavations at an early colonial site in Calvert County, Maryland, occupied from 16581680, a pit featurewasfoundtocontaintheremainsoffourglasscasebottleswhichappeartohavebeenplacedinthepitin aninvertedornearinvertedposition(King1996:27).Inadditiontohundredsoffragmentsofbottleglass,thepit alsocontainedtheremainsofthreeironnails,apigspelvicbone,thelowerjawboneofapossumorraccoon,and anoystershellandchertflake(bothbelievedtoberedepositedprehistoricartifacts).Theuniquenatureofthepit deposit has been noted, andbased on the inverted position of the bottles, the presence of iron nails and two unusualanimalbones,aswellasthefeatureslocationnearadomesticstructureithasbeenproposedthatthe artifacts represent the remains of four witch bottles (King 1996:28). As King (1996) admits, however, there is no indicationofmanyoftheusualcontentsofawitchbottlesuchaspinsorothersharpobjects,afeltheart,human hair or nail clippings, or urine. As a result, some archaeologists have expressed doubt that these are indeed the remainsofwitchbottles(Becker,pers.comm.2011).Ifthedepositdoesrepresentoneormorewitchbottles,they wouldbetheearliestknownexamplesintheUnitedStates.

Xrays,CTscans,andgaschromatographyanalysisshowedthebottlecontainednailsand pins and was partially filled with liquid. Furthermore, the position of the oxidized nails andpinsintheneckofthebottlesuggestedithadbeenburiedinaninvertedposition. Uponopeningthebottle,itwasfoundtoincludeeightbentbrasspins,twelveironnails, ten fingernail clippings from a wellmanicured hand (suggesting higher social status), a piece of heartshaped leather pierced with a bent nail, human hair, navel fluff, and human urine (which chemical analysis showed contained traces of nicotine). There was alsochemicalevidenceofbrimstoneorsulfurinthebottle(Geddes2009;Pitts2009).
XrayimageandpartialcontentsoftheGreenwichWitchBottle(Geddes2009).

BrokenbottleneckwithstraightandbentpinsfromtheHornPointWitchBottle,Maryland(left) (Morehouse 2009); line drawing of the Great Neck Witch Bottle and pins from Virginia Beach, Virginia(right)(Painter1980).

ARMSTRONGFARMSTEAD(15FA185),FAYETTECOUNTY,KENTUCKY
SalvageexcavationsattheArmstrongFarmsteadinKentuckyrecoveredasmall,handblownglassmedicinevial, sealedwithacork,withfourstraightpinsinside.Thebottle,whichwasdatedto181050,isassociatedwithasmall structureandisdescribedasveryunique(Barber2006:164).Althoughitisnotidentifiedasapossiblewitch bottleintheofficialreport,anarchaeologistwhoreviewedthereportrecognizedthesimilaritytoknownexamples (Davies,pers.comm.2010;Davis,pers.comm.2011).Furthermore,tenadditionalpinswerefoundbytheentrance toanotherstructureatthesite(Davis,pers.comm.2011).Atleastoneofthepinsfromthesite(althoughnot necessarilyfromtheentrance)waspurposefullybentintoauniquecircularorwhorlshape.Althoughthebentpin appearsinaphotointhereport,nodiscussionofthepinoritslocationappearelsewhereinthereport.Other relevantitemsexcavatedfromthesitethatarenotdiscussedinthereportbutwhichmightindicatethepresenceof folkmagicincludeaCatholicmedallionandapiercedsilvercoin(Davis,pers.comm.2011).

Alexandrowicz,J.Stephen 1986TheMarketStreetWitchBottle,Pittsburgh,Pennsylvania.ProceedingsoftheSymposiumonOhioValleyUrbanandHistoricArchaeologyIV:117 132. Anderson,JeffreyE. 2005ConjureinAfricanAmericanSociety.LouisianaStateUniversityPress,BatonRouge. Andrews,MarkE. 2009Bottlesandblades.BritishArchaeology108(September/October).Electronicdocument,http://www.britarch.ac.uk/ba/ba108/letters.shtml, accessedApril19,2011. Barber,JenniferL. 2006PhaseIIandIIIArchaeologicalExcavationsattheArmstrongFarmstead(15Fa185),FayetteCounty,Kentucky.ReportonfilewithCultural ResourceAnalysts,Inc.,Lexington,Kentucky. Becker,MarshallJ. 1978AnEighteenthCenturyWitchBottleinDelawareCounty,Pennsylvania.PennsylvaniaArchaeologist48(12):111. 2005AnUpdateonColonialWitchBottles.PennsylvaniaArchaeologist75(2):1223. Blanchard,Kevin 2004BottlesofhoodootakenfromVermilionRiver.TheAdvocate(BatonRouge,Louisiana),September3. Geddes,Linda 2009Londonsmagicalhistoryuncorkedfromwitchbottle.NewScientist(June4).Electronicdocument,http://www.newscientist.com/article/ dn17245londonsmagicalhistoryuncorkedfromwitchbottle.html,accessedSeptember15,2009. Godbeer,Richard 1992TheDevilsDominion:MagicandReligioninEarlyNewEngland.CambridgeUniversityPress,NewYork. Hoggard,Brian 2004Thearchaeologyofcounterwitchcraftandpopularmagic.InBeyondtheWitchTrials:WitchcraftandMagicinEnlightenmentEurope,editedby Owen DaviesandWillemdeBlecourt,pp.167186.ManchesterUniversityPress,NewYork. Hyatt,HarryMiddleton 1935FolkLorefromAdamsCounty,Illinois.AlmaEganHyattFoundation,NewYork. King,JuliaA. 1996ThePatuxentPointSite.InLivingandDyingonthe17thCenturyPatuxentFrontier,JuliaA.KingandDouglasH.Ubelaker,editors,pp.1546. MarylandHistoricalTrustPress,Crownsville. Mather,Increase 1684AnEssayfortheRecordingofIllustriousProvidences. Merrifield,Ralph 1955WitchbottlesandMagicalJugs.FolkLore66(March):195207. 1987TheArchaeologyofRitualandMagic.NewAmsterdam,NewYork. Morehouse,Rebecca 2009WitchBottle.JeffersonPattersonPark&Museum,MarylandDepartmentofPlanning.Electronicdocument,http://www.jefpat.org/ CuratorsChoiceArchive/2009CuratorsChoice/Aug2009WitchBottle.html,accessedApril17,2011. Painter,Floyd 1980AnEarly18thCenturyWitchBottle.Chesopiean18(6):6271. Pitts,Mike 2009UrinetoNavelFluff:TheFirstCompleteWitchBottle.BritishArchaeology107(July/August).Electronicdocument,http://www.britarch.ac.uk/ba/ ba107/news.shtml,accessedSeptember15,2009. Powell,Nicky 2008TheHolywellwitchbottle.MuseumofLondon.Electronicdocument,http://www.museumoflondonarchaeology.org.uk/News/Archive/News08/ witchbottle.htm,accessedApril19,2011. Puckett,NewbellNiles 1926FolkBeliefsoftheSouthernNegro.UniversityofNorthCarolinaPress,ChapelHill. Yronwode,Catherine 2000WitchBottles:HoodooandBritish.TheArcaneArchive.Electronicdocument,http://www.arcanearchive.org/occultism/magic/folk/ hoodoo/witchbottleshoodooandbritish1.php,accessedMarch14,2011.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Suspected witch bottle and associated artifacts from the Patuxent Point Site, Maryland (left) (King1996);glassmedicinevialcontainingfourstraightpins,andanunusualwhorledpin,both excavatedfromtheArmstrongFarmstead,Kentucky(right)(Barber2006).

Iamindebtedtothefollowingindividuals:Dr.MarkGroover,Dr.ColleenBoyd andDr.RonHicks,forservingonmythesiscommittee;Dr. MarshallBecker,forhisinsightfulcorrespondenceonAmericanwitchbottles;DanDavis,forfirstrecognizingtheArmstrongwitchbottleand providing important details on the find; Kevin CupkaHead and Dr. Owen Davies, who helped track down the Armstrong Farmstead site report;andfellowresearchersBrianHoggardandMeganSpringate,fortheircontinuedprofessionalsupportandencouragement.