I have an obsession with buried things. The idea of a found thing long since forgotten. Discovering treasures that have soaked into the soil and become one with the earth. Only to be dug up by curious eyes.

There was a headline last week that made my wild heart flutter.

A Witch Bottle Was Discovered in Virginia.

This happened exactly one week ago.

Archaeologists found the bottle at a Civil War-era site on the median of Interstate 64 in York County, Virginia. (Image: © Photo by Robert Hunter)

Archaeologists found the bottle at a Civil War-era site on the median of Interstate 64 in York County, Virginia. (Image: © Photo by Robert Hunter)

What they found: A glass bottle filled with rusted nails.

What they really found: A popular talisman used to ward off evil spirits or evil magic.

The Virginia Department of Transportation began widening work on Interstate 64 between Williamburg and Newport News, which is what kicked this entire thing off.

Originally, witch bottles were a trusted way to counteract and protect against witchcraft. Many witch bottles can be dated back to the 17th century.

According to LiveScience, the site was known as Redoubt 9, a fortification built in 1861 by Confederate troops and later occupied by Union forces. It was uncovered near an old, brick hearth as part of an archaeological dig. Redoubt 9 was occupied by the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry intermittently between May 1862 and August 1863.

Joe Jones, the director of the William and Mary Center for Archaeological Research notes, “There were a lot of casualties and fear during this period. The Union troops were an occupying force in enemy territory throughout most of the war, so there were plenty of bad spirits and energy to ward off.”

There’s no way to know for sure, what the intent was of the person who placed this witch bottle at the hearth of Redoubt 9, but the fact of the matter is, there isn’t a one-off.

Witch bottles have been around, and have been found for hundreds of years.

What’s in a witch bottle?

Witch bottles vary on what’s inside. Witch bottles have been known to include written charms, dried animal pieces and animal bones, teeth (human), nails (metal), fingernails, pins (especially bent pins), urine, hair, among other things.

Two late 17th century bottles found in London & Norwich. From 1904 & 1894. Image from: Nigel Jeffries.

 

How do witch bottles work?

There seems to be varied thought about how witch bottles work, but I’ve gathered some of my favorite explanations here.

The magical thought was this: The pieces of fingernails or urine would attract or act as a magnet to attract the evil spirits or the curse that was placed on a person or place. The sharp objects like nails or pins in the bottle, would repel the curse and turn it back on the person responsible for it. I’ve also read reports that the sharp objects were intended to capture the energy of the spell and contain it.

According to archaeologist Eamonn P. Kelly, “The most common contents of a witch bottle are bent pins and urine, although a range of other objects were also used…”

Many of the bottles included bent pins. As Kelly explains, “It was thought that the bending of the pins ‘killed’ them in a ritual sense, which meant that they then existed in the ‘otherworld’ where the witch traveled. The urine attracted the witch into the bottle, where she became trapped on the sharp pins.”

The Museum of London Archaeology notes that the charm was designed to cause maximum discomfort to anyone or anything that meant harm. Another interesting fact that MOLA notes, it is said that once the evil-doer was dead, the bottle would break.

Where can you find a witch bottle?

Most witch bottles have been discovered during private restoration work on historic buildings. When completed, witch bottles were most often buried upside down by doorways or hearths. According to the Museum of London Archaeology, they have been found everywhere from beneath the floor, or under a threshold or doorway, on archaeological sites, in churchyards, and on riverbeds or waterways. Most of them are from the 16th and 17th century,

Much research shows that being buried near fire was preferable, as it was believe that the fire would warm up the metal within the witch bottle, which would amplify the energy and effectiveness of the witch bottle.

Where have witch bottles been found?

According to historian M. Chris Manning in Historical Archaeology, “While nearly 200 examples have been documented in Great Britain, less than a dozen are known in the United States.”

Which is why the recent discovery in Virginia is so exciting!

There are so many different reports of witch bottles in Europe. During repairs on a former inn in Watford village, Northamptonshire, something was unearthed. A chimney was being demolished and something peculiar was found. A Victorian glass torpedo bottle to be exact.

It contained fish hooks, human teeth, glass, and a liquid.

Even more interesting, was that this was found at the birthplace of a witch. Angeline Tubbs, known as the witch of Saratoga Springs in New York, was born at the Star and Garter Inn, in 1761.

In 2008, a ceramic bottle was discovered during an archaeological investigation from the Museum of London Archaeology Service. It’s known now as the Holywell Witch Bottle, and it was found buried in a large hole under the floor of an 18th century house. They know the bottle was a London stoneware vessel (dated from 1670 – 1710).

Unfortunately the bottle was damaged, but the witch bottle was found to contain “about 60 very fine bent copper alloy pins with wound wire heads, the remains of rusty nails and what may be a piece of wood or bone.”

There are so many out there and thankfully, someone is taking notes.

The Witch Bottle Hunt

The timing of most of the witch bottles are significant in that, during the 16th and 17th century, witch hunts and witch trials were at their height of hysteria during this time.

Researchers with the Museum of London Archaeology and the University of Hertfordshire launched a new project in April 2019, called, “Bottles concealed and revealed.” This was a three year investigation of witch bottles.

There’s even a hashtag: WitchBottleHunt.

via Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever seen a witch bottle?

Have you ever made and buried one?

Let me know in the comments below! And shout out to this great article from Allison C. Meier, that I really enjoyed.

 

With love, magic, and witch bottles,

Jolene