Charms against witchcraft – Witch Bottles.

With Halloween just around the corner we thought we would share one of the spookier archaeological finds from our excavations at Shilstone House. 

Witch bottles from the seventeenth and eighteenth century have been found all over the south of England. When well preserved, they have been found to contain the most curious of objects – a cloth shaped heart pierced with pins, hair, nail-clippings, bent nails or pins and evidence of urine all encased in a bellarmine jar which depicts a bearded mask of a German bishop. They are often found buried in open ground, ditches or under and around buildings.  

It would be natural to think that there is a sinister element to these witch-bottles but in fact their purpose was to act as a counter measure to witchcraft, saving the victim by throwing back the evil spell cast upon them onto the witch that cast it. 

It has been established that the urine present in such charms was in fact the most important ingredient as it was believed that any witch that casts a spell on a victim cannot do so without some of the witch’s own self being transferred to their victim.  In other words, the witch has established a magical link of sympathy with her victim, and through this she can herself be attacked. The witch is tormented through her victim’s urine and so warned off. 

During an archaeological dig at Shilstone House in 2002 the neck of a bellarmine jar was found in a trench.

We have this piece on display at the Devon Rural Archive, available to view on your next visit. 

Pictures above: photograph of the neck of a bellarmine witch-bottle found in a trench at Shilstone House during an archaeological dig prior to the house’s restoration; bellarmine jar contents – picture from ‘The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic by Ralph Merrifield; the archaeological trench at Shilstone House; a second photograph of the bellarmine jar from the dig.

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