Make a post medieval witch bottle

What is a witch bottle?

A witch bottle is a bottle that is used to contain bad luck, evil thoughts and wicked spells. It protects the owner of the bottle from harm. Some people even think that witch bottles were used to contain particular witches that may have cast a spell on you. As long as the witch is kept inside the bottle (i.e. the bottle isn’t opened) you will be safe from the wicked spell. Many witch bottles from Norfolk have been recorded on the Norfolk Historic Environment Record. Some of these are glass bottles although most are Bellarmine pottery bottles. These have clay faces as decoration on the neck of the bottle. 

Photograph of a witch bottle found in 1905 at 14 King Street, King's Lynn.

A witch bottle found in 1905 at 14 King Street, King's Lynn. (© NCC)

What has been found inside them?

All sorts of things have been found inside witch bottles. Traditionally you might find bent pins or nails, human hair, a message to the witch written on a piece of paper, grass and scraps of cloth. Sometimes the bottle was then filled up with urine! In different areas different things were added to the bottles. In Hevingham a Bellarmine witch bottle containing two iron nails has been found (NHER 28977). At Welney animal bones were found within another witch bottle (NHER 33778). A third example contained parts of a 15th or 16th century devotional book (NHER 20034).

X-ray of a witch bottle found in Earsham.

X-ray of a witch bottle found in Earsham. (© NCC)

Where are they found?

Witch bottles are generally found buried within houses, perhaps under a hearthstone or doorstep (NHER 15803). They were put in places where the spell might enter the house – like the chimney (NHER 16279) or doorway. Others have been found plastered into walls or attics. Witch bottles were deposited throughout the post medieval period and perhaps surprisingly into the 18th century in Norfolk (NHER 33778).

What happens when you open a witch bottle?

It would be very dangerous to open a witch bottle – you might let the witch or spell out!

Make your own post medieval witch bottle

You will need:

A bottle with a re-sealable lid

Pencil and paper

Scraps of cloth

Washed and cleaned bones from a roast chicken

Pins or nails

Charms, spells and other small objects.

 

1. Think about what you would like to put inside your witch bottle. You might like to write a spell warding off evil or draw a picture of the witch you have trapped inside the bottle.

2. Make a list of items to put into the bottle – remember you have to be able to fit them through the neck of the bottle.

3. Collect together the things you want to place inside the bottle. Very carefully put the items inside the bottle and seal the lid. The witch is now trapped and won’t be able to escape from the bottle! You should have good luck from now on.

4. You might like to decorate the outside of the bottle. You could draw special good luck designs or make the bottle look like a Bellarmine pottery bottle by drawing a face and sticking it on.

5. Think about where you are going to put your bottle to catch any more bad luck that comes your way. You might like to put it by your window or your bedroom door.

M. Dennis (NLA), 11 September 2006.

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