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Witch bottle found at a home in Watford, Northamptonshire             Source: BBC

An Anti-Evil Witch Bottle Found Hidden In Pub

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There has been a remarkable if creepy discovery in Northamptonshire, in Britain. During construction work, a ‘witch bottle’ was discovered. This was once believed to protect people and places from black magic. The find was in the birthplace of a woman who became one of America’s most infamous witches.

The ‘witch bottle’ was found during the renovation of a private home in the village of Watford in the County of Northamptonshire. The building was once an old pub, previously known as the Star and Garter Inn. During the demolition of a chimney, a glass torpedo bottle from the 19 th century was found. It was filled with strange substances and items, such as ‘fish hooks, human teeth, glass and a liquid’ reports the BBC.  The owner of the house, who wants to remain anonymous brought the strange bottle to the attention of the academic community.

What is a witch bottle?

Experts at the Museum of London Archaeology examined the bottle and they concluded that it was a ‘witch bottle’. These were flasks that were thought to break evil spells cast by witches. ‘Witch bottles are bottles filled with various objects and liquids of magickal potency’ reports Sabbat Box.   Typically, the bottles were filled with urine and pins.

From Mal Corvus Witchcraft & Folklore artifact private collection owned by Malcolm Lidbury. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

From Mal Corvus Witchcraft & Folklore artifact private collection owned by Malcolm Lidbury. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

In folklore it was believed that the witch was drawn to the urine. JSTOR Daily quotes the archaeologist, Eamonn P. Kelly as saying ‘The urine attracted the witch into the bottle, where she became trapped on the sharp pins’.  It is likely that the flask that was found in the old pub was left in the chimney because it was believed that the heat of the fire would bend the pins and force the witch to stop casting spells on a person, their land and property.  It is also possible that the item was placed in the chimney to stop a witch from entering a dwelling. JSTOR Daily quotes, Christopher C. Fennell, an anthropologist as stating that bottles were placed in chimneys because it was thought that  ‘witches often gained access to homes through deviant paths such as the chimney stack’.

Witch marks and mummified-cats

Witches' bottles were only one way that people sought to protect their homes and person from harmful magic. They also used witch marks, symbols that were thought to protect dwellings from spells. The Sun reports that ‘Burying mummified cats and bones in the walls and roof cavities of houses’ was another way of safeguarding a person against witchcraft’.

These bottles, with their bizarre contents, were widely used between the 15 th and 19 th centuries, especially during times, of war, poor harvests or social upheaval. They were placed in a variety of places other than chimneys, such as graveyards. The practice was so common because people often blamed hardships and misfortunes on black magic rather than on impersonal economic and political forces.  British migrants brought the practice to the American colonies, where a number of witch bottles have been uncovered.

Angeline Tubbs, known as the Witch of Saratoga. (Image: Saratoga Springs Public Library)

Angeline Tubbs, known as the Witch of Saratoga. (Image: Saratoga Springs Public Library)

The Witch of Saratoga

By a remarkable coincidence, the pub where the bottle was found is also the birthplace of one of America’s most famous witches. Angeline Tubbs, who is popularly known as the Witch of Saratoga, was born in the pub in 1761. She emigrated to the American colonies, just before the American Revolution. Tubbs became famous as a fortune teller and was reputed to be a practitioner of the black arts in the Saratoga area of New York state. The alleged witch is reputed to still haunt the area where she once lived.

It is unlikely that the bottle is connected explicitly with Tubbs as it dates from the Victorian period, being made during the 1830s. Fascinatingly, it shows that the practice of witch bottles was still being carried out even during the Industrial Revolution. The owner of the house where the item was found is going to keep it. He told the BBC that ‘I will probably hide it away again for someone to find in another 100 years or so’.

The find is contributing to the study of witch bottles by the Museum of London Archaeology and the University of Hertfordshire, in the United Kingdom. They are engaged in a three-year study of the practice and they aim to ‘understand how these curious bottles spread as a popular practice, and how they convey ideas around medicine and beliefs’ states JSTOR Daily. The researchers are seeking the help of the public during their research project.

Top image: Witch bottle found at a home in Watford, Northamptonshire             Source: BBC

By Ed Whelan





Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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