LONDON – The United Kingdom Arts and Humanities Research Council is currently funding a project based on witch bottles, in an effort to understand more about this type of practice. It’s being helmed by Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), “an experienced and innovative archaeology and built heritage practice” and MOLA’s finds specialist Nigel Jeffries is in charge, along with Owen Davies, and Ceri Houlbrook from the University of Hertfordshire – both experts in the history of witchcraft and magic. Witch bottles still turn up in older houses across Britain, dating from earlier times: they are typically filled with pins, coils of wool, tangled threads, nails, needles and, sometimes, human urine. They are supposed to attract negative spells, which become tangled in all the mess in the bottle and can’t get free – a bit like a dark dream-catcher. You can make a specific witch bottle for a person: put their name in it, fill the bottle with pins, wool, and ideally something intimate from the intended target.
An interesting news item popping up in my feed reader is a story about the contents of an intact and still-corked “Witch Bottle” from the 17th century, found in southeast London. After five years of examinations, CT scans, X-rays, and DNA analysis, British Archeology and retired chemistry lecturer Dr Massey are ready to share their findings. A CT scan of the Witch Bottle
“CT scans and chemical analysis, along with gas chromatography conducted by Richard Cole of the Leicester Royal Infirmary, reveal the contents of the bottle to include human urine, brimstone, 12 iron nails, eight brass pins, hair, possible navel fluff, a piece of heart-shaped leather pierced by a bent nail, and 10 fingernail clippings.” While several old Witch Bottles have been found in the past, and recipes for how to make a Witch Bottle exist from folklore and old records, this is the first time an intact specimen has been available for study. According to Massey the bottle illustrates the extent that people during that time were wary of malicious magic.