Witch-bottles are probably quite familiar to many Pagans, at least as a concept. Witch-bottle isn’t a poor little Witch in a bottle, or hold something Witches drink in their gatherings. They are more akin to a “bottled spell”. The tradition originates from British folklore, traveling with British immigrants to the Americas, if not further. Many modern Pagans have included Witch-bottles in their collection of spells, widening and diversifying this old tradition – and making it more comparable with their personal ethics.
A Bit on the History of Witch-bottles
The history of Witch-bottles goes back hundreds of years. The origins of this tradition has been dated to the 1500’s. They were used most actively for a couple of hundred years. This is the same time when the Witch-hunts were going on. After this period, the tradition slowly waned. The last historical Witch-bottle was found in a cabin built in mid 19th century, in Pershore, Worcestershire (UK).
The actual bottle of a traditional Witch-bottle during the 16th and 17th century was a German stone bottle called “bartmann” or “bellermine” bottle. Similar bottles of stone material were manufactured in Holland and Belgium. The technique wasn’t mastered in England before the 1660’s and bartmann bottle manufacturing was rare in Britain.
The bottle got its name from a cardinal called Bellarmino only after the Witch-bottle tradition had already begun. These bottles had a round belly and they were decorated with a facial image of a grim looking bearded man and a medallion of stylized floral or natural imagery.
Even though these bottles were being manufactured actively in Germany long before the time of Bellarmino – who was against the Reformation – these bottles were given their familiar name as a satirical comment on the Cardinal. His bearded figure resembled the typical bearded man depicted on these bottles. Later on, the bearded image was taken to represent the Devil, which suited well for Witch-bottles, after all — witches were considered as people allied with the Devil.
Glass bottles were also used, but according to my sources they were never as popular as Witch-bottles as were the bartmann ones.
Old Witch-bottles contained things like bent iron nails, human hair (head hair and pubic hair) and urine. Urine as an important ingredient of a Witch-bottle has been long known in folk traditions, but actual findings with the bottle still containing urine have been rare. However, all of the Witch-bottles found in England which were tested for urine, did prove positive. Other traditional items contained in Witch-bottles include small bones, thorns, needles, pieces of wood and in some cases heart-shaped pieces of cloth.
The bottles were most often found buried under the fireplace. Other sites include under the floor, buried in the ground there, and plastered inside walls. The fireplace is, from a magical point of view, a security risk as it has a straight connection with the open skies above. It was believed that the curse of a Witch or even a Witch herself in a shape-shifted form could get into a house through the fireplace. Another security risk was the doorway, as doors are opened and closed several times throughout the day. In addition to the fireplace, the bottles were often hidden near the doorway.
On the Original Uses
The most active period of Witch-bottle usage and the Witch-hunts don’t coincide by accident. The fear of Witches produced ways of protecting oneself against them during times when slightest misfortune was easily interpreted as being caused by a curse put on one or another member of the family. From the point of view of a present day Witch, the original purpose for building a Witch-bottle wasn’t that pleasant: they were intended to keep Witches and Witches’ curses away. The contents of a Witch-bottle was designed to not only divert an attacking Witch, but also to cause her to suffer the agonies brought on by all the nasty things inside the bottle. To put it simply: to turn the curse back to the curser.
The urine in the bottle symbolizes the target of the curse. The curser and the target of the curse were believed to have a strong connection and the curse was believed to target not only its intended victim, but also the bodily fluids of the target. When the bottle was placed in a way that made it easier for the curse to meet with the urine (in the Witch-bottle) before the actual target, the curse hit the bottle and not its intended victim. This is why the bottles were usually hidden where they were. The importance of pubic hair and hair was similar to that of the urine.
Witch-bottles are very much a part of age-old traditions of sympathetic magic with its intentions of causing pain for the Witch with the contents of the Witch-bottle. According to folk beliefs, the use of Witch-bottles sometimes brought the Witch herself, writhing in agony, knocking on the door – begging for somebody to break the Witch-bottle and promising to reverse the curse.
The Witch-bottle was believed to be active as long as the bottle remained hidden and unbroken. People did go though a lot of trouble in hiding their Witch-bottles. Those buried underneath fireplaces have been found only after the rest of the building has been torn down or otherwise disappeared.
Very generally speaking, the modern day Witch-bottles are very similar to historical Witch-bottles in their basic structure, even though their intended purpose has changed. The most common purpose for constructing a Witch-bottle today is capturing negative energies targeted at the constructor of the bottle, her family or her home. Even though some bottles are “mirroring” in nature, they aren’t normally built to cause agony to the sender of negative energy/caster of curses. Some Witch-bottles are intended to change negative energy into positive one and then release it into the surrounding area. This kind of bottles could be classified as “guard and protect”-bottles.
The basic structure of Witch-bottles can be used for purposes other than protective: for financial gain, for helping with artistic creativity, to call forth positive energy (instead of “just filtering out negative energy”), for improving health, etc.
One could say that the basic principle is the following: practically speaking, a Witch-bottle is a container of some sort, usually a jar or a bottle, which is filled with objects and often also liquids which fill a given magickal purpose. The person making the Witch-bottle, or in other words, the one casting the bottled spell, can charge the objects magickally beforehand and build the bottle to work on this charging until the need of renewing the spell arises. Witch-bottles can also be built to recharge themselves by the energy they ‘capture’ for as long as the bottle stays unbroken, whether it be years or centuries.
Instead of magickally charging the items, one can build a bottle whose the powers are based on its contents, but cumulatively so, resulting with powers stronger than the sum of its parts. Also this version can be designed to be seasonal or “one time lasts a life time”.
What Do Modern Witch-Bottles Contain?
The typical contents of the basic protective Witch-bottle today is quite similar to that of the traditional one: bent iron nails (some say they are better if old and rusty while others say clean and unused are best), thorns, rusty razor blades, broken glass or pieces of broken mirror (some say breaking a mirror for Witch-bottle use causes bad luck, others claim that breaking a mirror for this particular use will not cause bad luck except for people sending negative energies to the bottle builder), or other sharp and dangerous “nasties”, urine of the bottle’s builder, often also menstrual or other blood. One could use semen as the masculine counterpart for menstrual blood. The bottle is often a common tight-lidded glass jar, or a bottle with a rather wide mouth.
Other types of Witch-bottles may contain sand or different colored sands, crystals, stones, knotted threads, herbs, spices, resin, flowers, candles (no, you won’t burn them inside the bottle), incense (you won’t burn it either), votive candles, salt, vinegar, oil, coins, saw dust, ashes etc etc. Actually, everything used in “normal spells” can be used in this bottled version of a spell, the Witch-bottle.
Additional materials include candles and/or wax to seal the bottle/jar with. The rest of the materials depend on the ritual in question (if any) and the religion of the builder of the bottle.
On the Hiding Place
A Pagan living in their own house may be able to hide the Witch-bottle in the traditional way under the fireplace, under the floor, or in the walls. However, it is more common to bury the bottle in the yard in a place where nobody will accidentally break it while digging in the garden. One such place is behind stones under the stairs. For a Pagan living in a terraced house burying the bottle in the garden should work well – as long as you are careful not to attract too much attention to yourself while burying an odd object (the bottle) during the correct phase of the Moon, at night, with just candle light, wearing suspicious looking ritual garments.
Apartments can be a difficult place to live in when you’re trying to find somewhere to hide a Witch-bottle. Or, at least it may seem like that! Digging a hole and burying the bottle in the yard may be not only difficult, but also quite likely not allowed. Nosy kids can dig the bottle up and hurt themselves on the contents. Not to mention that in the right (or wrong, to be more precise) neighborhood could cause lots of trouble for the Pagan attempting to hide a bottle in the yard.
However, the situation is not that impossible! The bottle doesn’t need to be situated near the home in order for it to work. If you are constructing a bottle intended to be a personal safety guard, it can be buried in a forest or sunk in a swamp. With a Witch-bottle designed to guard a given home and those living in it, you can use a large flowerpot by the front door or on the windowsill to bury the bottle in to. In this case, the bottle should be small enough to fit in the flowerpot – with the plant!
Another idea I’ve heard is putting the Witch-bottle into a closet next to the front door, where it could easily do its job as a guardian and protector of the home and its inhabitants. However, this solution might cause some trouble if the same thing that happened to one Pagan happens to you: the Witch-bottle she kept in her closet worked very well – until it one day literally blew up. The bottle was of the very traditional type, so cleaning up after this wasn’t that pleasant, as you can well imagine! While refining the idea further, we ended up putting the bottle in a covered bucket filled with soil and then putting the bottle inside the bucket in the closet.
For a Pagan still “in the closet” or living in something like student housing with a room mate these ideas may not be that usable. There’s still no need to panic, as Witch-bottles can be made in miniature size, too. One witch working with test tubes in her professional life worked out recycling methods for test tubes as miniature Witch-bottles small enough to fit in the flowerpots on her windowsill. If you want to use test tubes, make sure you can close them tightly. There are also miniature bottles and jars available at various gift shops which can be used as well.
It should be noted that not all Witch-bottles are designed to be hidden away. Some are intended to be left out in the open, for example on the windowsill, on your altar or on your (work) desk.
The next part contains some instructions for making Witch-bottles. I won’t be including any particular instructions for rituals. First, because the exact rituals used depend on the religion of the person crafting the Witch-bottle and rituals aren’t even always necessary. One doesn’t even have Pagan religious inclinations for constructing a Witch-bottle. One of the persons who has made a Witch-bottle with my instructions is completely unaffiliated religiously, doesn’t consider himself a Pagan, and is more or less an Atheist. He is, nevertheless, very happy with the results. Second, planning the ritual (if one decides to have one) can be considered an important part of constructing a Witch-bottle. As important as planning and gathering the objects used. Third, if you are using a pre-made ritual, you can easily end up repeating somebody else’s words and copying somebody else’s motions, without proper emotions. Finally, modifying things to suit you better is in this context not only allowed, it’s recommended!
Basic Bottle for a Modern Witch
This is the tried and tested basic Witch-bottle, suitable also for modern day Pagans. The bottle is intended to be one that protects its maker, often also the maker’s home and family, from negative energies. Depending on how the bottle is made and on the maker’s Will, the bottle can be one that gathers the negative energies in itself (capturing), one that sends the energies back to where they came from (mirroring) or one that changes negative energy into positive (transforming). I would say, however, that this traditional Witch-bottle isn’t the best suited one for the last option.
Glass, earthenware or stone bottle or jar, with a tightly closing cap. Size depending on how big you can easily hide. Size doesn’t matter that much, so be reasonable.
Protective gloves for handling items you’ll be putting in the bottle. A Witch-bottle won’t help you much if you manage to get a blood poisoning while constructing one.
Wax or candles to seal the bottle. Black is a good choice.
Another jar for “potty” if you don’t have one. Aiming isn’t that easy, especially if you’re trying to hit something like a Witch-bottle. So, you’ll need something to pee into – and of course you’ll need your urine.
All kinds of “nasties”: Nails, rusty and bent (you can bend them yourself, too). Pieces of barbed wire, thorns, burrs, pieces of glass and/or mirror, needles etc.
Some things to choose from: Menstrual blood (if you are female) or semen (of you are male). You can drain menstrual blood from your menstrual pads or tampons, in order to get semen. Well, you do know how to get it. Word of advice, though – if you are using sex magick as a part of your Witch-bottle building ritual, do try to remember that you were supposed to collect some of the semen to use in the bottle. It’s not that easy to collect it out of your partner, you know. Other blood – get a sterile needle from the pharmacist and remember to buy some band-aids as well. You can also add your pubic or other hair to represent yourself. An egg can also be included.
Bandages should be readily available, in the case something happens. A lot of the stuff you’re putting into the bottle is sharp.
Gather all the necessary items, your bodily fluids being the very last ones as you don’t want to store them even for a day. You can collect other items intended for a Witch-bottle over a long period of time, storing them until you have all the necessary items and enough of them. Items found on the ground suit the purpose well. Cut metal items into smaller pieces if necessary so that they fit into the bottle you’ve chosen. If you’re using a very small bottle, remember that will need only a very very small number of each item or alternatively small items (broken needles, tiny nails etc).
Choose a date to suit your magickal workings best and plan your ritual, if these things are important for you. Waning moon is often considered a suitable time for building a Witch-bottle. The ritual can consist of just the visualization of the bottle’s intended use.
You can use the following to help with your visualization:
Your bodily fluids are intended to symbolize yourself, they are part of your essence and are traditionally used in magick. Instead of having the negative energies hitting you, they hit your “representative” in the Witch-bottle, the part of your essence.
For a capturing bottle: The “nasties” inside the bottle are intended to capture the negative energies – the metal captures them, the glass confuses and cuts them, the thorns puncture them and iron (and egg) dissolve them. You can visualize the negative energies drowning in the urine. If you are building a mirroring bottle, visualize the glass and mirror mirroring the negative energy back to its sender or to grounding it to earth. For a transforming bottle you can use colored glass and visualize the negative energy transforming into positive one before continuing on its journey forward to benefit you, your home or the universe.
Choose the place to hide your Witch-bottle before you make it. Be sure you have all the necessary equipment like a shovel. By the time the bottle is finished, it’s too late to start pondering “but where will I put this thing?” If you are going to bury the bottle in the ground, choose the place so that people or animals will not dig it up.
The Actual Making of the Bottle
Have all the necessary equipment and items at hand in a place you consider best suitable for the task, at a time most suitable for you. Cast a circle, if you feel one necessary. You can build the bottle and have your ritual at the site of where you will hide it or do everything else in one place and then take the ready bottle elsewhere to be buried.
Fill the bottle with items you’ve chosen until they form a disgusting mixture. Shake the bottle to mix the items, if necessary. If you are including an egg, don’t break it and add it as the last of the solid items. Remember to leave enough room for it as well.
After this, add urine, menstrual blood or semen, or prick your finger with the sterile lancet and add as the very last thing a few drops of your blood. You won’t need large amounts, blood and semen are considered potent, so few drops will do.
Close the cap or lid and seal the bottle. You can carve symbols of your choice (for example runes, a sigil), being careful not to break the seal. If this happens, remove the wax and start the sealing process again.
If you are going to go to another place to hide the bottle, clean up after yourself especially if there is any chance that somebody else will get to the place where you were building your bottle before you come back from hiding it! If you did cast a circle before starting, take it down. Remember to ground yourself (if you are creating the bottle at the place where you’re hiding it, you can do this afterwards).
Travel to the hiding place and hide your Witch-bottle in a suitable manner. Banishing words suit the situation well and if you don’t know how or don’t want to use traditional banishing spells or something similar, you can even swear like a drunken sailor! You can bury the bottle upside down, putting more nasties in the hole you buried around the bottle before covering it all up. If you are hiding the bottle somewhere inside your home, hide it the right way up.
The Wiccan versions of the Witch-bottle which follow are more suitable for the Wiccan view of the world, magick and ethics. They are often intended to capture the negative energies or prevent it from ever arriving and – what’s important – prevent it to harm the home and its inhabitants. Many of these Wiccan versions are very much like the basic bottle described above, so it isn’t necessary to repeat everything over. However, you can use wine, (apple) vinegar or blessed (salted) water instead or in addition to urine. The nails used may be new, etc.
Many Wiccan Witch-bottles use herbs, with the herbs being chosen according to their magickal qualities. There are sometimes very specific instructions given for the gathering of each herb and other items, including correct phases of the Moon. The herbs and other objects may be put in the bottle the previous day, letting the bottle stand by the witch’s bed over the night. In the morning, you can add (morning) urine to the bottle, after which the bottle is closed and sealed utilizing Wiccan rituals. Some instructions state that the bottle will be placed in a cupboard or closet, so you don’t necessarily have to carefully hide it.
The following instructions are a basic version of a Wiccan version of the Witch-bottle, using herbs. You can do everything using a longer/more complex or a shorter/simpler route, depending on your own inclinations. You can for example start collecting the necessary items on a given phase of the moon (for example on the day before New Moon) and perform the ritual on the next Dark Moon. Or, you can collect the items when you have time for it and build the bottle at any phase of the moon (with protective spells, you don’t always have to wait for the right phase of the moon – you do it when you have to). You can utter a suitable spell with every item added to the bottle, summoning the spirit of the item/accessory and meditate for a while – or you can speak your chosen words after the bottle is filled. You can make the bottle as part of a ritual, or you can construct a ritual especially for this occasion. One reason why I’m being so vague with the instructions is that I’m not Wiccan myself.
Bottle or jar, with a tightly closing cap or lid
Crystal or stone, for example turquoise, obsidian or black onyx.
Herbs, for example acasia, aloe, lilies, lime, lotus, agrimony, corn, cayenne and black pepper, dried onion, salvia, frankincense, basil, mint, myrrh, garlic, rosemary, mistletoe, pine needles.
A few nails or needles
Wine, (apple) vinegar or urine
Black candle for sealing
The usual tools used in the ritual section
You can choose the herbs and crystals you are going to use according to their special qualities or use some of those I’ve listed. You can also use a drop or two of an essential oil instead of a herb. You can choose the number of herbs and solid items in general (in this case, essential oil is counted as “solid”) to put in the bottle on numerological grounds either so that the number of all solid items is a specific one, or that you will use a certain number of herbs. Suitable numbers are 7, connected to protection, or 9, connected with the Goddess.
Gather the necessary items. Clean the bottle you are going to use. Wash it with warm soapy water carefully (if you can use a specific soap made for protective purposes, so much the better) and dry it well. You can leave the bottle over night in the light of a full moon to charge it. Choose a place to hide the bottle. For a bottle to be filled as part of a ritual or ritually, it is a good thing to have all the necessary tools at hand, on your alter. You can also construct your ritual and spells and chants beforehand.
The purpose of the crystal (which isn’t absolutely necessary, the list is given as an example – including the liquid items) is to use it’s magickal qualities, the same goes with the herbs. The salt is there to purify and bless the target of the Witch-bottle (the person(s), home to be protected). The nails and needles ground the negative energy and you can also visualize it being then sent back to its sender, threefold. The thread tangles the negative energy in a knot similar to what you are tangling the thread into and to bend the energies away from the builder of the bottle. You can also visualize the negativity tripping over to the thread. The urine represents the builder of the bottle. When using wine or vinegar you can visualize the negative energies drowning in the liquid, with vinegar acting as a purifying element as well.
The Actual Making of the Bottle
If you’re constructing the bottle as part of a ritual, you can perform the ritual opening as usual.
Start filling the bottle with the salt. After the salt, add needles or nails, bent or straight. After this, it’s time to add the herbs. The crystals and the thread you’ve tangled into a “ball” can be added next. If you are adding liquids, that is done after the solid items.
When the bottle is otherwise finished, you can raise energies with a suitable chant (I’ve seen the traditional “Isis, Astarte, Diana, Hecate, Demeter, Kali, Inanna” recommended for this purpose) and directing it into the bottle, after which you close the bottle and seal it with the wax of the candle.
End your ritual as usual and bury the bottle into a suitable place or otherwise hide it. You can burn incense on the hiding place to seal the spell properly.
Witch-Bottle to Show Off
Witch-bottles that are intended to be left out in plain sight are not usually made to that much protect their makers, but to bring the one who has cast this bottled spell something she or he wants. The usual reasons are the reasons so common with other types of spell as well: the wish the gain more love, material gains, happiness, creativity.
I won’t give any specific instructions, only basic principles:
Select the bottle or jar used according to its color, shape or the simple fact that it is pleasing to the eye. Go through the magical qualities of herbs, colors, essential oils, metals, crystals etc and choose the ones you’ll use in the bottle according to how well they suit your intended purpose. You won’t normally use any liquids (except for a few drops of essential oils) in bottles left in the open, they are “dry bottles”. Aim for a harmonious whole. That means: don’t try to squeeze in your bottle every single herb or crystal associated with, for example, wealth. Too much is too much!
Pick a few suitable herbs or oils, one suitable crystal, one suitable color. To represent the color you can add (silk) ribbon to the bottle or tie a ribbon around it, or paint a symbol representing your goals with the chosen color. You can also make a “hat” to cover the lid of the bottle, making it out of black cloth and painting a symbol on it with fabric paint or magic marker, or use the color of your spell as the color of this “hat”. You can use colors as colored sands or salts. Even metals have their own magickal correspondences, so you might want to use metal dust or chips.
If you are following the phases of the moon or other celestial objects in your magick, take them into consideration while constructing the bottle. It is up to the bottle’s maker whether to use a formal ritual or not.
As a basic principle, it could be suggested that sands (and metal dust/chips) usually go to the bottom, herbs and oils on the sand and the crystal in with the herbs.
You can easily develop a large number of versions of the basic Witch-bottle to suit your (and others’) needs and life situations. Even during the time historical Witch-bottles were in use, there were new versions being developed, so why not today?! There is no One True Witch-bottle (even though there probably are people who would like to claim so), only bottles more like the traditional ones and bottles of more modern variety. I have run into all kinds of bottles myself, some being love-raising bottles on the brink of going over the level of good taste and ethics (some actually going overboard) to bottles constructed to bind a given bad person very tightly. The many varieties speaks volumes for how effective this type of spell work can be and how versatile it is.
by Faerie K
Originally published in Finnish in Vox Paganorum
English by the author