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Witch Bottles: Hoodoo and British

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.religion.orisha,alt.lucky.w,alt.magick.folk
From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: Witch Bottles: Hoodoo and British
Date: Mon, 18 Sep 2000 07:32:48 GMT

Nagasiva -- please archive this as 
so that it fetches up next to the previously archived 

My comments appear at the bottom, and this is being cc'd to Brian
Hoggard ( because he asked for feedback.

For more on witch bottles in Britain, please see Brian Hoggard's
excellent site at

But first, the article itself, posted courtesy of "G. Leake"

From the Guardian Newspapers, online at     

Message in a bottle flushes out secret of 
folk charm to ward off witches

by Maev Kennedy, arts and heritage correspondent
Guardian Newspapers

Monday September 11, 2000

Chemical analysis of a sealed 17th century bottle found in the
foundations of a Surrey house has revealed not a secret Jacobean wine
stash but a revolting folk charm against witches.

It is made of human urine, pubic hairs, an eyelash and a handful of
bent pins. The witch bottle, as such charms were known, still contained
almost half a pint of 300-year-old urine.

Witch bottles were made by people who believed their illness or
misfortune, the death of family members or livestock, meant they had
been cursed.

The bottles were intended to turn the curse back on the witch. Although
the urine was that of the victim, it was believed there was such a
strong link between the curser and the cursed that the charm would work
on the witch, for as long as the bottle remained sealed.

Alan Massey, a retired organic chemist from Loughborough University who
carried out the analysis, said: "In this case the curse was intended to
make the unfortunate object of it feel as if they were weeing with a
bladder full of bent pins."

His work, published in the journal Current Archaeology, has proved the
folk belief that such bottles did contain human urine. Although more
than 200 witch bottles, dating mainly from the late 16th to the early
18th centuries, have been found, almost all were broken or empty.

This witch bottle was found sealed with all its contents intact despite
being buried more than 300 years ago in the foundations of a house which
was demolished in the 18th century near the ramparts of the castle in

It was discovered by the archaeologist David Williams, who jumped to
the obvious conclusion about a sealed wine bottle. "I managed to get a
local vineyard interested and they arranged to open the bottle, test the
contents and possibly organise a tasting," he said.

"When the cork was pulled there was a rather alarming hiss of escaping
gas. They could find no trace of alcohol -- or indeed anything organic.
I then poured the contents through a strainer, and out fell all these
pins and other bits and pieces."

The bottle went to Mr Massey, who was already testing finds for Brian 
Hoggard, a postgraduate student from Worcester University, who is
completing a thesis on witch bottles.

He has traced hundreds of reports of bottles found in the ruins of
hovels and mansions. The earliest finds date from the late 16th century
in Nottinghamshire and the most recent from a mid 19th century cottage
in Pershore, Worcestershire. "It was believed that they would cause such
agony that the witch would come to your door and beg to be released from
the curse," he said.

He also analysed the nine brass pins and proved that they had been bent
as a single bunch. Bending the pins was a symbolic killing, as well as
intended to torture the witch.

Mr Hoggard found it impossible to trace the occupants of the
long-demolished house in local records, never mind discovering whether
they suffered any exceptional bad luck.

Mr Massey believes it may be possible to DNA test the human hairs which
were floating in the liquid, to get a profile of the maker of the witch
bottle. "The bottle was already old when it was buried. The man who blew
it was probably alive in the 1665 plague and the Great Fire of London."

Guardian Unlimited  Guardian Newspapers Limited 2000


My comments: 

Brian Hoggard, the postgraduate student from Worcester University who is
completing a thesis on witch bottles, told the reported that "the most
recent [witch bottles come] from a mid 19th century cottage in Pershore,
Worcestershire." This may be correct for Great Britian itself, but it is
not true as far as the former Biritish colonies go. 

Bottle spells vrtually identical to the one described in the Guardian
article -- containing pins, needles, nails, hairs, and urine -- are
still being made and buried under houses by members of the
African-Amercian hoodoo folk magic community in the United States. I
sell the ingredients for them through my online spiritual supply store,
and regularly speak by phone with African-American customers of all ages
from all over the country who know how to make them and have done so.
They are used for goofering enemies, for protection of a house from
hoodoo, for breaking up couples, for coercive love-drawing, and for
bringing about unnatural illness or death to a conjure or witch.

In contemporary hoodoo, broken razor blades may be substituted for the
pins -- but the usual formula is "nine pins, nine needles, and nine
nails" -- plus hair and urine. If a woman is the intended victim and her
menstrual pad can be stolen, that is considered a very important
addition as well. A man's semen (from a stolen condom) would also be
highly advocated. Bottle spells for breaking up a couple may
additionally contain the hair of a black dog and the hair of a black
cat, to cause the couple to "fight like cats and dogs." However, the
major African-American variation on the ingredients in the British witch
bottle is the addition of typically African elements such as hot red
pepper powder, graveyard dirt, and/or goofer dust, plus a piece of paper
contianing the intended victim's name. 

Like the old British witch bottles from which they partially derive,
hoodoo witch bottles are customarily deployed by planting them in a
house foundation, under a chimney, at the back of a fireplace, or under
a doorstep where the witch will have to "step over that mess." The
bottle itself can be almost any style or size, from a pint whiskey flask
on down to a narrow patent medicine bottle or perfume vial. 

For more on laying bottle spells in floors and under buildings, see:

For more on African-American foot track magic see:

From 1936 to 1940, extensive documentation on these bottle spells was
gathered by Harry M. Hyatt during his interviews with 1,600
African-American root workers. This material can be found in his 5
volume, 5,000-page book "Hoodoo - Conjuration - Witchcraft - Rootwork."
If you are not familiar with this work, you can get an overviw of it at
my web page on the subject:

The fact that the burying of witch bottles has fallen into disuse in
Britain but remains a vibrant and lively part of hoodoo in America is
not out of line with other cultural survivals in the African-American
community -- including the continuing use of archaic Elizabethan English
terms like Doany (sometimes spelled Tony or Tommie [pronounced Toe-mee])
in blues songs.  

cat yronwode 

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