Talk by Peter Hewitt on witch bottles

Talk by Peter Hewitt on witch bottles

Peter and Judith (and baby Agnes) were in Salisbury this weekend.  Peter Hewitt (Collections Researcher) presented a paper at “Hidden Charms 2” a conference focusing on ritual marks and deposits part of the Apotropais project, for more details see:

Peter spoke about witch bottles in the Museum’s collection and his talk was very positively received.  Here is a short summary of that he said with some slides from his presentation.  

The Museum has a fine collection of Bellarmine style jars some of which were found in walls in houses and some of which may have been used for counter-cursing (in summary this can be considered the “classic” witch bottle).  The Museum collection also contains some more unusual witch bottles and Peter’s talk shone a light on those.

First of all, Peter considered the depositing of witch bottles near or in water. 


A summary of the bottles in the collection and how they were used led to the following tentative conclusions: 

  • Breaking witch bottle into pure flowing water ‘defuses’ pernicious energy/spirit within bottle = Beneficent Ritual Disposal
  • So bottles deposited in standing, stagnant, impure water/cesspit = Malefic Ill-wishing

Then, Peter moved on to consider bottles as witch or spirit traps specifically this ginger beer bottle which was found to contain beetle parts.  As part of his research in our archive, Peter connected this bottle with a note (below) by Cecil Williamson, the founder of the Museum.  Peter explored the West Country belief that witches could transform into beetles and be transformed into them so this may be a version of a “witch in a bottle” (there is one in the Pitt Rivers collection).


Then he considered bottles which had been used for healing and were then used for protection, specifically this example which contained coins and was deposited in a roof space in Morwenstow which later caught fire.

Peter displayed the breadth of the Museum collection and the research that is currently going on here as well as suggesting new ways to approach the study of witch bottles.  The papers will be available to hear on Mark Norman’s excellent Folklore Podcast soon, they will also be on youtube at some point we believe and a conference book/booklet including the papers will be available too.

It was great to see so many friends of the Museum at the conference especially Graham King and Kerriann Godwin x

Thanks to Gypsy, Hannah and Joyce for enabling us to get a weekend away.  

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