14 – Witch Bottle: Bellarmine Jar

Physical description:
Bellarmine Jar Witch Bottle - a brown ceramic jar with a face on the side, originally containing pins, hair, nail clippings, bird bones and a red (coral?) hand, now displayed separately in a glass-fronted box. Counter-magic to reverse a curse.
Museum classification:
Curses
Size:
200 mm
Information:

Original text by Cecil Williamson: 'An example of the famous bellarmine type jars and bottles much beloved by witches for use as spirit houses and hexing bottles. This one was found built into the wall of a bombed-out house in Plymouth in the Sutton Harbour area. The bottle was wax-sealed and the items within had been set in a dry hide, that is no liquid within the bottle. The items extracted can be seen in the glass covered box alongside. From the evidence to hand everything indicates that whereas the bottle is of considerable age, its filling and its concealment would have taken place between 1895 and 1912. None the less it is a good example of a west country witchcraft used for retribution magic most likely from an aggrieved employee against his or her employer or master if an apprentice.'

These bottles are first mentioned in written records in the 17th century, when they were used specifically when someone believed they had been bewitched, to turn the curse back on the witch. For example, in his Astrological Practice of Physick published in 1671, Joseph Blagrave writes, 'Another way [to treat someone bewitched] is to stop the urine of the patient, close up in a bottle, and put into it three nails, pins or needles, with a little white salt, keeping the urine always warm: if you let it remain long in the bottle, it will endanger the witch's life, for I have found that they will be grievously tormented making their water with great difficulty, if any at all.'
Later they were often used for general protection, rather than to retaliate against a specific curse. Cornwall Record Office has an interesting document from the 18th century, written by a wise woman or cunning man, which describes how to make a witch bottle, explaining that then 'no enemy will have power over you.'

_________________________________________

We do not know exactly when Cecil Williamson collected this object but it was probably acquired when he worked for MI6 on the South Coast during World War II.  It was found in the wall of a bombed out dwelling in the Sutton Wharf area of Plymouth.  Plymouth was bombed between 1940-1944; three probable sites for the bottle were the houses on North Quay, Looe Street (leading to the harbour) and the houses and shops in the Parade near the Customs House.  Williamson writes:

“An example of the famous Bellarmine jars and bottles much beloved by witches for use as spirit houses and hexing bottles.

This one was found built into the wall of a bombed-out house in Plymouth in the Sutton harbour area. The bottle was wax-sealed and the items within had been set in a dry Hide, that is, no liquid [urine] within the bottle. The items extracted can be seen in the glass covered box alongside. From the evidence to hand everything indicates that whereas the bottle is of considerable age, its filling and its concealment would have taken place between 1895 an 1912. None the less it is a good example of west country witchcraft used for retribution magic most likely from an aggrieved employee against his or her employer or master if an apprentice.”

This item is remarkable for the use of a piece of hide, or leather bag (unfortunately now lost) which contained the items displayed in the box.  They include the bones of a small mammal pierced with pins, a red coral mano cornuta (an Italian fertility amulet) of Victorian date, a number of human nail-parings, a plaited piece of coarse white hair (possibly human) and a number of rusted iron and brass pins.  One pin, recently analysed by Alan Massey and Chris Caple (Reading and Durham Universities), was dated to the early 1800s.  The presence of the fertility amulet may mean that this was some sort of love charm — other examples of ‘love charm’ bottles exist in the written record from the nineteenth century, often containing Dragon’s Blood (a bright red plant resin), but this bottle is unique in being a nineteenth century deposit in a seventeenth century jar.  The use of a leather hide may indicate that this was indeed as Williamson notes, some sort of spirit house, added to over time; alternatively this could be a ‘straightforward’ counter-curse.  It is certainly a most unusual addition to the ever-growing corpus of British witch bottles.

 

 

Resource:
Object
Materials:
Ceramic
Copyright ownership:
Copyright to The Museum of Witchcraft Ltd.

Original text by Cecil Williamson: 'An example of the famous bellarmine type jars and bottles much beloved by witches for use as spirit houses and hexing bottles. This one was found built into the wall of a bombed-out house in Plymouth in the Sutton Harbour area. The bottle was wax-sealed and the items within had been set in a dry hide, that is no liquid within the bottle. The items extracted can be seen in the glass covered box alongside. From the evidence to hand everything indicates that whereas the bottle is of considerable age, its filling and its concealment would have taken place between 1895 and 1912. None the less it is a good example of a west country witchcraft used for retribution magic most likely from an aggrieved employee against his or her employer or master if an apprentice.'

These bottles are first mentioned in written records in the 17th century, when they were used specifically when someone believed they had been bewitched, to turn the curse back on the witch. For example, in his Astrological Practice of Physick published in 1671, Joseph Blagrave writes, 'Another way [to treat someone bewitched] is to stop the urine of the patient, close up in a bottle, and put into it three nails, pins or needles, with a little white salt, keeping the urine always warm: if you let it remain long in the bottle, it will endanger the witch's life, for I have found that they will be grievously tormented making their water with great difficulty, if any at all.'
Later they were often used for general protection, rather than to retaliate against a specific curse. Cornwall Record Office has an interesting document from the 18th century, written by a wise woman or cunning man, which describes how to make a witch bottle, explaining that then 'no enemy will have power over you.'

_________________________________________

We do not know exactly when Cecil Williamson collected this object but it was probably acquired when he worked for MI6 on the South Coast during World War II.  It was found in the wall of a bombed out dwelling in the Sutton Wharf area of Plymouth.  Plymouth was bombed between 1940-1944; three probable sites for the bottle were the houses on North Quay, Looe Street (leading to the harbour) and the houses and shops in the Parade near the Customs House.  Williamson writes:

“An example of the famous Bellarmine jars and bottles much beloved by witches for use as spirit houses and hexing bottles.

This one was found built into the wall of a bombed-out house in Plymouth in the Sutton harbour area. The bottle was wax-sealed and the items within had been set in a dry Hide, that is, no liquid [urine] within the bottle. The items extracted can be seen in the glass covered box alongside. From the evidence to hand everything indicates that whereas the bottle is of considerable age, its filling and its concealment would have taken place between 1895 an 1912. None the less it is a good example of west country witchcraft used for retribution magic most likely from an aggrieved employee against his or her employer or master if an apprentice.”

This item is remarkable for the use of a piece of hide, or leather bag (unfortunately now lost) which contained the items displayed in the box.  They include the bones of a small mammal pierced with pins, a red coral mano cornuta (an Italian fertility amulet) of Victorian date, a number of human nail-parings, a plaited piece of coarse white hair (possibly human) and a number of rusted iron and brass pins.  One pin, recently analysed by Alan Massey and Chris Caple (Reading and Durham Universities), was dated to the early 1800s.  The presence of the fertility amulet may mean that this was some sort of love charm — other examples of ‘love charm’ bottles exist in the written record from the nineteenth century, often containing Dragon’s Blood (a bright red plant resin), but this bottle is unique in being a nineteenth century deposit in a seventeenth century jar.  The use of a leather hide may indicate that this was indeed as Williamson notes, some sort of spirit house, added to over time; alternatively this could be a ‘straightforward’ counter-curse.  It is certainly a most unusual addition to the ever-growing corpus of British witch bottles.