Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Witch's Bottle

A Bellarmine, also known as a Witch's Bottle, was prevalent in 17th century England but was used right up to relatively modern times. The use of the Bellarmine can be traced back to the 16th century when it was likely to contain rusty nails, urine, thorns, hair, menstrual blood and pieces of glass, wood and bone. More modern examples contain items such as rosemary, wine, pins and needles. A Bellarmine was a charm used to break a spell or curse cast upon a person by a witch, or as a sort of spirit trap. The Bellarmine was also believed to be a charm against bad luck in general. 

A 17th century witch's bottle containing hair, fingernails and pins (Original)
 
It is believed by some to have been named after the Catholic inquisitor, Cardinal Bellarmine, who persecuted Protestants and was known as a demon to his victims. This theory has, however, been disproved by M. R. Holmes, who has pointed out that some of these bottles actually pre-date the Cardinal. According to the Museum of Witchcraft, the original name of a Bellarmine was actually Bartmann, which translates to 'Man with a Beard' in German and they were apparently made in Frechen near Cologne in Germany. Wooden Witch Boxes were also a way to trap a witch.

Bellarmines were especially popular in East Anglia, where the belief in witches was strong and were often made of green or blue glass, although those imported from Germany into Britain were more often made from brown or grey salt-glazed stoneware. They ranged in size, from around 3 inches to 9 inches in height. Those larger Bellarmines were also known as Greybeards due to the bearded faces that were etched into them. These bearded faces were believed to scare off evil.

16th/17th century witch's bottle and contents (Original)

Although the Bellarmine was used to break a curse cast by a witch, they were often prepared by a witch or cunning man or woman. To prepare a Bellarmine the victim's hair, urine and nails were placed inside along with thread, pins, material from the victim's clothing, and other items. Urine was a way of making the Bellarmine 'contain' the victim. Sticking pins into a heart soaked in the victim's urine was believed to fool the witch into believing the victim's heart was inside the bottle. Once detected, the witch was believed to enter the bottle to retrieve the victim's heart, only to become impaled on the pins, trapping them inside.
There were several ways to dispose of a Bellarmine. One way was to bury it beneath a house's hearth or threshold. When this method of disposal was used the spell was believed to have been nullified and the witch apparently suffered great discomfort. This counter-spell was believed to be active as long as the Bellarmine remained intact.

However, the most popular method of disposal was to place the Bellarmine on a fire. When the bottle exploded, the spell supposedly rebounded on the witch that cast it, killing them. In Joseph Blagrave's book, Astrological Practise of Physick (1671), he described the use of pins and urine in the charm as a way to 'stop the urine' of the witch, again causing great discomfort. An example of this can be found in the book, Saducimus Triumphatus (Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions – 1681) by Joseph Glanvill who describes the making of a Witch's Bottle and its subsequent use. Apparently the wife of William Brearley, a priest and fellow of Christ's College in Cambridge, fell ill when they stayed in Suffolk and was supposedly haunted by an apparition shaped like a bird. A Bellarmine was prepared for her containing her urine, pins, needles and nails. The bottle was then corked and placed on the fire. The spell was apparently removed and the wizard said to have cast the spell allegedly died.

Bellarmines were also used to prevent witches or their familiars from entering the house by hanging them in the chimney, near doors and windows or plastered into walls above doors. They were also used in commercial buildings, on rail lines, bridges and other structures to ward against evil and to prevent disaster.
James Murrell, one of England's best known cunning men, was famous for his Bellarmines, some of which were made of iron. According to some stories, the local blacksmith encountered difficulties whilst forging the first iron Bellarmine for Murrell. In order to draw the fire, Murrell apparently had to say a prayer. Another local story tells us that a boy was made to drink from this first bottle in ignorance of its true purpose. When he discovered that it was, in fact, a witch's bottle, he went home filled with dread and later died. 
 
Murrell was known to instruct his clients to place their Bellarmine onto the fire, prompting the blacksmith to make a tiny hole in the top of the iron bottles. This enabled the steam to escape, preventing lethal explosions. The steam exiting the Bellarmine caused Murrell to tell his clients that this steam was actually the spirit of the witch escaping.

One story of the supposed victim of a curse involved a young woman who upset an old gypsy. The gypsy placed a curse on her and, when the woman acquired a Bellarmine and placed it on the fire, footsteps sounded outside the door, followed by furious knocking. A woman's voice was heard, pleading 'Stop, you're killing me!' When the bottle exploded, the voice faded and the girl recovered. The gypsy's badly burned body was allegedly discovered three miles from the house of the victim.

Modern witch's bottles by Kitchen Witch

Why not make your own witch's bottle?  Here's how:

 You'll need:
  • A small glass jar or bottle with a lid
  • Sharp, rusty nails and pins
  • Sea Salt
  • Red ribbon
  • A black candle  
First of all, fill your bottle or jar with the nails and pins.  According to folklore, this is meant to avert bad luck and hardship.
Next, add the sea salt, which is believed to purify.
Finally, add your red ribbon, which is supposed to bring you protection.
Once your bottle or jar is half full, you can either fill the remainer with your own urine, which determines that it belongs to you, or you can use wine.  If you decide to use wine, you can spit in it first, which, as with the urine, identifies that it is yours.
Once this is done, put the lid on, making sure it is properly screwed on, then use your black candle to seal it.  Black is believed to banish negativity, however, if you cannot find a black candle, you can use white, for protection.

Next you need to hide your bottle or jar and there are two choices for where to hide it.You could hide it somewhere in your house, be it behind a cupboard, up a chimney, beneath a doorstep.  It is believed that any malicious magic directed at your home will then go straight into the witch's bottle, rather than to you or others in your house.

And that's it.  Easy.  Your own witch's bottle.