It’s Halloween: An American Witch Bottle

photo by Marshall J. Becker

Stories of American witch trials have been very much in the forefront of my mind this month, as I have done several programs on the topic at both of the museums at which I work. So it was especially interesting when  I came across an article written in 1980, but posted by  Archaeology.org today, about a witch bottle found in Essington, Pennsylvania. This is not a frequent occurrence in the U.S., though a number of these charms have been discovered in Europe. A witch bottle is a protective talisman with two purposes: to serve as protection during the building of a house, or to serve as countermeasures against specific acts of witchcraft. The Pennsylvania example is particularly intriguing because it is believed to have been deposited in the ground in the 18th century, a time when belief in witchcraft was waning.

The American bottle is dark green, covered with a bright gold patina, a result of its age and decomposition of the glass surface. It also has a large, smooth “push-up” or indentation in its base. The shape of the bottle and the smooth surface of the push-up help date the bottle as having been made some time between 1730 and 1750, a period when manufacturing techniques were becoming more sophisticated. It was buried upside down in a hole next to a house. The article here explains the context and folklore associated with witch bottles much more succinctly than I could, so for more information, hop on over to the site.

 

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