Appalachian Folk Magic: The Witch Bottle

Source: Unmasked History Magazine

“How about a little ‘witch’s brew’ to get your Monday off to a flying start?”

There is an old Irish tale passed down through the generations about a clairvoyant and healer who carried a magic bottle.  Biddy Early (Bridget Ellen “Biddy” Early, 1798-1872) became known as a witch when she foretold the murder of a Limerick landlord she was employed by as a servant.  When her premonition proved true, she gained a reputation as a witch. 

She was born in Kilbarron, Co Clare, Ireland where over the years she healed thousands of people who came to her for help.  She used her magic bottle to gaze upon to determine what healing method to prescribe.  She was always in possession of her magic bottle so much so that she was even buried with her little blue magic bottle when she passed away.   There are many versions of how Biddy attained the magic bottle, the most popular being that it was a gift from her dead son, Tom, who won a hurling match with some very unathletic faeries. She never took financial payment for her services, but instead accepted offerings of food and alcohol.   

She was accused of witchcraft in 1865 and stood trial at Ennis Court, but was never convicted because witnesses refused to give up any evidence against her.

The Witch Bottle has been found in many cultures and was used as a protective charm against witchcraft, spells, evil spirits and magical attacks.  Our Irish ancestors transported this custom to America where a handful of bottles have been discovered in archaeological excavations.  The bottles were mainly found buried under the fireplace, floor and some were found hidden inside the walls.  In 1976, a witch bottle was unearthed in Pennsylvania and by Archaeologist Marshall Becker.  Known as the Essington Witch Bottle, the artifact dates back to the 17th century and was found buried upside down next to a house.  Magic bottles were very popular during the 17th century and continued into the early 20th century.  In Tennessee, the Hermitage plantation revealed four medicine bottles found underneath the floors of slave habitats.

The basic recipe for witch bottles is to place your urine, nails, and hair into the bottle.  If the bottle is for everyone that lives in the household, beet juice is added and each member of the family has to spit in the bottle.  The bottle is then placed near a property line so that the bottle is far from the household.  Another method is to place nine items each of nails, pins and needles into the bottle.  A red string tied into a knot is also placed inside the bottle to trap the spirits and curses that must trail along the string to become trapped.  There are some prescriptions where additional items are added to the recipe such as dirt from your cow pasture, kitchen herbs and flowers .  Once the bottle is ready, it is then sealed tight with red clay or wax.  The bottle is then placed in the fireplace or firepit to allow it to heat up so the clay dries.  As this is happening, you recite the full chapter of Psalms 59. 

Appalachian Folk Magic: The Witch Bottle

Hat tip – Smokey

Huck Funn

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