Witch Bottles, Desiccated Cats, Concealed Shoes, and Witch Balls

I always find it a little disconcerting when I discover that something exists in the world that up to this point I knew nothing about. That’s the height of arrogance, I know. It’s crazy to expect to know everything. But it always makes me wonder what else I’ve been missing all along.

Case in point: witch bottles. I can’t even begin to tell you how I came across this topic. It was at the end of a crazy internet surfing expedition designed to keep me awake during an unanticipated graveyard shift. I remember that the original google inquiry was “Crows and Facial Recognition” for a previous blog entry, but how I got from there to witch bottles is a mystery. I doubt I could retrace my path if my life depended on it.

Anyway, witch bottles were very popular in the 17th through 19th centuries. Apparently they were used to ward off witchcraft. People would fill these bottles with a variety of things, including (my apologies in advance if you’re reading this over breakfast) urine, menstrual blood and human hair. Then they’d add sharp objects like needles, thorns and nails. In theory, witches would be attracted to your “essence”, enter the bottle, and be impaled forever on the sharp objects. People would seal these bottles tightly, and then bury them, often upside down, under their fireplaces. In later years the fluid of choice seems to have been holy water. Thank goodness.

After reading up on this bizarre tradition, that took me to another creepy topic; that of desiccated cats. It seems Europeans and Americans used to board these up in the walls of their houses to either bring good luck or ward off evil. It makes me shiver to think about these poor cats. I couldn’t intentionally kill one even if it meant bad luck would rain down upon me for life.

From there I went on to concealed shoes. Archaeologists have found thousands of them in the walls of buildings, and they assume they were placed there either to ward off evil or encourage fertility, or perhaps as an offering to a household deity. If you think we’re less superstitious now, think again. People still tie shoes to the bumpers of newlywed’s cars, which gives credence to the odd connection between shoes and fertility.

But of all these things, the one that unsettled me the most was the witch ball, because I’ve actually seen a whole bunch of these hanging in people’s windows or placed in gardens. I wonder how many of these people have them without knowing their mystical origins, because up until I wrote this, I just assumed these round glass spheres were simply pretty baubles. But no. Originally they were meant to entice evil spirits and capture them, or ward off the evil eye, or perhaps prevent a witch from entering the area because they’re not supposed to be able to abide their own reflection.

Funny to think that people are keeping talismans that many don’t even realize they have. Even funnier to think that in this day and age, people could be still displaying them for their original purpose. I’m glad I’m not superstitious like that. Knock on wood. Cross my heart and hope to die.



7 thoughts on “Witch Bottles, Desiccated Cats, Concealed Shoes, and Witch Balls

    1. Thanks Chris! You had me running to dictionary.com. It confirmed my belief that an amulet is smaller and is worn. These things are the size of your fist at the smallest, the size of a soccer ball at their largest, and are displayed. So I’m much more comfortable calling them talismans. But I always love delving into a dictionary, so thanks again.

  1. Angiportus

    About 50 years back, in Bellingham, one of the buildings where my mom went to school had among other displays a mummified cat that had been found inside a building’s wall somewhere in town. Don’t recall much else; it was a greenish, leathery thing. Cats sometimes find a place to die on their own that’s conducive to mummification, so that may have been what happened. However, there was another building that was renovated some 20 years back and they found a human skeleton…

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