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You are in: Lincolnshire > History > Local History > Artefact recalls witches' shadow

The Witch bottle.

The Navenby Witch Bottle

Artefact recalls witches' shadow

A chilling reminder of our superstitious past has been unearthed from a rural farmhouse.

The "witch bottle" was discovered buried in old foundations in the Lincolnshire village of Navenby.

Containing bent pins, human hair and perhaps urine, the bottles were supposed to protect a household against evil spells.

Dated to about 1830, it is evidence the fear of dark forces persisted far longer than previously thought.

Discovered by accident during building work, the artifact initially sat unrecognised in a cupboard. Jo Butler, the house's owner, described what they found.

She said: "The builder was breaking up foundations with a pick and he came across the bottle.

"We saw it contained metal bits and this kind of strap but had never heard of witch bottles and put it under the stairs."

It was only recognised when taken to a open evening held by the archaeology department of Lincolnshire County Council.

He said: "It was an incredible moment. It was the first one I had physically seen and they are really quite rare artifacts, so to have that handed in was quite something."

The "bottle", in this case more likely to have been a glass inkwell or candlestick, had been damaged during discovery but still had its contents.

Mr Daubney said: "It seems a bit like voodoo, using human hair and pins but it's not entirely clear why these items where used.

"One theory is that the pins were put in urine so when the witch went to the toilet, it felt like they were passing the sharp metal.

"Such traditions do tend to linger in more rural areas like Lincolnshire and Norfolk but this is very rare"

Adam Daubney, Finds Liaison Officer

"What the bottles were intended to do was bounce back spells on the sender.

"Even if you did not know who the witch was, you would make one of these and sit back to see who died, then that person was the witch."

Death sentence

Britain in the late 1500's, and for 100 years after, was gripped by the "Witchcraze".

This saw hundreds of women persecuted and sometimes executed, for alleged involvement in black magic.

The most famous British trials were at North Berwick, in Scotland, in 1591 and Pendle, Lancashire in 1612.

Most "witches" were hanged, rather than the burning at the stake of popular imagination.

Protecting hearth and home from such malignant forces took various forms, including putting shoes beneath the floorboards and walling up cats.

Witch bottles, often made from stoneware, were most common in the 1600's, at the height of the witchcraft scares.

The Navenby example, however, has been dated at 1830, a time when such beliefs were thought to have been dying out.

"This late date is really incredible," said Mr Daubney. "Such traditions do tend to linger in more rural areas like Lincolnshire and Norfolk but this is very rare."

He added: "It could be either that the people who made this really believed in witches or it could be a kind of harmless tradition, a little like throwing salt over your shoulder.

"But the care with which this has put together, with a leather strap to hold it, could suggest the former."

The bottle is being conserved and will go on display at the Museum of Lincolnshire Life in Lincoln.

last updated: 06/06/2008 at 12:06
created: 23/08/2005

You are in: Lincolnshire > History > Local History > Artefact recalls witches' shadow

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