Witch Bottles in Appalachian Folk Magic

Stoneware Witch Bottles of Britain. Photo found on Pinterest


Witch Bottles have been a tool of witchcraft for millennia in many parts of the world such as Turkey, Israel, Ireland, Britain, etc. They are practical tools for lifting curses and protecting the client from further influence of the “evil” witch.

While there are many methods of creating such a device, I will detail the methods I was taught in the Appalachian Tradition.

Firstly, the vessel can be anything from old, glass medicine bottles to ceramic jugs. They were hidden or buried at the most vulnerable points of the home, namely the hearth/chimney, the front door, and in the north eastern quarter of the property (this derives primarily from the UK, where the North or North-East was seen as the entry point for evil spirits, demons, or witches).

In Ireland and the British Isles, it is also custom to bury the bottle at the foot of a stone cross. A variation of the witches bottle seems to be the handing of broken bottle heads which are broken and then suspended on a knotted rope in the upper portion of the home, another area prone for evil to enter. I’ve used everything from mason jars to water bottles. The mountain witch makes do with what is at hand.

One method to make a Witch Bottle derives from 18th century Cornwall. One is directed to heat up ones own urine until scalding and pour it into the bottle. Add a pinch of blessed salt, as much as one can get between the two fingers and the thumb. Next is added three new nail that have been sharpened to their sharpest point.

The jug is then sealed with wax or clay from the river. Then it is tightl bound with leather and is placed in the hearth and is to be heated for 9 continuous nights without growing cold. As most homes I longer have hearths, I’ve transferred this practice to the practical, modern times by placing the bottle on a candle warmer set to low. You can also transition between this and setting the bottle in front of a space heater.

Keeping the bottle warm, according to Gemma Gary in “The Black Toad”, torments the witch or ill-wisher who will now have no power over you. The urine contains the essence of the victim as well as the witch, as old beliefs say a witch’s own blood is mingled with the fluids of the victim as the witch cannot bring suffering to one without mingling the witch’s own essence in as well. This combined with the salt makes a good start as salt is the traditional breaker of curses.

When the bottle is buried, it is traditional to bury it neck/top downwards. If it must be placed in the window, the bottle should receive morning light each day. The bottle may also be buried at a crossroads in the cemetery should the bottle contain the name or other taglocks of the witch whose suspected of bringing ill to your home. This is thought to “stop them up” physically and magically.

An Appalachian Method is as follows:

To the bottle is added ones urine, nail clippings, or hair. If there are others in the household, they may be guarded likewise by the placing of their concerns as well. These are related to the Decoy practices found in many such prescriptions where the nail clippings and hair are to pull in all curses and evil cast ones way. The bottle is placed away from the family, in the yard or beneath the threshold as it was believed evil spirits and curses will take the shortest course to the target.

Next, you would add dirt from a bull pasture, a cow-line (the pathways made by the cows on hillsides), and graveyard dirt. Bulls are protective of their herd as is the Granny Witch. Soil from the Cow lines is to stomp out the evil and witches come for the family, and the graveyard dirt is to cancel out any evils thrown ones way. Beer juice can also be added to tempt the spirits in further.

The graveyard dirt may also lead the witch to a wasting death. Next is added 9 pins, needles and nails, for obvious reasons to harm those spirits that come for you. Water from the Nolachucky may be included as well (My addition). This is self evident if you’ve read that post. If you haven’t, click Here. When collecting “living water” as we call it, the flow of the creek or river must not be disturbed.

A bundle of red string is also added to trap the spirits and curses that must trail along the string to get to the decoy “target”. The bottle top is then covered in moist, red clay and baked in a fire. They can also be sealed with wax.

Another method includes placing ones personal concerns in, dirt from your front yard, and what objects such as broken mirrors/needles etc. It is usually an odd number placed within, most likely 9 needles or 9 pins as it occurs in the Irish potato curse and Silver water rites in Appalachia.

Witch Bottles have been prescribed to keep curses and evil away, but also to remove such ill tokens placed on oneself. The latter may be an explanation of witch bottles found in shoes that have been hidden away in the walls of chimney of the house. Shoes are believed to be stronger than foot prints as old shoes hold and contain the shape of ones foot, therefore their unique essence.

No matter what method one uses, once the bottle is buried it still needs to be fed. Every dark moon, I pour vinegar and holy water over the place it is buried. Though railroad spikes are used as boundaries to keep evil out, they aren’t fool proof. For this reason I bury the bottles behind my railroad spikes, as old belief say evil spirits and curses take the shortest course to their target, which will become the decoy inside the bottle.

So if anything gets through the boundaries marked by the railroad spikes, their stop will be in the bottle and they will come no further. There are many other methods which I may include in the book, but until then, here you are.

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Author: Jake Richards

Jake (Dr. Henny) follows family practice as a Yarb Doctor and Conjure man in the Appalachian Folk Magic tradition. He follows the legacy of his mother (a seventh daughter), that left behind by his grandfather, a baptist preacher and blood charmer; his grandmother, who was a knowledgeable woman in these works before Alzheimer’s set in; his great, great grandfather who witches for water in Washington County and his great grandmother who taught and worked from her roost on Mitchell Mountain in NC. Jake is currently working on his first book, tentatively called Backwoods Witchcraft: the Hoodoos of Appalachia with Red Wheel/Weiser Books, set to be on the shelves Spring 2019. When he's not writing, blogging, reading the bones or trying for clients: he is either traveling, gardening, sewing, book binding, reading, or sculpting. For questions, readings, recommendations for future posts, interviews and the like, you are welcome to email him below: Littlechicagoconjure@yahoo.com

3 thoughts on “Witch Bottles in Appalachian Folk Magic”

  1. Wow, you really brought back some memories. This was a little different from how I was taught. I was told to place an odd number of sharp objects into 4 different jars with a tangle of string or twine and a piece of iron, then add urine from the head of the household, seal it up and bury them at the four quarters of the property to create a protective barrier against whatever evil tried to cross onto your land. Folks used to put them in the four quarters of the house, too, inside the walls. I’ve seen more than one of these old jars or bottles found walled up when an old house is being redone or torn down. Only the old folks knew what they were. My gran told me what they were.

    Liked by 1 person

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