Very Superstitious - 17th Century Witch Bottles


Unearthed from under the front entrance of an old house in Chelsea during renovations in the 1970s, this salt glazed stoneware Bellarmine drinking jug tells the story of a life fiercely governed by superstition, folklore and the supernatural.

In 17th century England it was common practice to blame any poor fortune or ill health on a curse or harmful bewitching.

Also known as ‘witch bottles’, these vessels were buried under the threshold or hearth of a person’s home to ward off evil spirits. Filled with urine, nail clippings, hair and carpenter nails, it was believed that after being buried the bottle would capture any evil by impaling it on the nails and drowning it in the urine.

The bottles were imported in vast quantities full of beer and wine but the stoneware was so durable that they were reused many times, including as witch bottles.

More than 50 per cent of witch bottles are found by the hearth suggesting that the heat and location of the only entrance that was permanently open to the sky was important.

Bellarmine jugs and bottles are stamped with the face of a bearded man and the name ‘Bellarmine’ is commonly thought to be associated with Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino (1542-1621).

This example of a 17th century witch bottle featuring a coat of arms with griffin and crown, 21cm high, will be offered at the Summer Country House sale on June 27, est. £200-£400.



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