Monday, 22 May 2017

Hero Lost blog tour - guest post by Sean McLachlan

Today, I'm delighted to take part in the blog tour for the IWSG's latest anthology with a guest post from contributing author Sean McLachlan. I'm especially intrigued by this story as it features some old folklore that I've never heard of before.

The Witch Bottle

Hello everyone! I’m Sean McLachlan. I write fiction and nonfiction full time and recently had the honor of being in the Hero Lost anthology put out by Dancing Lemur Press. My story is called “The Witch Bottle” and is based on an actual bit of folk magic from England.

If someone thought they were being bewitched, they summoned one of the cunning folk to create a witch bottle. This bottle was filled with the victim’s urine along with bent nails, pins, fingernail trimmings, belly button fluff, hair, thorns, and similar items. The body parts would attract the witch, the thorny items would injure the witch, and the bottle would trap the witch.

The bottle could then be heated over the fire to boil the witch, or buried in some spot such as beneath the threshold or in a hedge or graveyard to catch the evil spell caster.

Archaeologists were fortunate to discover an intact witch bottle dating from the 17th century during an excavation in Greenwich in 2004 and analyzed its contents. It had been placed upside down in a pit. Various forms of inversion were often used in warding spells, such as the old custom of turning your coat inside out when passing a fairy mound. The bottle contained urine, bent nails and pins, fingernail clippings, naval fluff, hair, and a nail piercing a piece of leather in the shape of a heart. Interestingly, when the urine was analyzed it showed that the person had been a smoker. Tobacco was still quite expensive in the 17th century. That and the fact that the fingernails were those of someone who didn’t do manual labor shows the elite also believed in this sort of magic.

Witch bottles are first recorded in the 17th century and lasted in rural areas of England and Scotland well into the 20th century. Witch bottles were even made in former colonies such as Canada, the U.S., and Australia. Now, like so much of rural folk culture, the practice of making witch bottles has been forgotten.

strange silvery witch bottle was collected from a Sussex village in 1915 by the
famous historian of witchcraft Margaret Murray. It is on display at the
Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford. The witch is apparently still inside and the woman
who gave it to Murray warned that it should never be unstoppered or “there’ll
be a peck o’ trouble.” Photo copyright Sean McLachlan.

The earliest and most common type of bottle used for witch bottles are the so-called Bellarmine jugs from Germany from the 17th century. They sported a distinctive “wild man” face that probably added to their mystic appeal. This one is broken. Perhaps it was used in a spell? Strangely, witch bottles have never been found in Germany, only in England, Scotland, and the British colonies. This bottle is on display at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Photo copyright Sean McLachlan.

Sean McLachlan writes fiction and nonfiction under his own name and also works as a professional ghostwriter. Learn more about him at his blog and Amazon page. His post-apocalyptic story The Scavenger is free on Amazon through May 22.

Hero Lost
Mysteries of Death and Life
An Insecure Writer’s Support Group

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Sarah Foster.

Hand-picked by a panel of
agents and authors, these twelve tales will take you into the heart of heroes
who have fallen from grace. Join the journey and discover a hero’s redemption!


Sara C. Snider said...

Fascinating lore about witch bottles. I hadn't heard of them before, but it does remind me of a documentary I saw when I was a kid about a guy who ate his family's nail clippings, to protect them from harmful magic. Thanks for sharing, and good luck with the blog tour and book release!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Interesting that they were really used.
Analyzing the contents would not be up my alley though.

Erika Beebe said...

What a cool post Sean! I had no idea they existed or what would be put in them. I like the pictures too!

Natalie Aguirre said...

So interesting about witch bottles, which I never heard of before. Worry for the people who were accused of being a witch though. Congrats on being part of this anthology.

Nicola said...

Now I'm intrigued. Thank you for sharing and many congratulations on your success in the anthology.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Fascinating history on the witch bottle.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Congrats, Sean, on getting your story in the latest IWSG anthology. Woot!

Hi, Nick!

Tyrean Martinson said...

It's cool that you used something for history for your story, Sean. Your story had a couple of really cool twists. :)

Elizabeth Seckman said...

How interesting! I love history tidbits. Thanks for sharing.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Nick and Sean - what an excellent idea for the Hero Lost Anthology ... I'd no idea about witch bottles or that one had been found in Greenwich and analysed in 2004. Incredible story ... thanks to you both and good luck with your writings ... cheers Hilary

cleemckenzie said...

I love the story of the witch bottles! Those images are really interesting, too. I haven't reached your story in the anthology yet, but I look forward to it.

Sarah Foster said...

The history behind the witch bottles is so interesting and bizarre!

JeffO said...

Well, I just learned something new! I wonder what habits of ours will confound future generations and make them shake their heads. Thanks, Sean!

Liz A. said...

I had never heard of this. Fascinating.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

That is so interesting. Knowing it's based on actual historical practices makes Sean's story even better.

Trisha said...

I studied medieval & early modern Europe at uni, and I've never heard of these witch bottles! Fascinating stuff. Thanks for sharing :)

Darla M Sands said...

I'm not sure I'd feel lucky finding such a thing. ~grin~ But fascinating. Best wishes on the anthology! Sounds interesting.

Heather R. Holden said...

I've heard of witch bottles! Very cool how they're included in a story for this anthology...

Arlee Bird said...

I've never heard of such a thing. Certainly sounds bizarre, but I guess back then maybe not so strange. How interesting to find an intact bottle.

Arlee Bird
Tossing It Out

Michelle Wallace said...

A fascinating bit of history!
I loved Sean's story.

The Cynical Sailor said...

Thanks for hosting the Hero Lost blog tour! Really interesting to learn more about witch bottles and the background behind Sean's story.

Weaver said...

"This bottle was filled with the victim’s urine along with bent nails, pins, fingernail trimmings, belly button fluff, hair, thorns, and similar items"

Seriously. Who comes up with this stuff? Fascinating and icky. lol

Shannon Lawrence said...

I bet the elite were best able to afford the witch bottles! Interesting. I hadn't heard of these, though I've heard of similar means to counter curses and evil spells (medicine bags).

Rachna Chhabria said...

I'm fascinated by folklore. Interesting to learn about Witch Bottles.

Sherry Ellis said...

It's amazing that witch bottles were a real thing. Gross and creepy!

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