In time for Halloween Brecon Beacons Young Archaeologists’ Club explored the spooky world of witchcraft and magic.
We looked at our modern ideas of witches and magic, and with the help of some examples of historical sources tried to work out how much of it was rooted in truth and how much was modern fabrication. We also looked at some mystery objects, which turned out to be a witches ladder (to help with spells), a witches bottle (a way to protect against black magic), a ceremonial headdress, old shoes found in the walls of old houses and mummified cats also found hidden under floors and walls of old houses. We realised that understanding these mystery objects is not straight forward, and that there are often many interpretations for what an object or artefact might be or what it was used for. For some objects one possible interpretation might be to do with magic or witchcraft, but there also may be other more every day and ordinary explanations too, but because these are not as exciting as explanations or interpretation that are linked to witchcraft or magic, these more ordinary possibilities don’t capture peoples’ imaginations or get reported in the news in the same way.
Then we each had a go at creating out own modern versions of a witches bottle and a witches ladder. Here is a photograph of one of our witches bottles.
Real examples they find are usually in glass or pottery bottles (ours is in plastic), and they usually contain things that we weren’t able to put in ours, like human hair, finger nails and wee! Everything in a witch bottle is to help to protect against a witch who might be practicing magic against you, so in ours we put in some cleaner and more wholesome things that would have the same affect.
Contents of our witches bottles:
- Herbs – sage, rosemary and lavender to purify
- Salt – to cleanse
- Nails – to deflect the magic away from you
- A wooden stake – to impale the witch
- A cloth heart pierced with a nail – to send the black magic and harm back to the witch – just like the witches bottle found in Greenwich a few years ago http://www.archaeologyuk.org/ba/ba107/news.shtml
- Red ribbon – for protection
- A feather – to hold the spell
In line with tradition, for a witch bottle to work it either has to be hidden somewhere in your house, where it attracts negative magic to it and protects the people living in the house. Or, to bury it in your garden as far from the house as possible, so any bad magic is drawn away from the house. It is important that it is well hidden, as it stops working if it is found. So, everyone went home with their witch bottle looking for the perfect hiding place.