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Uncanny Archaeology of Halloween

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Author Topic: Uncanny Archaeology of Halloween  (Read 1403 times)
Vlad the Impaler
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« Reply #90 on: October 31, 2009, 12:06:03 am »

Compared with some English witch bottles, the American example has only modest contents. Quite commonly the pins found in English witch bottles were lodged in felt hearts. The pins even may have been arranged in magical patterns, for example, to form a hex sign. A bottle recovered from a construction site on Pottery Street in Suffolk, England, constitutes the richest witchcraft find. A stoneware bottle, in the usual inverted position, held a wide array off contents--some duplicated other Suffolk finds, but others were entirely unique. The bottle contained a piece of felt that had probably once been heart-shaped, six brass pins, human hair, and roughly 40 badly rusted nails of odd sizes. In addition to all of these traditional ingredients, it contained some more unusual objects including a common two-pronged table fork made of iron, more than 40 small fragments of glass, 24 brass studs with convex heads--possibly upholstery pins--and fragments of four flat wooden spills pointed at both ends and placed in the bottle last. This rather well-filled bottle had been stoppered with a plug of hard clay-like material exactly like another example found eroded on the banks of the Thames River in London. Analysis revealed that the Suffolk plug contained phosphate. The plug might have come from a trash heap or outhouse--or again, may have been originally permeated with the urine seeping out of the bottle. Over time the contents of witch bottles appear to have diminished in number until finally they contained only urine.
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Vlad the Impaler
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« Reply #91 on: October 31, 2009, 12:06:25 am »

Glass or terracotta bottles, used as witch bottles, have an interesting history exclusive of their role in magical activities. The one found on Tinicum Island was dark green covered with a bright gold patina, a result of its age and decomposition of the glass surface. This bottle also has a large, smooth "push-up" or indentation in its base. The shape of the bottle and the smooth surface of the push-up help date the bottle as having been made some time between 1730 and 1750, a period when manufacturing techniques were becoming more sophisticated. But most of the English witch bottles which are similar in function to the Essington one are not glass bottles at all: they are largely bellarmines, a highly popular type of 17th-century stoneware container purportedly named after Roberto Cardinal Bellarmino (1542-1621), a well-known conservative theologian much despised in Protestant Germany where these vessels were produced. Bellarmines are distinctive because they are typically adorned with the figure of a bearded man resembling the face of a warlock, one probable reason for their use as witch bottles. Large-bellied and narrow-necked, bellarmines served as drinking jugs and were imported to London and East Anglia to the north of London in considerable numbers during the 17th century. They also may have been used in the fabrication of witch bottles simply because of their sturdy construction. (See "Opening a Witch Bottle" for an example of a bellarmine.)
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Vlad the Impaler
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« Reply #92 on: October 31, 2009, 12:06:57 am »

Another variety of witchcraft container is the glass phial which turns up in 18th-century contexts as a charm against evil creatures. Steeple-shaped phials were also buried upside down and have many antecedents in pre-17th-century contexts. Similar charms, for example, were buried by the Saxons in "wall roots" or foundations, and are mentioned in the famous volume of medieval treatises gathered together as "Saxon Leechdoms." Leechcraft, the art of healing, began as a complex mélange of herbal knowledge, folk remedies, and magic. One particular transitional bottle, worth noting, dates to the last quarter of the 17th century and is a bellarmine with horseshoe-like impression in place of the usual bearded face. This type was probably made when English manufacturers were successfully challenging German producers of bellarmines, a time when the traditional form was beginning to degenerate. After 1700, the shape of these jugs continued to change until they became similar to modern-day tankards. One Suffolk piece dating to the end of the 17th century has a triangular stamp replacing the mask and is decorated with stylized medallions.
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Vlad the Impaler
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« Reply #93 on: October 31, 2009, 12:07:15 am »

It stands to reason that the American witch bottle from Pennsylvania would have its closest parallels with London, since the mother country's influence on the colonies was strong and the Taylor family had its English origins in the Midlands. But what of England and the continent? While no direct relationship appears to exist between English witch bottles and magical charms found in Europe, there are many parallels. Jugs, pots, and other "magical" vessels have been recovered in Germany, Holland, and throughout Scandinavia. On the whole, these vessels are found empty. But odd items are often discovered in them, including animal bones such as bird bones. The best known Continental examples are 15th century in date, but the practices they represent persisted until much later on both sides of the Channel.
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« Reply #94 on: October 31, 2009, 12:07:39 am »

Examples of witchcraft can be found in a remarkable variety of cultures and can be traced back to the very earliest phases of history. The 17th-century Englishman might seek to dispel a "weakness" by boring a hole in a living oak tree and placing his hair cuttings or nail clippings in it; or he might seek to cure himself of some ailment by burying his "water" in an ant's nest or by pouring it on a dung heap. Such primitive efforts to contend with human frailty may seem amusing to us now, but they represent the poignant efforts of a pre-scientific era to lessen real suffering. Indeed, to judge from the concentration of white magic charms in and around London during the 17th century, it is possible that the ailments which occasioned their use had become more frequent. Such an increase in pains and illnesses may have been the result of changes in diet or some other aspect of lifestyle. It is known, for example, that smoking increased significantly during this period, although there is no way of knowing that this habit was linked to specific ills related to witch bottles. Witches of the colonial era kept themselves busy on both sides of the Atlantic, afflicting innocent people with discomforts and diseases. The strong belief in these witches traveled with our ancestors over the sea to America and persisted through the centuries.
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« Reply #95 on: October 31, 2009, 12:08:22 am »

Marshall J. Becker of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology is author of "An Update on Colonial Witch Bottles," Pennsylvania Archaeologist 75:2 (2005), pp. 12-23. This article was originally published in ARCHAEOLOGY, March/April 1980, pp. 18-23. References noted in the original publication included G. Burr, Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, 1648-1708 (1914); S. Fletcher, Pennsylvania Agriculture and Rural Life, 1640-1840 (1950); and E. Gummere, Witchcraft and Quakerism (1908).

http://www.archaeology.org/online/features/halloween/witch_bottle.html
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« Reply #96 on: October 31, 2009, 12:09:15 am »



The Salem witch trials of 1692-1693 are well known. (Creative Commons)
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Vlad the Impaler
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« Reply #97 on: October 31, 2009, 12:10:14 am »



An early publication on witchcraft, printed in Boston.
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« Reply #98 on: October 31, 2009, 12:11:54 am »



Cotton Mather wrote several works about witchcraft, defending the Salem trials in The Wonders of the Invisible World.
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Vlad the Impaler
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« Reply #99 on: October 31, 2009, 12:12:20 am »

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« Reply #100 on: October 31, 2009, 12:13:07 am »



Witchcraft trials were not only a New England phenomenon. Pennsylvania governor William Penn presided over a trial in 1684.
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« Reply #101 on: October 31, 2009, 12:13:52 am »



A 1692 Philadelphia publication debating the pursuit of "those that have been accused of witchcraft."
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« Reply #102 on: October 31, 2009, 12:14:27 am »



Swedish governor Johan Printz
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« Reply #103 on: October 31, 2009, 12:15:16 am »



Sealed with a carved wooden plug (center), the Essington witch bottle contained pins (left), and was accompanied by a pottery sherd and bird bone (right). (Courtesy Marshall J. Becker)
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Vlad the Impaler
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« Reply #104 on: October 31, 2009, 12:15:56 am »



The Essington witch bottle; deep "push-up" was a clue to its date (Courtesy Marshall J. Becker)
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