Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Which Witch Bottle?

Veteran TV viewers like myself will never forget Nigel Kneale's drama 'Baby', the most powerful episode of his six-part series Beasts, which was shown on ITV in 1976. Baby concerns a young couple who buy a country cottage and, during renovations, discover a mysterious container buried in a wall. Inside the container they find a mummified animal that proves hard to identify. And this in turn triggers off a series of very disturbing events.

Well, the practice of buying weird things in the structure of homes and other buildings was very common. Kneale was, as usual, spot on with his folklore. This article reveals just some of the protective spells that were used to keep out witches, demons, and general ill-luck in days of yore.
Today we use locks, burglar alarms and timer-set lighting to protect our homes, but 300 years ago householders were not just worried about human intruders. They believed their homes were also at risk from supernatural forces – evil spirits, ill luck, ghosts and witches. 
And so they buried magic charms in doorways, hid spells up chimneys and beneath fireplaces and protected roof spaces with dead animals. 
Anywhere evil might enter a building, in a world beset by disease, failed harvests, disastrous fires and unexplained deaths, strong magic was needed.
The options available to the superstitious builder were, to the say the least, many and varied.
In Hethersett, near Norwich, a bottle with iron pins and nails was buried beneath a cottage fireplace. A dead cat was concealed in a room in King’s Lynn, a horse skull was hidden under the doorstep of a house in Thuxton, near Dereham, and a jar of urine, human hair and nails was unearthed in King Street, Norwich.
 Ah, the good old days.
The practice of trying to turn away evil with magic charms and potions is called apotropaios and was common for centuries. In Britain it was particularly prevalent during the peak period of the witch trials in the 16th and 17th centuries, but was still seen into the 20th century.

 The  Red Cat  of the Red Cat Hotel in North Wootton.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very fascinating article, thank you for sharing. Even though I have only seen BUDDYBOY and BABY, I think the latter is my favourite, perhaps because it is the most typical of the lot in BEASTS. I am currently reading the paperback script of QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, my favourite of the series.

Aonghus Fallon said...

A couple of stories spring to mind - Ray Bradbury's 'The Jar' (maybe because you never know exactly what the thing in the jar is) and 'The Black Spider', although in the latter instance, it is something evil that is interred in the family home, as opposed to something which might *ward off* evil. Also 'The Shadow Cage'.