Sunday, November 2, 2008

Bellarmine Jugs and Witch-Bottles


The scary item above is known as a Bellarmine Jug (or greybeard), and you can see more of them here. They were allegedly named in mockery of St. Robert Bellarmine, an infamous Catholic inquisitor, and one of the principal officials involved in prosecuting Galileo. However, "The origins of the jugs is still a mystery and the connection to St. Bellarmine is also questioned," according to the historical note on the webpage of Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY. Bellarmine's entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia is here. Also, the Internet Archive has an online copy of a book he authored, "The Art of Dying Well," if you're interested in brushing up.
"They are almost always salt-glazed, vary in height between about 4 inches and about 22 inches, and were chiefly used in taverns as decanters between the cask and the table, though their use as domestic storage jugs for acids, vinegar, oil and even mercury, is also attested," according to Anthony Thwaite. "The smaller ones were probably drinking mugs." But not all of them were used for downing booze.
More than half of the 200 English witch-bottles that have been found are Bellarmines, according to Brian Hoggard's website Apotropaios. As we discussed in the last post, a witch-bottle is one of the items people commonly buried somewhere in a house to ward off evil.
"The contents of these bottles are fascinating and appear to constitute a kind of spell," according to Hoggard's site. More details:
Of the contents which are identifiable, by far the most common was iron pins or nails (95%). The second most common was human hair (25%). Another ingredient which is very difficult to test for if the bottle has leaked at any point is urine. Roughly 25% of those with contents have been tested for the presence of urine and all proved positive. So, we have iron, urine and hair as the most common ingredients. Other ingredients such as small bones, thorns, pieces of wood and, in a few cases, pieces of fabric cut into the shape of a heart are sometimes found.

A good source on Cornish witch-bottles is here, and an article on them in a modern pagan forum is here. This modern article gives an insight into why urine and hair were common ingredients:

Your bodily fluids are intended to symbolize yourself, they are part of your essence and are traditionally used in magick. Instead of having the negative energies hitting you, they hit your "representative" in the Witch-bottle, the part of your essence.

Many of my posts -- and many of our most primal fears -- are about avoiding evil in our homes. The essence of much good horror is that you are never safe, not even where you feel most comfortable. The walls, the thresholds, and the basement crawlspace all hold secrets. Don't ask what's in them. You don't want to know.

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