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“Witch Bottles” Turning Up on Texas Coast

Witch bottles
(Photo courtesy of Wikicommons, Malcolm Lidbury, CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED)

Beach goers are reporting on a series of eerie finds that have been washing up along the Gulf coast of Texas recently – glass bottles containing strange objects that are supposedly used by witches to trap malevolent spirits.

Fox News is reporting on the phenomenon that has been occurring along a 60-mile stretch of beach near Corpus Christ, Texas where eight of the bottles have washed up since 2017.

Jace Tunnell of the Harte Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, says the most recent bottle was found on November 15, 2023 which was filled with vegetation and covered in barnacles indicating that it had been in the water for some time.

"I don't get creeped out by them, but I'm also not going to open them," Tunnell told Fox News Digital. "I mean, they're supposed to have spells and stuff in them – why take the chance?"

The bottles, which are frequently filled with items like hair, herbs, nails, human urine, and pins, have been most typically observed in modern-day England, but the only clue to the origin of each bottle depends on weather and tide patterns.

As Tunnell reports, some of the items found were thin, yellow vinegar bottles that are typical of those manufactured in Haiti.

"But that's just sort of a guess, that they're coming from somewhere in the Caribbean or South America," Tunnell said.

According to the McGill University Office of Science and Society, "Back in the 16th and 17th centuries there was a powerful belief in witches and their ability to cause illness by casting a spell. But the evil spells could be fended off by trapping them in a ‘witch bottle,’ which if properly prepared, could actually reflect the spell itself while also tormenting the witch, leaving the witch with no option but to remove the spell, allowing the victim to recover."

The William and Mary Center for Archeological Research told Fox that bottles that contained metal items like nails may have been buried by the hearth to “energize the nails into breaking a witch’s spell.”

Writing for JStor Daily, researcher Allison C. Meier reported on a ceramic bottle found hidden beneath a house in London during an archeological investigation by the Museum of London Archeology Service in 2008 which was filled with nearly 50 bent copper alloy pins, a few rusty nails, and a bit of wood or bone. Known as the “Holywell witch-bottle”, the vessel, which dates between 1670 and 1710, is believed to be a form of ritual protection.

These bottles were typically embedded in the entry-points of buildings across the British Isles, and the practice was later brought to the United States.

“The victim would bury the bottle under or near the hearth of his house, and the heat of the hearth would animate the pins or iron nails and force the witch to break the link or suffer the consequences,” anthropologist Christopher C. Fennell explains in the International Journal of Historical Archaeology. “Placement near the hearth and chimney expressed associated beliefs that witches often gained access to homes through deviant paths such as the chimney stack.”

Some researchers speculate that the use of urine in the bottles may have been due to the poor medicine available in the 17th century.

“Urinary problems were common both in England and America during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and it is reasonable to suppose that their symptoms often were attributed to the work of local witches,” scholar M.J. Becker notes in Archaeology. “The victims of bladder stones or other urinary ailments would have used a witch bottle to transfer the pains of the illness from themselves back to the witch.”

In an article appearing in Historical Archeology, historian M. Chris Manning reported that the witch-bottle tradition originated in the East Anglia region of England in the late Middle Ages and was introduced to North America by colonial immigrants. The tradition continued well into the 20th century on both sides of the Atlantic. “While nearly 200 examples have been documented in Great Britain, less than a dozen are known in the United States,” Manning wrote.

Until they started showing up on the shores of Texas.

What should you do if you come across one of these strange artifacts?

Fox News advises: “Whether you take it home or leave it on the beach…and whether it is to leave spirits contained or to avoid any potential biohazards inside – you should really leave the stopper corked."

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