It’s no secret that superstitions and ritual beliefs were massively rampant during the 19th century. Those beliefs have played a huge role in shaping our culture. One of the odd ritual items that were popular centuries ago was the witch bottle. In the UK, approximately 200 witch bottles have been discovered while only a dozen so far have turned up in the US. Thus, experts were surprised to find a witch bottle in Virginia last January.
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At first, the archaeologists from the William & Mary Center for Archaeological Research (WMCAR) weren’t sure of the bottle but they did think it was unusual. It was discovered at a site known as Redoubt 9, a fortification built in 1861 by Confederate troops and later occupied by Union forces. In a statement, WMCAR Director Joe Jones said that the researchers simply thought that the bottle was used to store nails for repairing the mini-fort after Confederate attacks. However, the nails it contained as well as the location where the bottle was found hinted that it might have served a ritual purpose.
"There were a lot of casualties and fear during this period. The Union troops were an occupying force in enemy territory throughout most of the war, so there were plenty of bad spirits and energy to ward off,” Jones explained.
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According to Live Science, a science news website that features groundbreaking developments in science, space, technology, health, the environment, culture and history, the researchers suggested that the bottle was placed by a Union soldier when the fort was occupied by the Pennsylvania cavalry. The Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) stated that witch bottles served as a protection for buildings and families when witch-hunting and fears of harm through witchcraft were rampant. Usually, a person would fill a glass or ceramic bottle with bent pins and nails, sometimes adding bits of human hair or even urine, when they thought that they had been cursed by a witch.
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"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," wrote anthropologist Christopher Fennell.