Witchcraft: A Very Short Introduction by Malcolm Gaskill is the fourth book in the series that I’ve read and the 228th published in the series overall. The series is massive, so I feel like there’s a never-ending stream of interesting books flowing my way. Witchcraft is a particular favorite, and I liked it even more than my most recent read, Slang. The older illustrations that were selected are especially entertaining because they show the way that witches were imagined in the 16th and 17th centuries. Oddly one illustration, Hendy Fuseli’s The Nightmare, is captioned as having a “wild-eyed horse,” but the horse is clearly a ghost. At least to me, but I’m not seeing a second interpretation possible there. Along with illustrations and paintings are photographs, too, including one of a witches’ bottle from 2004 and a really funny one of a medium from 1930 ‘channeling’ a spirit into what looks to be a trash bag with a face drawn on it by a child.
The ‘witch-bottle’ that’s discussed is particularly interesting to me because it was buried upside-down and included nails, pins, hair, fingernail clippings, urine, and a pierced leather heart. The author continues “whether it was intended as protection against witchcraft or the means to reverse a spell, we’ll never know” (34). Why would they never know? Maybe ask a modern witch, you know, one that’s alive. I don’t mean to alarm any muggles out there, but witch bottles are still super common. That it was buried upside down may or may not have been intentional. Pins and nails are common protection items that would be universal to tons of witch bottles in existence today, not just historically, specifically ones to protect a home or person. Further, the nails, hair, and urine obviously belong to a person; it’s likely to belong to one person, and equally likely to belong to the person who created the bottle. Finally, the leather heart is pierced by presumably a pin or nail (why Gaskill doesn’t specify I don’t know, and I wish he had) seems to indicate heartbreak or pain. I posit that the witch bottle discovered was made to protect the creator from the pain of heartbreak, or to break the influence of heartbreak on that person. I suppose it could be to inflict heartbreak on someone else, or give them a heart attack, but they would need to DNA test the bottle. Whose DNA is on it, and is it all the same person? Because that’s actually really important. I don’t know a non-awkward way to explain this so I’ll just say it: I know all this stuff because I’m a witch. A practicing modern witch who picks up rusty nails when she sees them to make, you guessed it, witch bottles.