1926.6.1

Glass flask reputed to contain a witch. [MJD 19/06/2013]

Place details: EUROPE. United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland / England East Sussex Brighton and Hove . Cultural Group: European, British, English: Local Name: Unknown. Materials: Glass / Silver Metal / Cork Plant / Wax / ?. Processes: Blown / ?. Colour: Silvered Dimensions: L = 110 mm Maker: Unknown Field Collector: Margaret Alice Murray When Collected: 1915 Other Owners: Margaret Alice Murray PRM Source: Margaret Alice Murray Acquired: Donated 1926 Related Collections: See other collections given by Miss Murray.

KEYWORD: Religious Object / Vessel / Stopper / CLASS: Religion / Vessel / ?.

Object description: Glass flask reputed to contain a witch. The glass is bilobed with vertical ribs. It is silvered on the inside. The top is stoppered with a cork and sealed with brown wax. [MJD 19/06/2013]

Publications history, trails & websites: Discussed on pages 231-2 of 'Documents of British Superstition in Oxford (A Lecture Delivered before the Oxford University Anthropological Society, on the 2nd of November, 1949)', by Ellen Ettlinger, in Folklore, Vol. 54, no. 1 (March 1943), pp. 227-49. Quoting information supplied by T. K. Penniman, Ettlinger writes: 'A small ribbed glass-bottle, silvered inside, of figure-of-eight form, is corked up and sealed with brown wax. "The old lady, living in a village near Hove, Sussex, by whom it was obtained about 1915, remarked: 'They do say there be a witch in it, and if you let him out there'll be a peck o' trouble.'" Stories of ghost-laying, where the ghost is consigned to a bottle or any other small receptacle are universally current; they are especially frequent in Montgomeryshire, but also reported from Shropshire and Staffordshire.' The related footnote 23 (same page) reads: 'W. Crooke, "The Binding of a God," in Folk-lore, viii, pp. 347-8; C. S. Burne, G. F. Jackson, Shropshire Folk-lore (London, 1883), pp 122-3; Reliquary, vii, p.101.' [AP 27/09/2006; JC 30 4 2010]

Illustrated in colour (with its old metal-edged label) on page 48 of Oxford Today: The University Magazine, Vol. XV, no. 1 (Michaelmas Issue 2002) where it illustrates an entry on the Museum's Objects Talk exhibition. [JC 24 7 2003]

Illustrated in colour (with old PRM label) on page 32 of Pitt Rivers Museum: An Introduction, by Julia Cousins (Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, 2004). Caption (same page) reads: 'One of many British and European objects relating to witchcraft and magic on permanent display in the Museum.' [JC 8 10 2004]

Illustrated in colour as 35/B on page 35 of Treasures of Oxfordshire, edited by Francesca Jones, Lauren Gilmour, and Martin Henig (Oxford: FAMOS, 2004). Caption (same page), by Julia Nicholson (PRM) reads: '35/B Small glass flask, silvered on the inside and said to contain a witch. Collected in Sussex, England. In 1915 the owner, a woman living in a village near Hove, remarked "they do say there be a witch in it, and if you let un out there'll be a peck o' trouble".' [JC 23 6 2006]

Illustrated in colour on page 10 of British Archaeology, no. 108 (September/October 2009), where it illustrates correspondence about 'witch bottles' under the title 'Bottles and Blades'. The caption (on page 11) reads: 'Opposite: A silvered glass flask, height 105mm, sealed with a cork and wax, on display in the Pitt Rivers Museum.... It was collected in 1915 by Margaret Murray, Egyptologist and writer on paganism, from "an old lady...near Hove", E Sussex. Reputedly she told Murray, "They do say there be a witch in it, and if you let un out there'll be a peck o'trouble". Or it might have been designed to offer protection from witchcraft (see Bottles and blades).' [JC 23 9 2009]

Illustrated in colour in 'Margaret Murray', by Alison Petch, in England: The Other Within - Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Riuvers Museum, Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford [website], at http://england.prm.ox.ac.uk/englishness-Margaret-Murray.html. [JC 30 4 2010]

Illustrated in colour on page 92 of The Pitt Rivers Museum: A World Within, by Michael O’Hanlon (London: Scala, 2014). Caption (same page) reads: ’69 (left) Glass flask said by its original owner to contain a witch. Sussex, England Height 110 mm Donated by Miss M.A. Murray 1926.6.1’ [MJD (Verve) 19/2/2016]

Illustrated in colour on page 35 of Treasures of Oxfordshire, Selected by Museums in Oxfordshire, the Oxfordshire Record Office and the Centre for Oxfordshire Studies, edited by Francesca Jones, Lauren Gilmour and Martin Henig (Oxford: FAMOS). The caption, on the same page, reads: '35/ B Witch in a Bottle Small glass flask, silvered on the inside and said to contain a witch. Collected in Sussex, England. In 1915 the owner, a woman living in a village near Hove, remarked 'they do say there be a witch in it, and if you let un out there'll be a peck o' trouble'. OXFPR: 1926.6.1. L. 115mm. Pitt Rivers Museum [JN]'. [MOBB 12/11/2018]

Research notes: Illustrated on page 13 of the exhibition catalogue 'Spellbound: Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft' as Figure 4 with the caption 'Small glass flask, silvered insice, said to contain a witch. Collected c.1850, Brighton. Copyright Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford (1911.32.6)' [FB 19/10/2018]

See RDF for 1910.18.1 for correspondence with Professor Marshall J. Becker of West Chester University and for an article by him on witch bottles. [MdeA 23/11/99]

See Related Documents File 1926.6.1 for additional information: Notes from Martine Newby: 'Silvered glass", blown in such a way that it contained a cavity into which a silvered solution consisting of silver nitrate and glucose could be poured in and then out to leave a deposit of silver fixed to the inner layer of the glass. The silver was protected from tarnishing by a metal disc and then a circular glass plug. This glass plug I think is missing on the example I saw yesterday and I am not sure if there is one on the witches' bottle. This technique was patented by Edward Varnish and Frederick Hale Thomson on 19 August, 1849 and was made for a couple of years afterwards. The metal disc often bears the name of the patentees: "E. VARNISH & CO. PATENT LONDON", and more rarely, "HALE THOMSON" "S PATENT LONDON" or "w. LUND PATENT LONDON". This would suggest that both the goblet and the witches bottle are more likely to be mid-nineteenth century, rather than dating to the 1880s.' [Information from Charles Hadjamach, British Glass 1800-1914, Woodbridge 1991, pp. 269-272.] [MdeA 1/3/2000] [GI 22/11/2001]

This object is cited as the inspiration for a series of 'witches bottles' in an installation by Richard Deacon and Bill Woodrow, part of an exhibition entitled On the Rocks: Richard Deacon & Bill Woodrow at the Bloomberg SPACE in London from 25 July to 21 September 2008; see 'On the Rocks', by Sacha Craddock and Graham Gussin, in On the Rocks: Richard Deacon & Bill Woodrow (London: Bloomberg SPACE, 2007), unpaginated; copy in RDF. [JC 10 7 2008]