A history of Halesworth, Suffolk, UK, through the ages.


Volume 3


Precautions Against Witchcraft

In the Seventeenth century, as people believed in witchcraft, they were anxious to find ways of defending themselves against evil influences being directed against them. If your harvest failed without warning, a member of the family died, or if anything unusual happened, you would look for a culprit to blame it on. To safeguard yourself, a 'Witches Bottle' would be prepared - several of these have been found in this county, including the remains of the neck of a jar discovered in excavations for the Halesworth Relief Road in 1988.

The main thing was to get a 'Bellarmine Jar' which was an imported German stoneware beer bottle of the 17th century. They were named after Cardinal Bellarmine (1542 - 1621) whose face always appears on the jar. To make the spell to ward off witches, the jar was partly filled with bent nails and pins, and a modelled heart pierced with pins. Then it would be filled to the top with urine and the top stoppered with clay. The idea behind this elaborate procedure was to make a spell which would cause the witch considerable personal discomfort, so that he or she died of constipation.

To protect your house or workplace from danger, from vermin or similar problems, a ritual sacrifice or deposit was made and placed or bricked up in a suitable place. The fireplace was a common place of danger, and it is not unusual to find a heat-dried mummified cat when alterations are made to an old building.

The Halesworth Museum has such a cat which was found by a local demolition worker, at Halesworth Maltings in 1984. It was discovered in one of the brick ovens previously used for roasting barley, and was meant to protect the building and its workers from vermin, - rats or mice, and also preserve it from any disaster. It dates from when the Maltings were built in 1840.

A similar mummified cat was discovered in part of the building which was once the Old Guildhall in the Thoroughfare. It was located below flooring when alterations were being made, but was put back after things had been sorted out in order to ensure the good luck continued in the future for the old building.



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