What is a witch bottle?

So, this Friday afternoon, being as business was slow, and V. was in a benevolent mood, having totally shafted some business acquaintance, we went to our local (the Black Cat) for a swift half.

Recently when talking to Maryanna (a business rival/frenemy of V’s) about her website (V knows), she dropped ‘virtual witch bottle’ into the conversation. I didn’t ask her what that meant (not because I didn’t want to look stupid in front of her - not at alll) but I thought ‘witch bottle’ was an IT term which I didn’t know.

Normally I don’t mind looking like a total muppet, lucky considering some of the life choices I’ve made so far (the bank and Cassandra spring to mind), but not where IT/coding is concerned. I maintain V’s online witchy biz and in that sense I’m a wizard. Yeah.

I assumed a virtual witch bottle was a tech phrase that I’d never heard of, like maybe an obscure form of virus or spam protection, or possibly some sort of genetic algorithm dreamed up by computer scientist/phd types with either no sense of humour or one warped beyond all redemption.

Anyway, google is your friend, so I googled and found that ‘Witch bottles began as counter magical devices used by both witches and non-witches as protection against other witchcraft and conjure. ‘.

WTF. Countermagical devices. Those words have a ring to them. I read further and discovered that a witch of some hue and colour would prepare a bottle against a specific magical attack or more general magical attacks.

The bottle would be hidden somewhere in the property with the hearth being a popular place. The hearth being a being major security worry, what with being exposed to the open air and all. I thought about this for a while, and this in geek speak is a bit like leaving unnecessary ports open on your servers. Sometimes you have to leave a port open to perform some other function - even if it would be better closed - just like the hearth.

So, my question to V. after we’d finished bitching about some of our competition, drained our pints (metaphorically speaking) as V. being a witch drinks only spirits was ...

Just to digress I normally start by drinking cider for anyone who wants to know. It’s one of the Gods own drinks being made of apples and all.

My question was ...

“what is a witch bottle?”

“Maryanna told me you didn’t know”. Knowing smile and then ...

“What are you going to say about her on your website?”.

The thing is when you work for witches, nothing is secret. And they gossip constantly. Hi M. I love your accent, that whole eastern european thing is really well you know. Kind of nice.

“V don’t be mean. Do you need a witch bottle in our office and on our web servers?’

“And how many do you need?” I’m nothing if not practical you see.

“If we’ve hardened the office against magical attack through the hearth won’t the bad guys come in through the door?” - Not that I believe in this stuff apart from scrying - a story for another day.

“And do we need a virtual one?”

It was at this juncture that V. sighed, tutted and sent me to the bar telling me that this would take a lot of explaining. It was my turn to sigh. I was paying. All evening. I’d lost a bet regarding ranking for green candle spells. I’d told her, one of our websites would rank highly for this term. It doesn’t.

I come back with two double gins, a bottle of red wine and pickled onions. Really. The Black Cat hasn’t moved with the times, and we like it that way.

I handed V. her gin, tonic separate, and none of that fever tree nonsense. Like I said, the Black Cat is traditional, and for tonic it’s schweppes all the way. After pouring sufficient tonic into her gin (very little), V. enquired whether I was sitting comfortably and on my nod of assent said “in that case I will begin” and beckoned me to more nearer before she started to talk in a low voice.

I moved closer and as I did so imagined for a moment that I was an apprentice back in the day when these things were dangerous learning secrets that could lead to hanging or burning. I could almost feel, smell and taste the past and started to drift.

I started. Disorientated. V. hand on my arm, green eyes brilliant looking at me thoughtfully.

Strange but keeping it real, after a brief pause this my babbers is what she told me, as we sat there in the corner in our favourite part of the bar furthest from the door and nearest the hearth, the light from the flames flickering and glistening on our glasses.

Witch bottles have been in use since the 17th century. This is common knowledge and can be discovered through a cursory google search or perhaps library visit - if there are any still open. Dubious in this heathen age.

But what is less commonly known is how to make a witch bottle which will do what it’s supposed to. I mean modern magical practitioners use witch bottles to cast spells, but really? This is not what they are for, nor how they should be used.

I’m abbreviating a little as V. has a tendency to the dramatic, but a few of her words have stuck verbatim (in case you didn’t know I have at times an didactic memory) and I quote:

“These modern witches, charlatans in general, use the witch bottle as a bloody catch all, a f*** idiotic way to cast any f**** spell in my opinion and don’t you even consider f**** trying this. Ever.”

As a rule V doesn’t swear in english (although sometimes when she reads these humble pages), and well, in vino varitas, for want of a better expression, but it got the message across.

Witch bottles are for protection only.

“There are two traditional uses and means of preparing witch bottles.” V glared at me as saying this, and I had the distinct, uncomfortable and as it happens accurate impression that I needed to listen with care.

“Firstly, the bottle is prepared to provide protection from a specific witch using identifiers of some sort of the victim or secondly and more generally with needles, pins and wine. The bottle is then hidden, traditionally under the hearth , plastered in walls or maybe under the floor”

There was a lot more detail. Although I’m keeping the essence of the technique to myself. Just in case. This stuff. Is real. If you want the total gen, go work for a witch.

There was an interlude long enough for V to drink two or so fingers of gin and I did the same, interested despite my normal scepticism (dreaming and scrying apart).

“There are several or more witch bottles in this room” she continued gesturing expansively towards the bar and hearth and paused dramatically, waiting for me to ask how she knew. I wasn’t going to. V. think she is a witch, difficult to fathom, unknowable and so on, but at times transparent.

“Really?” I lifted my gin to my lips, took a slow (very slow) sip, and placed the glass back on the beer mat.

V. looked at me expectantly.

I adjusted the position of the glass, lining it up with so it was parallel with the mat, and smiled at her.

“Don’t you want to know how I know?”

“Not particularly”

“Don’t you want to know how a witch bottle was placed in this pub in the 17th century, and I know how, where and why. And by whom?”

“Nope”

“I’m going to tell you anyway, and don’t write this in your stupid website. Some things should remain hidden”

Actually it was kind of interesting, totally unbelievable, and yet vaguely compelling at the same time. V. also made me beg for the some of the details, and made to promise to write that here.

So, peeps, we must gloss over how she knew something which she couldn’t know, and move on to the more practical side of these bottles. As I indicated earlier, and as is so often the case with my life working for V. there would be a practical component.

“As we head towards winter, and as you become my apprentice ... “ cue some muffled protests from me (I run the witchy SEO side of her business and in no way believe anything mystical - scrying and dreaming apart) - smoothly overridden ...

“You will need more counter magical devices both in that hovel you call home and perhaps on our servers”.

In case you weren't keeping up (and V's logic is strange), the counter magical devices are of course witch bottles, and I need to make five for reasons which will become apparent over the fullness of time.

As an exercise for the reader, you can try and find the virtual witch bottles hidden on these pages:) Bet you can't though.

And V. explained how to make specific and general witch bottles. A specific bottle protects a known individual who wishes to do you harm, and general offers general protection against a range of possible curses/magical attacks etc. Kind of like a broad spectrum antibiotic. I would imagine.

As usual when talking with V, I enter her world for a while, and what with the booze, the fire, and the muffled buzz of conversation in the background and before it all got too hazy to remember, we had a sort of question and answer session.

“What happens if you break a witch bottle?”

“Is opening a witch bottle dangerous?”

I’ll create a FAQ to deal with these kind of questions which I’ll expand as I learn more. Even for a non-believer such as I, the subject is strangely compelling.

We remained in the Black Cat until the witching hour and went our separate ways. A black cab for V (same driver always) and pavement for me. I’m only a mile or less from the Cat, so no big deal, and anyway its one of the three places my life is centred around. The other two being home (a squalid flat) and the office. I don’t visit town often ever since losing my job in the bank, due in part as I don’t have much spare cash, and partly as I have an irrational fear of meeting Cassandra again. And her over-achieving in-bred husband.

But would I change the past if I could?

As it happens, and following my most recent scrying incident, I have now made my witch bottle. The past becomes real. Living it.