Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Witch Balls: How To Make One, History, and Folklore

Winter is the best time of the year to find glass ornaments so I thought, hey, let’s make a witch ball together! Witch balls have a long and interesting history, and while they’ve changed over time, the magickal concept of how they work remains. Let’s explore witch balls and I have a video where I put one together step-by-step. 

How witch balls look and how they’re made has definitely changed through the ages. While these ornamental charms were traditionally used as protection wards, modern witches have been inspired by this very old magick and transformed witch balls into charms created for every magical purpose under the sun and moon! 

 According to History Daily (I’ll leave a couple links below this post for more reading on the subject) these glass balls started being used around the same time that we see witch bottles being used, as early as the seventeenth to eighteenth century and they had a similar purpose, to ward away malign energies from homes and families.  Yep, I made a witch bottle too, here’s the video. 

Both witch bottles and witch balls were used as magickal protection against witchcraft being cast against the owner of the ball or bottle, although they were made differently. Witch bottles were either glass or clay containers and filled with sharp or tangled items like glass shards, nails, bent pins. A witch bottle also included a marker or taglock such as spit or urine so that the bottle would be a stand-in for the intended victim of curses, hexes, or ill-intentioned spells. The spell would hit the bottle instead of the actual target; getting trapped inside, cut, stabbed, and rendered useless. Witch bottles have been found by archeologists buried under the front step or hidden beneath floorboards or built into the foundation of home from that time.

In contrast, Witch balls (sometimes called watch balls) were hung in the open, usually in windows, they were made of glass, and were often magickal on their own without adding anything inside. The idea was that the malevolent spirit, hex, or curse would be attracted to and absorbed inside the hollow ball and dissipate once sunlight hit it. According to the Philadelphia Archeology Forum the origin of witch balls go back to the 1600’s when people used glass balls for storing salt hung by the fireplace to keep the salt dry. Breaking one would have been bad luck since salt was very valuable back then.

 In the early seventeenth century fishermen used hollow glass buoys on their nets, the weighty yet hollow glass would always float to the surface. Years later the practice of trying suspected witches by dunking them in water started being used. The unfortunate suspect was bound and tossed in the water, sinking (and drowning) meant they were innocent of the charges, if they floated, they were found guilty of witchcraft. Of course it was an illogical system but it served the witch hunters and accusers well, too bad for the accused who were in a no-win situation.

Apparently, witches floated and hollow glass balls floated too. Does this mean the two were related? Maybe.  I will say Sailors tended to be a pretty superstitious bunch at the time, probably because their livelihood and very lives depended on circumstances beyond their control.  Those beautiful glass floats may have seemed like a way to counteract baneful witchcraft by matching like to like or fighting fire with fire. Wives of fishermen began hanging a float in the window of their home as a talisman to protect the fishermen while out at sea to ensure their safe return. It probably wasn’t long before the ball became a talisman considered to protect the home while the fishermen were away as well. Glass blowers saw a market so in addition to the fishing floats, they began making spherical bottles with corks that people could fill with holy water. There’s a fascinating article by Kathryn Kane on The Regency ReddingGoat blog that I’ll leave in a link at the bottom of this post.

Eventually the practice spread and soon glass blowers were making witch balls regularly. They were now sealed spheres had strands of glass inside meant to trap and entangle aggressive spirits or spells like a web. It was the first item created when a new glass shop was opened and was hung in the shop as protection from baneful spirits and to bring good luck and prosperity. 

Witch balls were items that could be easily turned out at the end of the day when the rest of the work was complete. NailSea glassworks in Bristol took them to the next level adding more colors and patterns. If you were looking for a witch ball in the late seventeen hundred Nail Sea was top of the line.

There are many traditions about witch balls, some say it must hang in the east window of the largest room in the house. Some said it should be dusted regularly to re-empower it. Some communities expected every home to hang a witch ball in order to protect the whole community from misfortune. In areas where a village witch or cunning person was relied on, that local magical practitioner would enchant the witch balls for the community. In areas where witches (or whatever title the village magic users were going by were maligned the witch balls were expected to protect against all magic. (but of course witch balls are magic as well!)  

In later times witch balls were made reflective by silvering the interior of the ball, in the same ways mirrors were silvered, this created a mercury glass magick mirror of sorts that would reflect negativity away. These became the beautiful Victorian gazing balls seen in homes and gardens of the time. I talk about these in my book The Witch’s Mirror.

Modern witch balls can be found in all of the old forms, fishing floats, hand blown masterpieces, and reflective glass orbs. Many modern witches have taken to creating our own witch balls. Since glass blowing is a very specific set of skills and equipment, many witches opt to using tree ornaments and filling them with their own magickal items and enchantment. These would be similar to the old ones that were made with a cork and were intended to be filled. Traditionally witch balls were used for protection, but modern witches have begun making witch balls for every purpose including luck, money, love, it’s completely up to the imagination!  After all, witchcraft is a living practice, changing with the times and often shifted by the inspiration of the witches who practice their craft. 


Philadelphia Archeology Forum:

Article about Witch Balls on Regency Redingote Blog:

GORGEOUS HAND BLOWN WITCH BALLS: The ones I showed in the video are made by these really nice artisans on Etsy, 2 Sisters Artisan Glass:

Witch Bottle Article: