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Pitt Rivers Museum
There is a silver glass bottle, on display at the Pitt Rivers Museum, which is said to contain a witch. It was collected in 1915 in Hove, Sussex, at a time when traditions were seen to be under threat from major social change. Seemingly outmoded objects like this were used as a means of contrasting past and present.
The tale accompanying the artefact is unusual. The more common form of 'witch bottle' was a magical tool to protect against evil and counteract bewitchment, not a bottle containing a witch. It is said to have been obtained from an 'old lady' who remarked that releasing the witch would unleash 'a peck o'trouble'.
Whether this unnamed informant existed or not, the narrative supported popular ideas that cast witchcraft as gendered and troublesome, evoking stories of genies, conjurors and fairies. The bottle was collected by folklorist and archaeologist Margaret Murray, who is best known for writing about European witch cults. Her theories emphasised female roles but contrasted with today's understanding of witchcraft as a misogynistic and religious tool for subjugating women. Although discredited, Murray's ideas helped to inspire modern Wicca. They can also be read as the work of a prominent female scholar in a male-dominated academy.
The Pitt Rivers Museum does not plan to ever open the witch bottle from Sussex. We've made a bottle you can open... go ahead... and try this bewitchingly delicious blend of gin made from botanicals including lime flower oil and lemon peel. There's so many stories we can tell about these bottles, do come visit us to find out more.
Ingredients: 40% ABV.
Allergy Information: Contains Alcohol.
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