Mention ‘Bartmann’ and many people will instantly conjure a picture of Bart Simpson’s alter ego.

Matt Groening’s 1987 creation of Bart Simpson and ‘Bartman’ is a few centuries later than the original usage; bartmann jugs or ‘greybeard jars’ often known as Bellarmine Jars graced households in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Produced for storage and transportation some found a very different and surprisingly long lasting purpose.

What is the most common personal ritual you adhere to in your life?

Do you have a ‘lucky’ pair of shoes for an interview? The tie or cufflinks that must be worn when something of import awaits you?

Sports people are renowned for ‘superstitions’, rituals that help ensure success, a favourite colour, the order of dressing, eating two cookies before a game, there are endless and sometimes odd ones that people are wedded to.

In a digital age, one of ‘enlightenment’ it is funny how so many of us have a tendency toward following chance, hedging our bets for luck, clinging to a form of superstition; it is something that connects us to our forebears not just through decades or centuries but through millennia.

Common to the Rhineland area of Germany Bellarmine Jars were made for storage and transportation. The bearded face that adorns them may be a caricature of Cardinal Robert Bellarmine and it may be a form of protective magic; it may be both.

What we do know is that such jars were sometimes used as ‘witches jars’, receptacles for a variety of items sealed up and buried with the purpose of providing protection to an individual, a family and perhaps the whole home.

The belief was that sharp objects placed in the jar might draw harm to them and away from those living in the home, personal items such as a lock of hair, a tooth, nail clippings might protect the individual from harm.

Mass produced the jars are not as rare as some may think but finding one in your home; some are uncovered when renovations take place, is a wonderful discovery and provides a connection, an insight into the life of those who once inhabited the place you now enjoy. Such items have been found in walls, under thresholds and under fireplace hearths.

You may be lucky enough to live in a home such as this and be the conservator of a Bellarmine Jar or you may find one on display in a local museum; they are fascinating and charming, something that should be cherished and conserved.

Museum of Witchcraft and Magic – 14 – WITCH BOTTLE: BELLARMINE JAR

The Stafford Witch Bottle

The British Museum



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