Witches Balls: English & Appalachian Folklore And DIY
Have you ever been to New England? Beautiful hand-blown glass ornaments adorn windows and doorways. Or maybe your grandmother had one at her house when you were a child. Perhaps you’ve noticed them sitting atop pillars in a neighbor’s garden. They are called witch balls and have been a tradition in the United States since at least the seventeenth century. Brought over by English immigrants, this glass decoration has been part of English folklore for even longer. The glass witch balls are the more popular kind, but there are others. Here we will discuss the origins of witch balls and how to make the Appalachian version.
The other kind of witch ball most people don’t know about comes from Appalachian folklore. According to Mountain folklore, a witch ball was a sort of weapon used by witches to put curses on their intended victims. The witch rolled together a mixture of herbs, hair, spit, and other gnarly ingredients, enchanted it, and then shot it at his or her victim to either lame or kill them.
The Folklore & Magic of Witch Balls
Witch balls were popularly believed to protect one’s home from evil spirits. The English glass balls contain strings of blown glass throughout the interior of the ball – the strings act to capture the evil spirit inside like a spiderweb catches flies. At a time in Europe when witches were considered wise women, witches gave these balls to neighbors to protect them from negativity. Over time, as witches became accused and executed, people hung these outside of their homes to ward off the very witches that invented them in the first place. They are also thought to be the root of the modern-day Christmas tree ornament. Legend says they were hung on the Yule tree to prevent visitors’ jealousy of the presents under the tree and the family’s abundance.
The other witch balls used by American witches were feared in the Appalachian Mountains. Victims of witches’ curses in the Mountains claimed witch balls were created on the witch’s sabbath. The devil started a fire, put a bot to boil over it, and threw in the nasty ingredients of which to make the witch balls. The ingredients included: weasel blood, baby fat, spider legs, cat bladders, cat whiskers, bat brains, myrrh resin, pig hair, and more! The witches danced around the fire and chanted over the contents of the pot, then once cooled, formed the ingredients into balls. These balls were hurled at the intended victims and cursed them with illness, misfortune, and death.
Witch balls, though seemingly antiquarian, serve purposes for modern use. Many people still hang them outside of their front doors and around their homes as pretty decor. Hang witch balls on garden hooks outside windows and doorways to trap potentially negative energy. Gazing balls, similar to witch balls, are placed in the garden as a decorative piece and to ward off pests from the garden and home. Business-owners, specifically glass-blowers, believe it is good luck to create a witch ball as the first glass-blown item in their new business. It will bring prosperity and keep misfortune away.
There is a small shop in Salem called Crow Haven Corner, ran by a locally known witch and clairvoyant, that sells them. Walk into the heavy black wooden door and look up. You’ll be enchanted by the dozens of lovely witch balls hanging from the ceiling rafters.
It is wise to cleanse it from time to time. Take it outside and smoke-cleanse with rosemary, sage, or another purifying herb. Alternatively, bury in a bowl of salt for 3 or 7 days. This should remove to absorb and/or cleanse away the negative energy. HOWEVER, if there’s a particularly nasty spirit inside, cleansing methods may not be powerful enough to rid the ball and you’ll just want to leave it alone. The glass ball serves as a trap, remember.
How to Make an Appalachian Witches Ball
Want to learn how to make the Appalachian version? To make an intricate glass witch ball will take time and practice in glass-blowing technique. Look into classes in your local area at art and pottery shops, museums, and art schools. Some people use empty, clear glass Christmas balls and place herbs and other protective objects inside. Here, we will learn how to make traditional folkloric witch balls from the Appalachian mountains (as described in the folklore section above).
Gather the following:
- dried herbs like rosemary, lavender, sage, etc.
- a binder like gum arabic or benzoin
- mortar and pestle
- cookie sheet or wax paper
After you’ve gathered the ingredients and tools needed, follow these steps:
- Pour a small (desired) amount of each herb into the mortar and pestle and grind them down into a powder.
- While performing these steps, visualize your intention in your mind (be it love, money, banishment, healing, etc)
- Next add your binding agent – benzion or gum arabic.
- Begin rolling the binding agent and herbs into a ball. Visualize and focus on your intention with each movement.
- Once the ball is formed, leave it to dry for a day or two on the cookie sheet or wax paper.
Burn it like incense in a fire-safe container or keep in windowsills, on altars, and around the house to bring the desired effect into manifestation. Make traditional witches balls for love, prosperity, healing, to call on ancestors, to ward off evil, or to banish negativity.