‘Witch Bottles’ Have Been Washing Up In Texas — And Experts Have No Idea Where They’re Coming From

Published November 29, 2023

At least eight "witch bottles," which were traditionally used to stave off evil spells, have been found along the Gulf Coast since 2017.

Witch Bottles

Jace TunnellA number of these so-called “witch bottles” have been found along the Gulf Coast in recent years.

Beachcombers frequently come across curious items as they wander along the shore. But a number of especially strange objects have been washing up in Texas lately: “witch bottles.” People once used these in hopes of breaking dark spells — and experts suggest leaving them alone.

“I’ve found around eight of these bottles and never opened one,” Jace Tunnell of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies told McClatchy News. “I have five of them on my fence in the backyard since my wife won’t let me bring them inside.”

These “witch bottles” have been washing up along the Gulf Coast in Texas since at least 2017. Tunnell came across the most recent one on Nov. 15 and noted that the gooseneck barnacles coating its side suggest that it had been adrift for quite a while.

“They have sticks and leaves in them, different types of vegetation,” Tunnell explained to KRIS-TV. “Apparently, they’re supposed to have spells in them.”

Witch Bottle Collection

Jace TunnellSome of the witch bottles collected by researcher Jace Tunnell.

As Tunnell explained to McClatchy News, these bottles were traditionally used by people to “draw in and trap harmful intentions directed at their owners.” In the United Kingdom, this practice was especially popular in the 16th and 17th centuries as belief in witches surged. There, hundreds of such bottles have been found in walls or buried in the ground.

But Tunnell isn’t sure where the Gulf Coast witch bottles originated. He speculated that they could be from Haiti because he sometimes finds them “in debris that contains distinct yellow vinegar bottles” from the island nation. However, the bottles could also originate elsewhere in the Caribbean, South America, or even West Africa.

Most Recent Witch Bottle

Jace TunnellThis most recent witch bottle had gooseneck barnacles attached, suggesting it had been in the water for quite some time.

“I don’t believe they are coming from the U.S., although I can’t be 100 percent sure since there is never any writing or indication of where they come from,” Tunnell noted. “However, we do find items washing up from all over the world due to the ocean currents.”

These bottles were originally packed with urine from the “cursed” person or an animal, as well as human hair, pins, or nails. However, the bottles found along the Gulf Coast have mostly contained herbs, sticks, and leaves.

So what should you do if you come across a witch bottle on the beach? Experts say it’s best to leave it unopened.

“The theory is that if you open it you could let the spell out, whatever the reason the person had put the spell in there,” Tunnell said.

Bottle Packed With Sticks

Jace TunnellA witch bottle packed with sticks.

But that isn’t the only reason to leave these bottles alone. They could contain potential biohazards. As such, they may be physically dangerous, even if you don’t believe that they’re packed with black magic.

And as odd as the witch bottles are, they’re hardly the only curious object that Tunnell and others have discovered while walking along the Gulf Coast. Other finds include barnacle-encrusted dolls, an intact safe, a prosthetic leg, cargo from a German World War II ship, and about 30 traditional — non-magical — messages in bottles.

It just goes to show that strange and incredible treasures can await beachcombers monitoring the shore. But if you do come across a witch bottle, it’s probably best to leave it alone.

“I don’t get creeped out by them, but I’m also not going to open them,” Tunnell said. “I mean, they’re supposed to have spells and stuff in them — why take the chance?”

After reading about the so-called “witch bottles” washing up along the Gulf Coast in Texas, go inside the strange mystery of the severed feet that kept washing up in the Salish Sea. Or, see how hurricane erosion exposed a shipwreck on a beach in Florida.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Jaclyn Anglis
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "‘Witch Bottles’ Have Been Washing Up In Texas — And Experts Have No Idea Where They’re Coming From." AllThatsInteresting.com, November 29, 2023, https://allthatsinteresting.com/witch-bottles. Accessed June 25, 2024.