Message in A Bottle? Mysterious "Witch Bottles" Wash Up in Gulf of Mexico


Nov. 27 2023, Published 1:09 p.m. ET

Mysterious glass bottles have been washing up on Texas beaches in recent years. No, they're not hidden treasure maps — they don't have messages in them at all. The bottles are sealed tight and filled with things like plants, sticks, herbs, and other items.These bottles are called “witch bottles.”

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Researchers at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies shared a picture of a witch bottle they found in the Gulf of Mexico in a Nov. 17, 2023, Facebook post. So what are witch bottles? Here are some details about these items and where they may come from.

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What are witch bottles?

Witches don’t create witch bottles; they are typically made to ward off witches and protect people from their spells. According to IFLScience, around the 16th and 17th centuries, people suffering from misfortune or illness often believed a witch’s curse was at fault for their woes.

People would fill a bottle with things like human hair and urine from the afflicted as well as sharp objects like pins and nails as a way to break the witch’s curse and possibly harm the witch.

The witch bottles would often be buried under the afflicted’s home, somewhere on their property, hidden in their home's walls, or placed somewhere in their house, per KXAN News in Austin, TX.

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In a 2020 study published in Magic Ritual Witch, author Annie Thwaite from the University of Cambridge cited a 1670 ballad, “A miraculous cure for witchcraft,” where a girl recovered from an illness after creating a witch bottle that fought off the witch who had cursed her. In the ballad, the girl was told to put her urine and other ingredients in the bottle and bury it.

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“Sure enough, after following these instructions and waiting eagerly by the hill all night, the witch appeared looking ‘swell'd’ and demanding the bottle. The girl and her friends refused this request, the witch left and died, and the bewitched girl immediately began to recover,” Thwaite wrote.

A witch bottle was found on the Gulf of Mexico.

The witch bottle found in the Gulf of Mexico was one of several recovered in the area, according to the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies.

“Witch bottle! We find these every once in awhile. Folks in certain cultures around the world put vegetation or other objects in a bottle. They are counter magical devices who’s purpose is to draw in and trap harmful intentions directed at their owners,” researchers wrote in the Nov. 17, 2023, Facebook post.

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Jace Tunnell, director of community engagement at the Harte Research Institute, admits he has several witch bottles at home. However, he doesn't dare tempt fate and open them.

“I’ve found around eight of these bottles and never opened one. I have five of them on my fence in the backyard since my wife won’t let me bring them inside,” he told McClatchy News.

The witch bottles washing up on Texas beaches could be coming from the Caribbean or South America, Tunnel added. “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. However, we do find items washing up from all over the world due to the ocean currents, and sometimes I find these bottles in debris that contains distinct yellow vinegar bottles that originate from Haiti.”

In short, if you find a witch bottle in your area, it's probably best not to pick it up.

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