Magica Seasons

 

The Witch Ball

Looking closely at the title of this article one would be likely to think a dance was being written about, but this of course is quite to the contrary. These objects referred to as "Witch Balls" were used and popular in 18th Century England but appear to have been made as early as the 17th Century. They were brought to the colonies in the 18th Century due to the popularity in England. They placed them in strategic places such as windows to keep away evil spirits. The traditional spot would be in a window facing east. Usually the witch would infuse them with some sort of spell to aid in keeping what was thought of as evil spirits most generally out of the home. In all actuality, it is believed the term witch ball is sort of a language extrapolation from “watch ball.”  How it came about is anybody's guess. Witch balls have been around for about six hundred years. 

 

The balls originated in areas where the witch was not hunted and killed. They were a treasured part of the society and aided in warding off evil.  They would infuse the balls with spells to keep evil spirits away and out of the home. After their emergence, one would sometimes see them hung from various places like the fireplace mantle or a beam in the ceiling or perhaps some ornamentation like a vase. This is the idea behind the balls:

 

According to folk tales, witch balls would entice evil spirits with their bright colors; the strands inside the ball would then capture the spirit and prevent it from escaping.6

 

Many believed there was some sort of magnetism that attracted the spirits. Others believed they actually caught witches with these balls.  This was later when witches grew out of favor. They would come too close to them out of curiosity and would then be drawn into the ball. The stories vary from evil spirits to capturing witches within the balls; the most prevalent being warding off negativity.


A witch ball or speculum was a device used for scrying or divining things. Sometimes the speculum was a magic mirror, a polished stone, or a crystal ball.  Some witches fashioned specula from black bowls filled with water.  By gazing into the reflective depths, a witch could find answers to urgent questions, predict future events, or see faraway places.  In maritime villages, witches sent out the glass globes fishermen use to hold their nets afloat.  The globes were usually made of dark blue or green glass and appeared quite innocuous.  Biddy Early, a well-known Irish witch, had a favorite blue glass bottle with which she used to view the future.4 

 

The most prominent colors for witch balls were green and blue, but you can find them in all sorts of colors, depending on use.  They could be fairly large in size sometimes over seven inches in diameter. Witch balls have been made of natural products such as grass and wood and even in the Ozarks of hair and they are something a little different from these but have the same name.  Most often they were made of glass to reflect away the evil spirits like a mirror.

 

Some of them were painted and with beautiful designs. Quite often they were associated with the water because they resembled the balls on fishing lines but there is really no direct connection other than in a few references, one mentioned previously.

 

The witch balls made in the Ozarks were connected to American folk magic. They were balls made out of dark hair and rolled up into a marble size ball and infused with curses. They were then thrown at the person that the curse was intended. The legend is that if a person is killed by one of the witch balls it will be found near the body of the person who had died.


The Victorian age arrived and the balls had become quite spectacular and the meaning of them slowly changed. They were displayed as a sign of wealth and position. Some of the names these balls have been known by due to their various uses over time is Pond Balls, Gazing Balls, Fairy Orbs, Orbs of Happiness, Spirit Catchers, Wishing Balls, Butler Globes, and Good Luck Balls, Spirit Balls, etc.

 

When created as Fairy Orbs they are used to attract a fairy. Out of curiosity the fairy will come to admire the orb and it supposedly will remind them of the beauty of the flowers. Therefore in appreciation for the lovely orbs, the owner would be bestowed with good luck by the fairy. Friendship balls were given as a gift and they represented eternal friendship since the shape of a circle is continuous and never ending. This was much like the idea behind the Ourorborus which is also shown in a circular shape to partly denote eternity or infinity.

 

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Orbs of Happiness and Good Luck Balls were generally given to friends on special occasions, such as house warmings or weddings. If you saw the movie Emma, she gave one in the beginning of the movie at a wedding she attended. Hers was not made of glass but painted with representations that meant something to both parties but it was for good luck. Any of the glass blown balls could be given in this capacity.

 

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Pond balls were put in the water and weighted down to hold them in place. It was believed that animals would be scared by their reflection in the ball and leave the fish and other animals that live around the pond alone.

 

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Spirit balls were used in Colonial America and they were filled with strings. This was part of the glass blowing process to make them in such a way they had glass filaments inside them. There was a hole in one end and they believed that evil spirits would be attracted to the balls and enter through the hole and get tangled within all the strings inside the ball


Butler balls were very reflective also and they would be placed strategically in a room so that the servants could watch the progress of the meal for serving.  This way they didn’t have to be hovering over the guests to see who was ready for their next course. This of course was a type of gazing ball and they were also put in strategic spots to keep an eye on the daughter who was being courted.



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Gazing balls were usually more reflective and much larger than some of the other balls.  They were sometimes used for meditation purposes.  Other uses were also to attract witches, evil spirits and the like. These were supposed to also scare the spirits away by their own reflection in the ball. It was also felt when they were put in gardens that they would help the garden grow and also just for the sake of their beauty.

 

The first recorded history of these hand-blown glass garden accents dates back to the 13th century where they were made in Venice.  In 1612 an Italian priest, Antonio Neri, named them "Spheres of Light".  They have been known by many names - Gazing Globes, Rose Balls, Good Luck Balls, Victorian Balls, Witch Balls, and Garden Globes. Also called "Globes of Happiness", they have been used symbolically as wedding gifts - said to bring the bride happiness in her new home.  In the 16th century Francis Bacon stated that a proper garden would have round colored balls for the sun to play upon. 2

 

Some of these names are derived merely by use and locality. Antique collectors and occultists covet witch balls manufactured in Nailsea, near Bristol, England. The balls are colorful with swirling lines running through them.  These balls were made from 1788 to 1873. The Nailsea Glass House was not the only place the balls were created but in different factories throughout the general area. Some of these balls are a solid color with swirls of white running through them.


There is a very large Witches Ball in a cemetery with a legend behind it. The name of the stone with the Witches Ball is called Stoskopf, named after the lady from the 1920’s, who is buried in the grave. The ball is in a cemetery near Valley City in Medina County on Myrtle Hill Road. The cemetery is located in the state of Ohio.

 

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One of the legends is that Mrs. Stoskopf poisoned their well water and killed off her husband who was said to have been abusive and their sons.  She then threw all of the bodies down into the well.  This story is supposed to have appeared in the newspaper in Cleveland; the “Plain Dealer.” She  admitted to the crime and was placed into an insane asylum and died there and was buried in the grave under that ball.

 

Another tale tells of her being a witch and that she practiced her witchcraft out on Myrtle Hill Road.  It is a big tourist attraction in the area and many legends have sprung up from the ball being placed in that cemetery. For instance, the ball is warm in the winter and cool in the summer and leaves, twigs and the like never fall around the grave site. They say the well is still on the property and is never used because of the legend behind it.

 

The modern Christmas ornament ball is descended from the witch ball. According to an ancient tale, the ornament was originally placed on the tree to dispel a visitor’s envy at the presents left beneath the tree.6

 

While in Britain they were known as Witch Balls and various other names I have mentioned, in France the balls were  silvered and called Boules Panoramic and in Germany around 1840 they were beginning to mass produce the balls.  They were called Kugels in that country, which merely means ball. These were the earliest form of Christmas decoration introduced into the US for decorating trees and the home.

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The center for making glass blown items was in Lauscha, in the Thuringian Mountains. Many times after the days work was done the glass blowers would make balls to see how large they could blow them. Eventually around 1820, the practice of blowing balls grew into an artform and they began to silver the inside of them with zinc and in some cases lead.

 

Weihnachtsbaum Kugeln (Christmas tree ornaments) were ordered by 1848 from Lauscha. The whole village gathered together to decorate and finish the ornaments to be shipped. This wasn’t just the men but women and children as well. This became the number one business endeavor for the village. By this time they were being made in a variety of shapes straying away from the old ball shape that was so popular. Most popular were the artichokes, berry clusters and pinecones.

 

Early Kugels were too heavy to hang on tree branches; instead, they were suspended from the ceiling.  Soon after their invention, the Germans decided small Kugels should adorn tree boughs.  Shapes such as grapes, berry clusters, apples and pears became popular.  F. W. Woolworth is given credit for bringing Kugels to America in the 1880s.  His initial investment of $25 turned into sales of at least $25 million worth of Kugels over the next several years.2

 

These decorations sold in two days time. Woolworth would go over in person to order and pick out the ornaments he wished to sell in his stores.  Thus was the introduction of mass sales of Christmas tree ornaments in the United States.  This was what they did to make the ornaments at the time when Woolworth first found them.

 

Coloration is not done, as in later times, by painting the glass surface, but by coloring the melted batch in advance. Inside silvering of the kugels produced a brilliant gloss; this was done with lead in the early days, afterwards with a solution of silver nitrate. Unlike later glass ornaments kugels do not have the short pike left from the blowing process. It was cut off. What remained was a small hole. This was covered with a brass cap which was fastened to the ornament by a skillfully twisted wire.  The color palette is confined to a tight dozen variations: silver, green in different shadows, golden (frequent), light blue, blue, cobalt blue (more rare), rose, rubin, copper (rare), violet (very rare). Tiny kugels have a diameter of about one inch, while the upper limit is more or less open ended. 8

 

The Kugels were actually blown into a mold and then clipped off the iron rod used for blowing.  This is what left the hole for the decorative caps to be placed. Some ornaments made prior to these and went by other names had a glass end to be used for hanging. The name Kugel is used by collectors to describe any heavy glass orb used for hanging. It was when they decided rather than be hung from the rafters that they would make them smaller and also in a variety of shapes such as berries, pears, etc. The ornaments that Woolworth found were much lighter and not kiln blown. These were made of lamp glass. Therefore even though they have been referred to as Kugels they were really these newer type of ornaments. At Lauscha they were free blown or mold blown.  They did not use a kiln in the making process. By 1910, people were no longer purchasing the heavy Kugels since they preferred the lighter glass. The designs for the original Kugels were on the inside of the balls as opposed to the newer type that were painted on the glass.  Some of the histories confuse the two. What Woolworth exported were lamp blown ornaments in the lighter glass.


Below are various examples of early kugels to the lighter lamp blown balls and ornaments.

 

 

 

 

The first decorated Christmas tree in America is claimed by many states, including Pennsylvania (1747), Massachusetts (1832), Illinois (1833), Ohio (1838), and Iowa (1845). The first glass ornaments were imported from Germany about 1860. Dresden ornaments were made about 100 years ago of paper and tinsel. Manufacturers in the United States were making ornaments in the early 1870s. Electric lights were first used on a Christmas tree in 1882. Character light bulbs became popular in the 1920s, bubble lights in the 1940s, twinkle bulbs in the 1950s, plastic bulbs by 1955. The early Christmas light is a holder for a candle used on the tree.7

 

Along with the sales of Christmas ornaments which are mass produced in most places now, glass blowers are still making the Witch Balls and other types of balls.  It is only the expert glass blower that can make a Witch Ball that has just the right threads inside. You will see this in some of the photos.


Other examples some of them modern. 

 

 

You can buy beautiful hand blown Witch Balls HERE


Kugels, witch balls, friendship balls can be found HERE

 

Sources: 

  1. http://www.forgottenoh.com/Counties/Medina/myrtlehill.html
  2. http://www.friendshipandwitchballs.com/index.php?Itemid=26&id=1&option=com_content&task=view
  3. http://www.geocities.com/ohio_lost2/witches_ball
  4. http://www.ironelegance.com/ie/witchballs.asp
  5. http://www.liveauctiontalk.com/free_article_detail.php?article_id=388
  6. http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/witchball
  7. http://www.kovels.com/priceguide/kovels_christmastree/1999/ornament/1607238.html
  8. http://www.ornament.ch/rubrik.php?rubnum=BK&limit=10#artikel