Thursday 23 November 2023

Amulets & Talismans: Witches' Bells for Protection

Witches' Bells are very much in esoteric fashion at the moment. They are highly popular as protection amulets as well as because they look - well, charming. The example in the photo to the right was made by Emma Thomsen who runs the Etsy shop LunaCharmsAndVintage

I chatted to Emma about them at Romford Pagan Moote last month as it was a thing I'd seen people talk about in witchcraft groups on social media. I'm always fascinated to learn new stuff about magic. 

The idea with witches' bells is that you either hang them up a bit like wind chimes so they tinkle in the breeze and clear the air with their sound, or you hang them from your door and they alert you when someone enters the room. Very small ones can be attached to bags and so on more as magical jewellery.

The use of bells for this kind of thing is ancient. In the Old Testament of the Bible, Exodus 28:33, it says priests' robes are supposed to have bells on the hems so: “The sound of the bells will be heard when he enters the Holy Place before the Lord and when he comes out, so that he will not die.” That sounds serious, although I'm not sure whether it was a protection from outside evil or an angry god annoyed at being silently snuck up on. In the ancient world bells used for protection tended to be small things that were worn or carried. Big church bells only began in about the 5th century, but quickly got the reputation of being rung to signal the start of services and also to drive out evil spirits.

They haven't only been used by Christians. In Buddhism, the sound of bells is thought to attract good fortune and bring peace and comfort to those who hear the sound. Hindu temples often have a bell at the entrance which devotees ring before going inside. The Britannica Library Encyclopedia says: 

"Among the most basic and widespread uses of bells is signalling—marking significant points of ritual, calling to worship, tolling the hours, announcing events, rejoicing, warning, and mourning. In Christian and Buddhist monasteries, bells regulate daily routine."

Bells are also used widely in modern witchcraft. The sound of a bell changes the atmosphere in a room, a clear sound feels as though it is cleansing the space of unwanted energy. Bells are also used to help with meditation or to mark the start or end of a part of a ritual. The ones in the photo to the left are hanging on my charm tree in my witchy room. I bought them at the Faerie Festival in Sussex earlier this year. They were handmade in India.

I don't know when the use of the term witches' bells for protection began. I suspect it's pretty recent. The Oxford English Dictionary only mentions it as a name for bell-shaped flowers, especially foxgloves, and gives a first use of 1884 in R. Folkard's Plant Lore, Legends and Lyrics:

"The witches are popularly supposed to have...decorated their fingers with its [sc. the foxglove's] largest bells, thence called ‘Witches' Bells."

However, small bells on chains have been used as folkloric protection against the Evil Eye since at least the 18th century. There's a lovely example from Spain in the Victoria and Albert Museum's jewellery hall. It was made for a child.

Whatever the origins, I think the current trend for witches' bells as amulets is lovely. Emma Thomsen makes the ones she sells from recycled vintage necklaces, metal charms and small bells. If you feel crafty, you could create your own by attaching small bells to ribbon or thread. Ring them and visualise their sound as self-cleansing, then say some words as a blessing if you want and hang them from a hook on or by your door (or from a charm tree like mine if you prefer). 

On Tuesday December 5th I'm running an online workshop called Amulets and Talismans: An Exploration of Magical Objects via The College of Psychic Studies. It starts at 6pm and tickets are £75. You can find out more here:

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