A few years ago, I wrote about glass witch balls. They’re basically just hollow glass spheres, a bit like glass Christmas ornaments. Today they’re quite decorative and also go by several names such as glass kugels, friendship balls, spirit balls, ju ju balls, fairy orbs, spirit tree balls, and medusa spheres. With all these names, there is some differentiation beginning to happen. For example, ju ju balls will tend to be squat little footballs rather than spheres. A medusa sphere will usually have several smaller strands going up and down inside the globe, which gives the effect of a jellyfish. The strands in a spirit tree ball, unsurprisingly, look an awful lot like a tree captured in the glass. And some don’t have strands inside at all. In general, I’ve found that those with “witchier” names will have strands, and more plain names won’t.
Magically speaking, the witch ball is kind of related to witch bottles and other forms of protective container protective magic. Unlike the witch bottle, though, this was something that mundane people tended to use against witches and other forms of ill luck. These glass spheres as charms probably got their start in England’s 17th and 18th centuries as plain fishing floats. They bob on the surface of the water to note where fishing nets or crab traps are, much in the same way as a ‘dunked’ witch would float. In a rather gory bit of logic, someone probably got it into their head that hanging one of these glass balls up in their home would ward off evil in the same way a hanged witch would have on the demonic forces surrounding a village. So people began hanging these floats in their homes.
By the time the 19th century rolled about and the trend began catching on in America, the idea of hanging fishing floats merged with other folk protective magic from other cultures. They started to be made with glass threads in them, not unlike dream catchers and other such items, and malice was supposed to be caught in and dissipated through the webbing. They started to be more colored, a bit like the Hoodoo bottle trees with their African origins on the grounds that evil spirits are attracted to pretty things. Indeed, most of the earlier American witch balls are blue and green in color, much like the bottles popular on these trees. (Though, as I mentioned previously, that could just be a side product of history as lots of older American glass tended to become blue, green, or violet in color when exposed to sunlight.)
I, of course, love these silly things. As I said in the earlier post, I was first introduced to them through V., my former housemate and covenmate back in Olympia who had one hanging up in the middle of each window in her living room and lined up the windowsills with glass paperweights an apprentice glass artist friend of hers continually gifted her with. The effect was very charming, and when I happened to see a small witch ball in a downtown Olympia shop, I bought it on a whim and hung it up in one of my own bedroom windows to continue the trend. Not long after, I found another one in a Goodwill shop for just a couple dollars, so I of course had to buy that one, too.
And then I just kept adding to the collection.
After I moved out of V.’s house, I really didn’t have any place to display them, so I just stored them in a box in the garage “for whenever I get a place of my own”. And that sort of meant I didn’t really have a fixed grasp on just how many I’d begun to acquire. And over the past five years…well, it got to be a lot. I had a knack for spying them in thrift stores, which didn’t help, and they’re also alarmingly popular in Western Pennsylvania where my mother lives. Nearly every little town we explored had a boutique that sold them, and I’d sometimes get one if I thought it pretty or unusual.
Twenty-two. I ended up with twenty-two of these things. And I have nowhere near twenty-two windows in my new place. I scoured Pinterest to see if anyone else had a collection and what they did with them…and honestly, I wasn’t able to come up with much. In the end, I decided to just hang them all together in my front window.
I kind of like the final effect. It’s certainly the most interesting feature of my living room, and I like seeing how different they look throughout the day as the light changes. The process of stringing them up was a lot easier than I thought it would be, too. The largest of the balls only weighs 1.5 pounds, so I probably could have just used some drywall anchors and cup screws to attach them. However, I didn’t want to have almost two dozen screws in the ceiling (renting!), so I went with a curtain rod. I did end up needing to mount it from the ceiling as the two largest balls are over 8 inches in diameter, and the standard clearance from a wall-mounted curtain rod meant they would have rested against the window. I was slightly worried about all the weight, so I did actually weigh each ball and add up the figure, but there’s still less than 25 pounds hanging from the rod, and the three brackets I used means it will support 33 pounds. I also used plain 15-pound fishing line to string them up as I thought a “floating” effect might be nice. I just doubled a length of line, stuck the loop through the glass hole, tied a larks-head knot, and fasted the other end to the rod with a few square knots. They’ve been up for at least a month now, and I’ve had no issues whatsoever.
And, of course, you can bet that they’re serving a witchy purpose. My coven and I specifically charged two of the balls to keep my home safe. To be honest, my home isn’t in the nicest area of town, and the previous tenant was a drug dealer: I’ve had several people stop by over the past few months to buy their stuff, which is awkward and a little scary. (Trying very hard to live very frugally so I can start saving to buy a house.) I was surprised by how much safer I felt when I finally strung the charged balls up. They also give me a strong, physical focus to concentrate on when I renew my wards, and I’ve found that makes it a bit easier, too.
If anyone is all that interested in where you can find these things, these are the artists and companies that contributed to my collection: Kitras Art Glass, Gray Art Glass, Three Crow Glass (Les Trois Corbeaux), Virgil’s Art Glass, Pairpoint Glass, and Iron Elegance.