Witch balls were first hung in the windows of seventeenth century homes and were thought to keep evil spirits and witches at bay. They were created from blown glass and were believed to have protective qualities. It was commonly believed that witches were unable to look at their own reflection, and therefore hanging a glass witch ball would prevent them from entering a home. The witch ball in the Museum collection is of a design that may date to the nineteenth century.
Histories of queerness and witchcraft are commonly thought of as interconnected. This stems from, and was often the case within, the witch trials of Medieval Europe. These associated queer relationships and acts within the activities of witchcraft, were for both men and women.
Within this period, women witches were accused of queerness due to their involvement with witchcraft, describing their relationships as ‘femina cum feminus,’ meaning ‘woman with woman.’ Historians have argued that this was because female witches were often singled out for their lack of adherence to the patriarchy, and this in turn associated with queerness. Witch trials were also held to oversee the executions of pagan men who took part in ‘ritualised homosexuality.’ It was thought in some parts of Europe that queerness occurred, especially in men, due to the work of supernatural forces and the devil.
The witch ball can be seen as a symbol of the commonality of ‘outsider status’ and discrimination in the everyday lives of both of these groups, with this discrimination frequently placed into law. Although female same sex relationships were not often subject to the same legal restrictions as their male counterparts, they were still often met with societal prejudice due to going against the norm. The persecution of queer individuals throughout history for their sexuality can be related to the persecution of those who practised witchcraft, with the line between these often blurred in the past.