Interview conducted 18 February 2002.
Brian Hoggard has conducted independent research into deliberately concealed objects and publishes some of his finding on his website Apotropaios. His first degree is in History, which he studied at University College Worcester. What follows is a summary of a telephone interview conducted on 18 February 2002.
Where did Brian first come into contact with the phenomenon of object concealment?
He had been an amateur archaeologist and local historian for many years prior to beginning his degree and had come across Ralph Merrifield’s The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic (1987, Batsford) during this time, which contained information on concealed objects within it. Whilst studying witchcraft during his history degree, he identified how little research had been conducted in this field. The combination of archaeological material identified in Merrifield’s book and the history of witchcraft he had been studying inspired him to build on research in this area.
Brian was able to pursue research into witchcraft while writing essays for his degree. He was especially interested in studying the impact of the Reformation on English folk beliefs and by extension, magic in the early modern period. Brian has always been interested in the origins of many of today’s unusual beliefs, practices and customs and enjoys using history and archaeology to trace these. Many of these practices continue today.
Which concealed objects interest Brian most?
Brian’s first area of research was witch bottles and they remain his main interest. They seem to be one of the more complex concealments as they constitute a spell and sometimes required digging quite deeply under the hearth or threshold to conceal them. He is also interested in other concealed objects such as dried cats, horse skulls, old shoes, written curses and charms, and ritual marks. Many remarkable finds such as mutilated dolls and wax effigies, hoards of broken crockery and pierced toad skins have been discovered too. It is difficult to pin down one particular find as being the most interesting – they are all fascinating!
Why is so little known about the practice of deliberately concealing objects?
Brian says that the main reason so little is known about the practice is because of a general lack of awareness of the practice amongst builders and craftsmen, and curators and archaeologists. Many finds are thrown away or taken home by builders and not reported – and those that are reported are often not recorded or investigated properly because no one realises the significance of the objects. The majority of items discovered go unrecorded. There are, of course, rare exceptions where good reports are written up and finds are donated to museums.
Brian argues that as the concealment of objects is still an ongoing practice people are reluctant to talk about their involvement. He is convinced that approximately 50% of builders could report some experience of these objects (whether discovering them or knowing of concealments), but are unwilling to speak about the practice or report any finds they make unless through a face to face conversation – postal surveys are not successful with this!
Did the nature of an object determine its use for a superstitious purpose?
Brian believes that during the early modern period people would have been brought up to know that once a certain object was unusable and its useful life had come to an end, it could take on protective and magical properties. The more personal an object, the more potentially useful it might be once it has ceased to have ordinary utility, particularly for various kinds of sympathetic magic.
Did men and women conceal objects?
Brian suggests that this is difficult to tell – each individual case will be different. If an object was concealed in the foundations of a house it is most likely that it was placed there by a man, as the building trade is traditionally male dominated. If the objects were added after a building was constructed it is more difficult to tell.
How does Brian think his research will develop in the future?
Brian intends to publish more widely, to fill gaps where little research has been undertaken. He feels that the data he is collecting has a much wider relevance than for his research alone and can make a significant contribution to historical research into withcraft and the way such practices are perceived.
You can report non-garment finds to Brian directly or via this website. If you would like to report a find to Brian Hoggard please contact him on [email protected] or visit Apotropaios, or report a find via this website.