Like nail clippings and hair (see Hair and Nails), urine is a potent ingredient in folk charms and countercharms. Its potency is attributed to its personal connection to an individual and to the belief that urine influences health.
By the 16th century, physicians recognized that symptoms of disease showed up in a patient’s urine, which would appear cloudy, discolored or foul-smelling. Some physicians believed they could diagnose illness solely by urine, without having to see the patient himself. Astrologers also made medical diagnoses from urine, based on the positions of the planets and stars at the time the urine was voided or delivered to them for examination.
Alchemists used urine in their experiments as well. Paracelsus, the 16th-century Swiss alchemist, wrote that urine, blood, hair, sweat and excrement retained for a time a vital life essence called mumia. These ingredients could be used to make a microcosmic magnet, which, through the mumia, would draw off disease.
The Wizards and CunnIng men And women who flourished during the 16th and 17th centuries, practicing their magical remedies, used urine both for diagnosing and curing illnesses—especially those caused by witchcraft.
A handbook published in England in 1631 gave this means of diagnosing a patient’s prospects for recovery: take a urine sample and immerse a nettle in it for 24 hours. If the nettle remains green and healthy, the patient will live. If the nettle drys up, the patient will die.
In folk Magic, boiling a person’s urine helps determine if and how bewitchment has occurred. Urine is then used to effect cures, usually by boiling, baking, burying or throwing it upon a fire. Ann Green, a witch or cunning woman of northeast England, said in 1654 that she cured headaches caused by bewitchment by putting a clipping of the victim’s hair in his own urine, boiling it and throwing it on a fire. The fire was supposed to destroy the spell.
Boiled urine also was said to cure nephritis. Urine boiled in a pot containing crooked pIns was a common remedy for bewitchment.
A case in Yorkshire in 1683 involved a sick man whom a doctor said suffered from bewitchment. To break the spell, the doctor prescribed a cake made of the patient’s urine and hair, combined with wheat meal and horseshoe stumps. The cake was to be tossed in a fire.
Edible “witch’s cakes” were baked in the early American colonies in the 17th century to cure smallpox. Ingredients included rye, barley, herbs, water and a cup of baby’s urine. The cake was fed to a dog, and if the dog shuddered while eating it, the patient would recover.
One of the most effective counter-charms against witchcraft was to secure the witch’s own urine: if it was bottled and buried, the witch would be unable to urinate. During the Salem witch trials of 1692 (see SAlem WItChes), a local doctor named Roger Toothaker claimed his daughter had killed a witch with urine. The daughter spied on the witch until she saw the woman go to her outhouse. The daughter collected the witch’s urine and boiled it in a pot until the foul-smelling smoke blocked the chimney flue. The next morning, the witch was dead. In another case cited during the Salem trials, a mrs. Simms of Marblehead said she had been cursed by her witch neighbor, Wilmot “mammy” reed, never to urinate again. mrs. Simms testified she had been unable to urinate for weeks after being cursed. reed was hanged on September 22, 1692.
In Ozark superstition, it is unlucky to eat while urinating, because it is “feeding the Devil and starving God.”
See wItCh bottles.
- Pennick, Nigel. Secrets of East Anglican Magic. London: Robert Hale, 1995.
- Thomas, keith. Religion and the Decline of Magic. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971.
urine An important ingredient in magical Charms, Spells, and countercharms. The magical potency of human urine is attributed to its personal connection to an individual, thus providing a sympathetic link for Magic and to the belief that urine influences health. By the 16th century, physicians knew that the condition of urine could be used in diagnosis. Paracelsus wrote that urine, Blood, hair (see HAIR AND NAIL CLIPPINGS), sweat, and EXCREMENT retained for a time a vital life essence called mumia. These ingredients could be used to make a “microcosmic magnet,” which, through the mumia, would draw off disease. Alchemists also used urine in their experiments for longevity. Numerous folk magic remedies are based on urine. Boiling a person’s urine helps determine if and how Bewitchment has occurred. The victim’s urine is then used to effect cures, usually by boiling, baking, burying, or throwing it into a fire. “Witch’s cakes,” containing urine and other magical ingredients, once were made to treat a host of ailments. In the early American colonies in the 17th century, witch’s cakes were used to treat smallpox. Ingredients included rye, barley, herbs, water, and a cup of baby’s urine. It was fed to a dog, and if the dog shuddered while eating it, the patient would recover. A folk magic formula for killing someone by causing them to have jaundice calls for acquiring their urine and then buying a hen’s egg without haggling. On a Tuesday or a Saturday night, take the egg and urine to a place where you will not be disturbed. Make a circular incision on the broad end of the egg, and extract the yolk. Pour the urine into the egg, and seal the hole with a piece of virgin parchment, saying the name of the victim as you do so. Bury the egg, and leave without looking back. As the egg rots, the victim will become ill and will die of jaundice within a year. The only way to break the spell is for the spellcaster to dig the egg up and burn it. An effective countercharm against Witchcraft prescribes securing the witch’s own urine, bottling it, and burying it. The witch is then unable to urinate. In Alchemy, urine, like water, represents the unconscious and creativity. Both urine and water are names for the Prima Materia, the basic material of the cosmos. In depth psychology, the prima materia is the state of conscious chaos at the beginning of the process of individuation.