If you’ve been reading witchcraft and occult books for a long time, you may have noticed that most spells and folklore trace back to ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, and the British Isles. Why do you think that is? Well, part of it is English colonialism. It’s no secret that the Brits preferred some cultures over others.
Another reason is that these cultures spent a lot of time writing things down. Other communities, such as African tribes, hardly wrote anything down. Their traditions are primarily oral, and for centuries, historians didn’t bother to record oral history.
Fortunately, this is changing. Many historians are taking the time to write down oral stories and traditions so they don’t become lost. But much of history--especially magic--has already become lost due to the lack of recording oral history.
Don’t believe me? I’ll list some examples below.
I’m writing these down because (a) they fascinate me, and (b) I want to remind people that we don’t know everything. In the occult community, some people believe that written spells survived because they work. But that’s not entirely true. Many other spells existed--and likely worked--but were never written down or saved.
What do you think about these lost spells? Do you think that we will ever figure out what they were used for? Let me know below.
The Dolls in Miniature Coffins
In 1836, three boys were hunting for rabbit burrows near a rocky formation in Edinburgh called Arthur’s Seat. One of the boys spotted a slate, and he moved it to discover a tiny cave. After digging further, the boys found some objects. They were miniature coffins, only four inches in length.
Although the boys uncovered eight coffins, but only five of them survived after the boys hurled them at each other. Yes, really. They threw around historical artifacts.
Eventually, one of the boys brought the surviving coffins to his father. After opening each coffin, the father discovered eight tiny dolls. Each one has a unique face and clothes, and some don’t have arms, likely to fit inside the coffin. At least two were pink or red, and they were carved from white wood. They date back to the 1780s.
Throughout the centuries, many people have come up with theories about the purpose of these miniature coffins. Some claim that these figures represent the victims of the nearby West Port murders, but there is little evidence to support this.
In 2018, historian Jeff Nisbet claimed to “crack” the miniature coffin mystery. He claimed that these dolls represent people who lost their lives during a political revolution. However, his theory is no more “proven” than others.
Many believe that these dolls were ingredients in a spell. Perhaps sailors carried these dolls to ward off death on their journey. Newspapers from 1836 credited “demonology and witchcraft.” What do you think the coffin dolls were used for?
The Bronze Age Bird Skull Headdress
In January 2019, archaeologists dug up several skeletons in Siberia’s Novosibirsk region. While the fully-preserved skeletons were an amazing find, the archaeologists uncovered a peculiar find. One skeleton wore a headdress of bird skulls.
Between 30 and 50 bird skulls and beaks were tied together to create the headdress, which was likely worn on the neck or collar. The bones belonged to large shore birds, including herons and cranes.
Historians nicknamed the skeleton “the Birdman of Siberia,” and they suspect that he was a priest or a shaman. According to carbon dating, the skeletons date back 5,000 years. He was likely a member of the Odinov, a culture that dominated Siberia during the Bronze Age.
Siberian researcher Lidia Kobeleva believes that the headdress had a ritualistic purpose. But what exactly was it? Was it protective? Did it connect the shaman to spirits? Was it dedicated to a deity? Perhaps all of the above.
What do you think was the purpose of the bird skull headdress?
Babies Buried with Skull Helmets
This is a strange one. In 2014, archaeologists unearthed an ancient burial site in Salango, Ecuador. The funerary mound, which dates back 2,100 years, revealed many interesting finds. But the most unusual were two infant skeletons wearing bone “helmets.”
These helmets were made from the skull fragments of older children who had died before the infants. The infants were younger than 18 months, while their skull helmets came from children between ages four and 12. Archaeologists called it “using juvenile crania as mortuary headgear.”
The children were members of Guangala, a civilization that lived on Ecuador’s coast around 100 B.C. But despite knowing when the infants lived, historians still have no idea what the skull helmets mean.
Archaeologists have many theories. One is that these helmets represent the infants’ ancestors quite literally protecting them. Others believe that the helmets protect infants in the afterlife, or that they symbolize conquering another nation. We still have no idea what these skull helmets mean.
What do you think about the skull helmets? Do you think they were a spell, or purely symbolic?
Archaeologists are skill unearthing facts about ancient civilizations. Some could have been spells, but we will never know if they actually were.
Do you think that you can use this knowledge for your Craft? Do you believe that these were even spells at all? Leave your theories below!