For many of us (including me), Halloween is a favorite holiday.
Rich in history and folklore, Halloween has roots that trace back to the ancient Celts, who celebrated the new year on November 1. They believed that the souls of the dead returned to Earth the night before (Samhain). Later, Irish immigrants brought over customs and superstitions such as carved vegetables with a demon’s face to frighten away the spirits. Among other long-held beliefs and symbols from the 1700s and 1800s is the witch ball.
A witch ball is a hollow sphere of plain or colored glass with glass inclusions (webs) inside the balls. Originating in 18th-century England, witch balls were believed to ward off evil spirits, witch’s spells, or ill fortune. (Some historians disagree, saying that the witch’s ball actually originated among cultures where witches were considered a blessing. These good witches would “enchant” the balls to enhance their potency against evil.)
When witch balls found their way across “the pond” to the American colonies, they were quickly adopted by superstitious folks who reasoned that evil spirits were attracted to the colored glass spheres. The spirits were drawn inside and captured in the glass web within the ball, preventing their escape and protecting the home from harm.
Legend has it that fishermen on Cape Cod placed witch balls in their nets to avoid evil spirits on the high seas. It is also claimed that Christmas ornament balls descended from the witch ball. The ball was allegedly placed on the Christmas tree to dispel a visitor’s envy at the presents beneath the tree.
After doing some research, I discovered Pairpoint Glass, America’s oldest glassworks. Founded in South Boston as the Mt. Washington Glass Company, Pairpoint’s beginning goes back to 1837. Not long after the Mt. Washington Glass Company moved from Boston to New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1870, it merged with Pairpoint Manufacturing. This silver and metal works company was started by Thomas Pairpoint, the world-renowned British silversmith and designer.
The new Pairpoint Company began designing extraordinary pieces – some were mixed metal and glass, some were all glass. Many of the earlier lines are highly collectible and Pairpoint’s “puffies” are among the most sought-after examples. These metal-base lamps feature ornate, polychrome glass shades and fetch thousands of dollars at auction. Entire books have been devoted exclusively to the history of Pairpoint Glass.
Today, contemporary yet timeless styles by Pairpoint (now on Cape Cod) can be found in the decorative arts collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Each delicate piece begins as a handful of sand and is hand-blown one-at-a-time by master glassblowers from the United States and Europe.
But you don’t have to be a fine arts collector to enjoy the artistry of a surprisingly affordable Pairpoint witch ball. Not only do these glass globes add mesmerizing beauty to any window, they just might protect your home from the antics of ghosts and ghouls on Halloween—and throughout the year!
Founder and Proprietor, New England Everyday Goods & Farm Market, Jaffrey, NH.
Just a stone’s throw down the road from The Old Farmer’s Almanac headquarters, Jim and his wife Susan operate a sprawling retail store that specializes in useful and unusual products with interesting stories behind them.