Anya Subich

Love spell, magic bottle and ballistic firepower

Surprising uses of urine in medieval age

Without a flushing tank at their service, medieval people had to interact with their urine much more often than we do. Immediate proximity to the material inspired in our ancestors some mind blowing ideas on how urine can bring magic to their daily routines.


Medical miscellany, including Godfridus super palladium - Images like these, which show glasses of different coloured urine, would have been used by medieval doctors to help diagnose illness. Image held by British Library British Library

1. Love spell

Puzzle over the way to seduce your colleague? Splash some urine to her morning coffee!
Urine was an essential component in medieval love spell recipes. Catherine Yronwode, a researcher of hoodoo and voodoo magic, reports that in medieval Italy women would add urine to their tea and coffee in order to become more sexually attractive. The same mode of action was recommended for men if they wanted to tie a woman.
There is some indisputable wisdom behind these practices, since urine, indeed, contains sex pheromones - volatile chemical substances that are causing sexual excitement in the members of the same species.

2. Magic bottle

Everything suddenly went wrong? Feels like you’ve been cursed? Then try to remember: may be someone has recently asked you for some of your pee?... Just to fertilize his home garden?...

Historically, urine could be used to make a witch bottle: mixed with sharp metal objects, such as nails and razors, it was thought to protect against harmful magic. However, it could be incorporated into a curse as well. Victim's urine had to be placed in a bottle, buried and stomped on, after which the target would die of dehydration.
So do not forget to flush the toilet next time. Or read here on how to make your own magic bottle.

3. Witchcraft test

Respectively, there is a way to unmask black magic using urine: similia similibus, so to say. This great zero-risk method was invented by the Holy Inquisition in the XVI century. Suspect’s urine was poured into a bottle together with small metal objects. Inquisitor would then shake the bottle, and if a cork popped out - the victim was basically doomed. Needless to say what was the standard outcome.

4. Gunpowder

Love spells and curses had no effect? Then it’s time for radical measures. Let’s blow something up!

In the medieval ages potassium nitrate - the key ingredient for gunpowder - was obtained using stagnant urine. According to Instructions for the Manufacture of Saltpetre, written by physician Joseph LeConte in 1862, in order to make some quality gunpowder one needs “a good supply of thoroughly rotted manure of the richest kind” which then should be mixed with ash, leaves and straw.
Speaking scientific language, ammonia from stagnant pee reacts with oxygen to form nitrates. These nitrates–negatively charged ions then bind with positively charged metal ions in the manure. As a result of these processes, potassium nitrate is being extracted.

All this said - don't underestimate the power of your pee. It can boom.