The witch ball originated among cultures where harmful magic and those who practiced it were feared. They are one of many folk practices involving objects for protecting the household. The word may be a corruption of because it was used to ward off, guard against, evil spirits. They are usually hung in an eastern window, placed on top of a vase or suspended by a cord from the mantelpiece or rafters or placed in windows or rooms where inhabitants wanted to ward off evil.
Superstitious European sailors valued the talismanic powers of the witch balls in protecting their homes. Witch balls appeared in America in the 19th century and larger, more opaque variations are often found in gardens under the name gazing ball. This name derives from their being used for divination and scrying where a person gazes into the ball to see the future or find answers to questions!