Witch hysteria was at an all-time high in the 16th century. You may know of the historic trials of 1692: The Salem Witch Trials. If you have not heard of it, you could read the drama called The Crucible by Arthur Miller (this is historical fiction and, therefore, you need to keep in mind that, when reading this play, Miller dramatized certain aspects of the real trial to make it more marketable).
During this time people were on constant watch for anyone that could be considered a witch – and they were also constantly being careful so they, personally, were not questioned as being a witch. You see, during this time people were quick to judge others and point fingers at others’ sins and wrong-doings but when it came to their own sins and wrong-doings, they were pretty much blind. One might call these people hypocrites but you also need to remember that people in the 21st century and the 16th have completely different mindsets – that comes with homosapiens evolving throughout the years.
When one was accused of being a witch, they were checked out by a witch specialist for any Devil Marks (these could be moles, acne, freckles, birthmarks, scars, third nipples etc.) and if the witch specialist discovered a Devil Mark upon the accused’s body then they were considered to be guilty of witchcraft. Once someone was found guilty of witchcraft they were either hung or burnt on a stake.
Other ways that someone could be found guilty of witchcraft includes a series of trials and tests. Some of these trials and tests are dunking, pricks, Bible weighing, the Prayer test, discovery of imps and baking a witch cake. There are many other outrageous tests and trials that people were forced to face but those are for another article.
Dunking was one of the most deadly trials to discover witchcraft. The accused would be stripped of their clothing and then they would have their thumbs tied to their big toes. Once the accused was tied up, they were dropped into deep water. If the accused floated then they were immediately guilty of witchcraft. If the accused sank then they were found innocent. Unfortunately though, not many people knew how to swim back then and so, many times, the accused drowned before they could be saved from the water. This method was meant to “work” because the water that the accused was dropped in was supposed to expel the accused due to the idea of Holy Water.
Another method is called Pricks. Professional Prickers (like witch specialists but not quite) would come to the accused’s bedside and use a blade or a needle to prick a Devil Mark – remember Devil Marks are any blemish on a person’s skin – and if the mark did not bleed then the accused was automatically guilty of witchcraft. What makes this even more messed up though is that, sometimes, these Professional Prickers had retractable blades so that they would be sure that the mark would not bleed. Think about it, if no one bleeds then these Professional Prickers would no longer be needed and they would be out of business. By using retractable blades, these people would ensure that they would keep their profession alive for a little while longer.
Bible Weighing is another very unfair method to determine whether a person is a witch or not. The accused was weighed against an extremely heavy Bible and if they weighed less than the Bible then the accused was guilty. Now, what makes this method outrageous is the fact that Bibles in the 16th century were made out of different materials then they are now, which caused them to weigh hundreds of pounds. Also, people who tended to be accused were not in the high ranks of society – they were usually the poor folk of the town and, therefore, one could assume that they really did not weigh that much to begin with.
The Prayer Test is exactly what its name means. Whoever was accused of witchcraft had to recite the Lord’s Prayer without a single error. If the accused messed up then they were considered to be a witch. Witches are thought to not be able to say the Lord’s name or anything holy which is why this method was believed to work.
Discovering imps could also cause a person to be guilty of witchcraft. An imp is any creature that is loyal to a witch (beatle, dog, cat, fly, rat, etc.). When someone is accused of witchcraft, if there is an animal near them then they are considered guilty. For example, if the accused is in a jail cell and a rat or a mouse comes into the cell with the accused then they were guilty of witchcraft. What makes that extremely unfair is the fact that jails in the 16th century were usually below the town, in a ditch-like area, where all of the waste of the townsfolk would drain down to once it rained. Jails were insanely inhumane, inhabitable and just downright disgusting and so it is really not far-fetched that a rat or a mouse would live in the jails.
In my opinion, the grossest and weirdest test that a person had to face is called Baking a Witch Cake. To find the person who was guilty of hurting another person, townsfolk would take urine from the victim, mix it with rye and ash to make a cake. Once the cake was ready, they would feed the cake to an imp. By feeding the cake to an imp, it was said to cause the imp to speak the guilty person’s name.
With Halloween coming upon us, do you think you would have survived in the 16th century or do you think you would have been accused of witchcraft? I definitely would have been hung for witchcraft just because of the amount of freckles I have.
I hope everyone has a wickedly great rest of your Halloween month and keep an eye out for anyone that could be considered a witch!
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