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100% That Witch: The Weirdest Ways Witch Trials Identified Witches

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCSB chapter.

A few centuries ago, the tarot cards and crystals you have displayed on your desk may have been enough to prove you’d consorted with the devil — or, in other words, that you were a witch!

Although now we can burn incense and use brooms in peace, there was a time when hysteria about witches prohibited such acts, and from Salem to Switzerland, unfounded and unjust witch hunts claimed the minds and lives of many. Though you may have this image of witches as old haggard women, in reality, almost everyone was at risk of being accused.

So, if you’ve ever found yourself wondering whether or not you would’ve survived Salem, I’ve compiled a list of the craziest things that may have condemned you.

You’re A Woman.

While merely being a woman was not enough to warrant a conviction, statistically speaking it did mean you were more likely to be accused of witchcraft. From 1400 to 1800, eighty percent of the victims of the witch trials sweeping throughout Europe were women. Part of the reason for this is that these witch hunts occurred in highly religious societies where gender norms were super strict. So, if you were a woman who didn’t do exactly as she was expected to, people thought the devil had corrupted you. 

You’ve been seen with someone. Literally anyone. 

Word on the street was that the devil often appeared as a creepy shadowy figure. So basically, if you steered clear of hanging out with any such types you’re safe right? Wrong. People also thought that he could manifest in the form of an animal or child. So basically, if you were seen with anyone or any creature, someone could testify that they saw you with the devil.

You have a pet.

Back in ye olden times, having a pet — whether it be a dog, cat, toad, goat, or cow — might be evidence that you have a “familiar,” or an attendant of evil or a low-ranking devil who would help you do witchy things. And don’t even get me started on black cats — if you have one of those it’s definitely game over for you!

You have a “witch’s mark”…or not.

I hate to break it to you, but if you had any moles, scars, or birthmarks, people definitely would’ve accused you of being a witch. Witch hunters believed that these bodily “imperfections” were actually the devil’s mark, or extra nipples from which your aforementioned familiar would suckle. However, it’s also a lose-lose situation because even if you don’t have any witches’ marks, prosecutors could simply argue that the devil had concealed it!

If you don’t have a photographic memory of scripture, you’re out of luck.

A frequent way to test whether or not someone was a witch was by forcing them to recite Bible selections. If you messed up whilst reciting, it was a sure sign that you were in cahoots with the devil! Nevertheless, even if you managed to recite scripture without any blunders, it still didn’t guarantee you’d be declared innocent. 

You have spoiled milk in your fridge.

Though the reason for this linkage is still unclear, it was once believed that there was an association between witches and curdled milk. During the Salem Witch Trials, prosecutors used the fact that the accused had spoilt milk in their houses as evidence of their guilt. So, if you have any expired dairy products in your fridge, they could be used against you. Not sure if this extends to oat milk, but if it does, I’m definitely a goner!

Though now all of this evidence seems ridiculous, it does demonstrate the overwhelming powers of fear and misinformation. While the witch craze of the middle ages may be over, it’s not as if witch hunts have disappeared entirely. In Papua New Guinea, in 2009, multiple people were burned alive under suspicion of witchcraft, and from 2007-2016 Gambian citizens were terrorized by the persecution of witches. What’s more, though persecution may not always be under the guise of witchery — and we can let our milk spoil in peace — intolerance and ignorance continue to flourish across the globe.

Dani is a fourth year theater major at UCSB. Originally from LA, she enjoys music, buying cowboy boots, and brunch.