How to Identify a Witch

This is not about Wiccans or neo-pagans, and I do not advocate the belief that Wiccans are Satan-worshipers and/or baby-killers. This is a starting point for historical research into the great witch craze of 1100-1700 CE.

There were almost as many ways to identify a witch as there were witch-hunters. No one person could pass every one of these tests. Nonetheless, the results of these tests were never ignored.

  • Balance Scales
  • Conversing With Familiars
  • The Devil's Mark
  • Ducking the Witch

Balance Scales

"Giant balance scales could help identify a witch. If the suspect was heavier than the weights — sometimes a Bible was used instead of weights — then he or she was clearly a witch. Only if a perfect balance was struck was the accused vindicated. This rarely, if ever, occurred."

Conversing with Familiars

If a woman had a pet, she could become a prime candidate for witchcraft accusations. Familiars were imps in animal form, creatures which suckled from the Devil's marks.

Dunking the Witch

One 'foolproof' way to establish whether a suspect was a witch was ducking. With right thumb bound to left toe, the accused was plunged into a convenient pond. If he or she floated it proved an association with the black arts, with the body rejecting the baptismal water. If the victim drowned they were innocent. Given the curious position of the prisoner, it was more likely they would float.

The Devil's Mark

It was widely believed that most witches sported a mark on their body which was placed there by the Devil. The Witches' mark, Devil's Mark, or Witches' teat was the seal of the Devil, given to witches upon initiation. This mark could be a scar, a mole, a birthmark, or superfluous nipple. The Devil's Mark was a nipple through which the witch nourished her or his familiar.

However, even if a person had no mark, it did not mean she or he was not a witch. Some witch-hunters believed that a witches' mark was only put on the bodies of witches that the Devil thought he could not trust. If a witch had no mark, it meant that she or he was especially devout to Satan.

Suspected witches were stripped, shaved, and strapped into a chair for interrogation. The Inquisitors would then wait and watch. If a mouse, rat, or beetle entered the cell and approach the victim, the accused was proven guilty. It did not matter that prisons were vermin-infested. The witches were obviously conversing with familiars.

The witch's body was then painstakingly searched. Particular scrutiny was paid to the genitalia, for it was the most hidden part of the body.

When a Devil's mark was found, the Inquisitor would prick the spot with a needle or blade. If the mark did not bleed and the pricking did not cause pain, the spot was surely placed there by the Devil.

Many witch-hunters and Inquisitors used pricking knives with retractable blades. Matthew Hopkins was one such hunter. When the Devil's mark was speared, the blade would retract, so the victim felt no pain, and no blood appeared.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License