Author's Comments: I still
have several essays that I wrote in college, but this one was fairly
significant to my spiritual development. It caused a great
deal of soul-searching on my part, which continues to this day.
Evidence of Evil
the legal torture of witches in our history
December 1, 1994
"If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son, or your
daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your
own soul, entices you secretly, saying, 'Let us go and serve
other gods,' which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of
the gods of the peoples that are round about you, whether near you
or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the
other, you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your
eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him;
but you shall kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put
him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. You shall
stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away
from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of the house of bondage.
-- Deuteronomy 13:6 to 13:10 (God, c. 1250 B.C.)
"If there is found among you, within any of your towns which
the Lord your God gives you, a man or woman who does what is evil in
the sight of the Lord yourGod, in trangressing his covenant, and
has gone and served othe rgods and worshipped them, or the sun or
the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I haveforbidden,
and it is told you and you hear of it; then you shall inquire
diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abominable
thing has been done in Israel, then you shall bridge forth to your
gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall
stone that man or woman to death with stones. On the evidence of two
witnesses or three witnesses he that is to die shall be put to
death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one
witness. The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put
him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall
purge the evil from the midst of you."
-- Deuteronomy 17:2 to 17:7 (God, c. 1250 B.C.)
"You shall not permit a sorceress to live."
-- Exodus 22:18 (God, c. 1250 B.C.)
Some philosophers claim that there is an innate need for people
to hate. It is hatred that easiest solidifies a nation of people,
and it is hatred that permits people to commit unspeakable acts
against fellow human beings. Moslims hated jews, the Irish hated the
English, Hitler hated jews, the colonists hated native Americans,
the Catholics hated the jews (poor jews); hatred can even grow out
of something as meaningless as different economic systems. One
factor that often comes up when hatred is examined more closely is
simple, human jealousies of power, either real or perceived. One
such hatred of perceived power is important, if not essential, to
Christian belief throughout most of its history. Lucifer, Ol'
Scratch, Puck, or simply 'the Devil' has haunted Christian
philosophy for what many Christians believe was the beginning of
mankind. It is this "Adversary" (a rough translation of "Satan" from
the Hebrew) that has been the foil of all mankind (and especially
womankind) since Eve's tooth first pierced that forbidden apple.
Many Christians, knowing that they could not dream of truly
defeating a former arch-angel, sought to seek out and destroy that
evil's servants that, they believed, walked among them. Perhaps the
most famous persecution of these servants, or witches, occured in
Salem, Massachusettes of 1692, but such attrocities also occurred in
Spain and England, with the same amount of fervor, if not more,
among people of a religious philosophy that was very different from
those Purtians in Salem. What follows is an examination of the
physical torment these people that occurred in the righteous man's
obeyance of religious doctrine.
When a young sprite or old hag was brought before to be judged,
there were certain methods used to determine if an individual was a
witch. Obviously, one could not simply ask someone who debauched
themselves in wild orgies with many-horned demons to make their
statement of innocence under something as malleable as an oath.
Examination of the body of the accused was one means to discover
evidence of evil. One such evidence was the closeness of a person's
eyebrows. One 1579 source suggested that someone ". . . hath obserued in olde Women being Wytches, which were ledde to be burned,
whose eye browes were such. (sic)" Even as recent as 1895, it was
written that "Those who have the eyebrows met are witches and
warlocks." (Opie & Tatem, 1989). Of course, there was also the
ill-placed mole or wart to determine if a person was a witch. An
1889 author wrote that ". . . A mole 'abeen [above] the breath' in
a woman shows she is a witch." (Opie & Tatem, 1989). Even in our own
beloved Virginia, the search for the witch's teat, as it was called,
was utilized for evidence. In 1706, Grace Sherwood was ". . .
テarched again 'by five antient Weamen, who all declared on Oath, yt
ピhe is not like them, nor no other Woman yt they knew of; having
two Things like Titts on her private Parts, of a black coller, being
blacker then ye Reフ of her Body.'" (Drake, 1869). It was believed
that this particular mark, if pricked, would not bleed (Boothe,
1975). It would seem, at least, our zealots were well-informed on
their Shakespeare. The practice, it would seem, was based in the
medieval belief that the soul was carried in the blood of a mortal,
and that those areas suckled by the devil would not draw blood, or
even pain, from their carriers. In England, people were specially
trained to insert long needles three inches into a person's 'teat',
while that person was blindfolded. If the person felt the pain, the
teat was obviously a natural blemish. Some trials even mirrored a
scene in Monty Python's Holy Grail, where the witch was weighed
against a Bible, to see who was heavier (Boothe, 1975).
Trial by ordeal, similar to the medieval trials by combat, were
also utilized. The belief was the God directly affected the outcome
of the trials, and he enlightened the righteous accuser as to nature
of the accused. Luckily, some were merely verbal tests. During a
Scottish witchcraft trial, the accused was ordered to say her
prayers. If she stumbled on any word, she would be admitting her
guilt as a witch, and two stumbles would result in her execution. (Opie
& Tatem, 1989). One woman, in a case observed and reported by Cotton
Mather, could not ". . . possibly avoid making nonsense of it [the
Lord's prayer]. . ." Unfortunately, it seems that the woman, a Goody
Glover, only spoke Irish. (Booth, 1975). Other tests, however, were
more deadly. Pliny wrote, in 77 AD, that an enchanter ". . . will
not sink in water, even though weighed down by their garments . . ."
(Opie & Tatem, 1989). The idea that a witch would not sink in water
was also reaffirmed by either King James I or Matthew Hopkins, who
claimed that "'. . . as ブch Perバns have renounced their Baptiノ by
Water, バ the Water refuテs to receive them.'" Some wise citizens of
Hartford, Connecticut, decided to test out this theory in 1662. They
took a couple accused of witchcraft and tossed them, bound, into a
river. They floated "'. . . after the Manner of a Buoy.'" (Drake,
1869). In the Town of Barkhamsted, in Hereford, England, in 1751, a
woman was ducked to determine her guilt or innocent. She died in the
trial, and a man (presumably one who had ducked her, or perhaps one
who had accused her) was executed as a result (Draek, 1869). There
is even a place that is, to this day, referred to as Witch Duck
pond, where the aforementioned Grace Sherwood was supposed to be
ducked in her trial of sinking or swimming. It was also believed
that forcing the accused's hands into boiling water was an adequate
test; if their hands had not become burned or scalded by the water,
obviously, their skin had been hardened by their visitations to
Hell. It was also believed that a witch could only cry three tears
from her left eye, and the accused were sometimes watched very
carefully, so they could not put spittle on their faces.
There were, of course, many things that the accused might have
done that constituted Witchery. In 1486, in a work entitled Malleus
Maleficarum, an individual was told that a witch could bewitch a
person's cow if she was lent some milk from that cow, and that the
only way to remove the hex was for the owner of the cow to borrow
butter from the witch and, slicing the butter into three parts and
invoking the name of the Holy Trinity, dump the butter into a churn
full of that cow's butter (Opie & Tatem, 1989). It was suggested in
a work entitled The Athenaeum that a witch, while putting an 'evil
eye' on someone, would stare into the coals of a fire and picture
the evil that he or she would bring to someone. Thus, it followed
that ". . . a person seen musing with his eyes fixed upon the fire
is looked upon with great suspicion." (Opie & Tatem, 1989). During a
Scottish witchcraft trial3, the witch was accused of cutting ". . .
the hair of Robert Munro, your brotheris heid, and plait the naillis
of his fingeris, and tais, socht be their devilisch meanis to half
cureit him of his seiknes." (Opie & Tatem, 1989). In a manuscript of
the Ely Diocesan Records11, a woman is accused of having said her
prayers backwards, much ". . . to her infame and greate disgrace . .
." (Opie & Tatem, 1989). Even native Americans were not immune to
the accusations of witchraft. In 1675, the General Court of
Connecticut, in a set of laws created for the government of the
Pequot tribe, proclaimed that "'Whoバver ドall Powau or vテ
Witchcraft, or any Worドip of the Devill, or any fals Gods, ドall be
convented and puniドed.'" (Drake, 1869). The Indians of New England
seemed to have even gotten their own name for the devil, listed in
1653, in the town of New Haven, as Hobbamock (Drake, 1869). One Hugh
Parsons, of Springfield, Connecticut, in the mid seventeenth
century, was accused of bewitching a pudding, sharpening saws at
night, making a light appear in a woman's room, torturing said
woman, appearing as a dog, bewitching Moxon's children, bewitching a
brick maker, causing a girl to have fits, drying up a cow, stealing
a knife without touching it, bewitching his own child, dreaming of a
fight with the devil, bewitching a trowel, bewitching a beer barrel,
bewitching another pudding, bewitching one Sarah Miller, bewitching
one Goody Stebbing, frightening horses, betwitching bags of meal,
and bewitching William Branch (Drake, 1869). One wonders how our
evil Mister Parsons had time to eat and sleep.
When the accused was found guilty of his or her crime, death
was usually the result. A 1642 statute in Connecticut Colony stated
clearly that "'Yf any Man or Woman be a Witch, that is, hath or
conブlteth with a Familiar Spirit, they ドall be put to death.'"
(Drake, 1869). Most of the trials described by Drake ended with the
hanging of the accused. Death, however, was not always the end for
one accused of consorting with the forces of Evil. In 1652, in the
New England town of Ipswich, ". . . a Man was テntenced to be whipt,
or to pay twenty Shillings 'for having familiarity with the Devil'".
It was determined that this man, a known magician, had seen the
devil in his dreams, and had been told to build a bridge over the
sea; unfortunately, he told others of his ludicrous dream, and they
accused him of consorting with the Devil (Drake, 1869).
In 1736, the English government determined that a trial of
someone for witchcraft was illegal. It was not until 1768, however,
that Rhode Island finally removed its sentence of execution for
witchery from its law books (Boothe, 1975). However, it was not until
1951 that the Witchcraft Act was finally repealed by the British
Parliament, to be replaced with the Fraudulent Mediums Act. However,
there is still a certain stigma surrounding witches and witchcraft
trials. Most people concerned about witches have either joined a
popular sub-culture or could rank themselves among the religious
zealots of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Televangelists
lead the 'crusade' against modern witches, going even so far as to
accuse games as teachers of witchcraft. Though we have succeeded
in condemning the paranoid murder of people based on such
superstitious accusations, we may never completely remove those
elements from society who can move a crowd to such atrocities.
1 The source is entitled Thousand Notable Things, of Sundry Sortes,
and was written by Thoman Lupton.
2 The work, entitled Denham Tracts, was authored by J. Hardy.
3 The work, entitled The Folk-Lore Record, was published in five
volumes, and was the journal of the Folklore Society.
4 In Holy Grail, a woman, accused of being a witch because of the
false nose and hat placed on her by villagers, was weighed against a
duck to see who was heavier, after a long comparative discussion.
She was discovered to weight the same, and was burned.
5 The source of the quote and paraphrase was from Criminal Trials
in Scotland, from AD 1488 to AD 1624 . . . compiled from the
original records and MSS, written by Robert Pitcairn. Both trials
(or perhaps 'the' is more appropriate, the references were under two
different headings) mentioned took place in 1590.
6 Matthew Hopkins was renowned in Essex, England, for his talents
as a witch-hunter. He was empowered by the crown to search out
witches and try them.
7 Mention is made of this case (which took place in 1712) in
Drake's work, but I have left it uncited, as the fact was mentioned
several times in class. The cite was located by Drake as an inlet of
Lynnhaven Bay, in Princess Anne county.
8 My novice attempts to translate the title of this work suggest
that it's title means Hammer of Ill-Deeds. Admittedly, this draws
little understanding on the exact purpose of the work. Certainly, a
more learned scholar of late Medieval and early Renaissance Latin
could provide a more apt translation. The original work is listed as
being written by Sprenger, J., & Kramer, H. and translated in 1928
by Montague Summers.
9 It is unclear exactly when this work was written. The authors
have it listed as 1846, but it is suggested that it may have been
written in 1299. The title, directly translated, means Athenian. The
work contained articles and correspondence on folklore, and it may
have been a periodical, and the mention of the number 1299 a volume
or issue number.
10 The manuscript, held by the University Library of Cambridge, is
11 The use of the word 'when' instead of 'if' was intentional. The
accused was rarely found innocent of witchcraft.
12 I am referring to the role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons, of
which I have thoroughly enjoyed (along with its fellow role-playing
games) for the last nine years. I am, admittedly, a bit biased
against those who would accuse me of witchery.
Booth, Sally Smith, The Witches of Early America. Hastings House:
New York, 1975.
Drake, Samual G, Annals of Witchcraft in New England. Boston;
1869. Reissued by Benjamin Bloom, Inc.: New York; 1967.
God, The Bible. Mt. Sinai; 1250 B.C. The books quoted were
translated and perhaps edited first by Moses, but have seen many
editors since. The version utilized for the quotes was the
Opie, Iona, and Tatem, Moira, Ed., A Dictionary of Superstitions.
Oxford University Press: Oxford; 1989.
Many sources were used in the
compilation of this work, and the
reader is referred to the endnotes for the original sources of this