Throw her into the water

The pricking and ducking of witches by professional witch finders was a staple element of early modern culture.  Suspected witches were tortured in a variety of ways, and the results provided irrefutable proof to their accusers that demonic activity and supernatural forces were at large within communities.  Methods included inserting needles into the body, the use of hot pincers, sexual humiliation, and ducking.  If found guilty, women were usually executed, either at the stake, or at the gallows. Of course it was not only women who were suspected of and tried for witchcraft. Men were also persecuted, but the cases presented yesterday, and the account below, on the ways to discover a witch from the mid 17th century, are primarily concerned with women.

Now as touching the triall and discovery of a Witch there are divers opinions holden.  As some by the pricking of a sharpe knife, naile, or other pointed instrument under the stoole or seate on which the Witch sitteth (for thereon shee is not able to sit or abide) others by scratching, or drawing of blood from the Witch, by either party that is grieved, or the next of blood to the same. And others by fire; as by burning any relique or principall ornament belonging to the suspected Witch, which shall no sooner bee on fire, but the Witch will presently come running to behold it.  And of these, trials have beene made both in Hartfordshire, Northamptonshire, and Huntingtonshire.

 Witch pricking needles

But the onely assured and absolute perfect way to finde her out, is to take the Witch or party suspected either to some Mildam, Pond, Lake or deepe River, and stripping her to her smocke, tie her armes acrosse, onely let her legs have free liberty; then fastening a rope about her middle which with the helpe of by standers may be ever ready to save her from drowning (in case she sinke) throw her into the water, and if shee swimme aloft and not sincke, then draw her foorth, and have some honest and discreet women neere, which may presently search her for the secret marke of Witches, as Teates, blood-moales, moist warts, and the like.  Which found, then the second time (binding her right thumbe to her left toe, and her left thumbe to her right toe) throw her into the water againe (with the assistance of the former rope to save her, if shee should chance to sincke) and if then shee swim againe and doe not sincke you may most assuredly resolve she is a Witch.  And of this, many pregnant and true proofes have beene made, as namely by one Master Enger of Bedfordshire, upon the person of Mary Sutton (a notable Witch) whom he cast into his Mildam at Milton Mills, and found the effect as hath beene declared, and for her Witchcraft was there condemned and executed, and as this so I could recite a world of others in the same nature.  But the trueth is so manifest that it needeth no flourish to adorne it.

An extant ducking stool can be seen here
For more on witchcraft see some of my posts here.
And for further reading see my Useful Reading

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved


  • June 12, 2010 - 2:50 pm | Permalink

    I think probably the former. It is an addendum to a publication describing some sensational witchcraft trials, so clearly designed to titillate the reader.

  • June 12, 2010 - 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Rather creepy.

    Was this written for infotainment, or as a DIY manual for would be witch-finders?

  • Comments are closed.

    All original content on these pages is fingerprinted and certified by Digiprove

    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

    Join other followers:

    © Shakespeare's England 2009-2014