Thirteen Days of Halloween: Witch Hunts in America

James R. CoffeyStarred Page By James R. Coffey, 19th Oct 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

As most everyone knows today, during the three centuries of witch hunts in Salem and in many other parts of the American colonies, hundreds of innocent men, women, and even children, were put to death. This article discusses this dark period of American history and the treatment accused witches were forced to endure.

The accusation

According to official documents available to the public, once the accusation of “witch” was made, a process began during which the accused was confined and tortured, and it was only a matter of time before they were ultimately strangled, drown, or burned to death. (Strangulation was typically denied politically-connected witches as it was considered a more humane way to die, their deaths intended to dissuade the practice of witchcraft by others in positions of authority.)

Once branded a “witch,” tests were administered to determine guilt and allow the accused the opportunity to confess. Among these tests were swimming, strappado, thumbscrews, the boot, and the Black Virgin. (These methods represent by far the more humane tactics used to extract confession, the more severe involving the tearing off of women’s breasts, penetration of women’s anal cavities, and spreading of the vagina using metal torture devices designed especially for this purpose.)

The methods

Swimming meant that the accused was tied up crosswise (hand to foot) and thrown into a body of water. If the individual sank, he or she was believed to be innocent. If they floated (as all bodies do when the breath is held), it was proof that they had mated with the devil, and thus, god had rejected them.

Strappado was a method commonly used which consisted of tying the accused arms behind their head, hanging weights to their feet, and hoisting them into the air several feet. They would hang there until they confessed or their body became lifeless.

Weighing was a process during which the accused was weighed against a Bible or holy relic. If the scales did not balance, they were proven guilty and scheduled for execution because god would have balanced the accused's weight if they were pure of heart.

Pricking was an ordeal in which the accusers chose places on the witches’ bodies they believe had been touched by the devil--and thus insensitive to pain. These places generally included face, breasts, throat, vagina, navel, inner thighs, and anus. When the accused would cry out in agony, they would be admonished for lying, feigning pain.

The boot was a heavy boot, often armored with metal, which was used to repeatedly kick the accused between the legs until they confessed.

The Black Virgin was a German invention which was essentially a hinged, life-size coffin-like container with spikes protruding through the inside--long enough to piece the skin, but not long enough to kill--which would be slowly closed upon the accused witch until he or she confessed.

As official documents affirm, the vast majority of accused witches were women who were routinely stripped naked (customarily in plain view of the townspeople), and subjected to a series of increasingly more painful devices until confession was achieved. The drawing of blood or physical mutilation was deemed a worthwhile price to pay to discover the hiding place of the devil.

The bigger picture

Contrary to popular belief, the treatment of accused witches in England was considerably less horrid than here in America. There, witches were treated like all common criminals, hanged, not burned at the stake. Although witches were said to be able to ruins crops, cause the death of babies, or bring plagues, the practice of witchcraft in England was a civil crime, not religious. Prosecuted for “evil deeds,” not heresy or anarchy as they were in America, they had to be fairly tried and punished under civil law which had strong constraints against torture. And while the “water ordeal” and “pricking” were sometimes used in extreme cases involving unexplained death, severe methods that were prevalent in Catholic countries where the Inquisition held court were never used. Imposition of the Inquisition in America brought a degree of torture and inhumane treatment rarely seen in England.

Modern witches

While the practice of witchcraft is no longer prohibited by law in America, and is in fact protected under the U.S. Constitution, most practitioners of the craft, as it has come to be known by modern witches, continue to gather in secret. American’s witch hunting times still seem too near to trust American sensibilities to allow true freedom to follow one’s chosen spiritual path. And in that many individuals have in recent years been imprisoned in the United States from charges relating to their religious beliefs, one can’t say when another “witch hunt” may arise.

Tags

Anarchy, Heresy, Inquisition, The Boot, Wicca, Wiccan, Wiccan Beliefs, Witch, Witch Burning, Witch Hunters, Witch Hunts, Witch Torture, Witch Trials, Witchcraft, Witches, Witches Transfer, Witch_Trials

Meet the author

author avatar James R. Coffey
I am founder and head writer for James R. Coffey Writing Services and Resource Center @ http://james-r-coffey-writing-services.blogspot.com/ where I offer a variety of writing and research services including article composition, ghostwriting, editing...(more)

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Comments

author avatar Jerry Walch
19th Oct 2010 (#)

A very interesting article. A great read.

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author avatar Szabo Gabor
19th Oct 2010 (#)

I shock again and again when I read this kind of stories. How can someone tortured another person without any feeling?

"Witches" were innocent people who experted to herbs and used it for healing. But the Church didn't understand them and thought they are connection with devils and tortured them.

Practically everybody died, who was said to a witch. If he/she didn't confess that's why, if he/she confessed that's why. Poor people...

So I think this was one of the most dark period of the mankind.

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author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
19th Oct 2010 (#)

such sick cruelty, and in the name of Christianity a disgrace.

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author avatar Denise O
19th Oct 2010 (#)

Wonderful article! Ouch and I mean, Ouch! On the first section.
Just a beautiful page to click on. Great job!
Congrats on the star, it was well deserved.
Thank you for sharing.:)

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author avatar aden kendroemen
19th Oct 2010 (#)

Props, Mr. Coffey, I am an avid horror fan, but there is no vampire, werewolf, ghost, or zombie, more frightening than misguided belief.

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author avatar James R. Coffey
19th Oct 2010 (#)

Thanks, all! I share your sentiments.

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author avatar ppruel
19th Oct 2010 (#)

I love the tale. It seemed I was watching a movie thriller with a very detailed storylines. Great!

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author avatar rajaryanme
20th Oct 2010 (#)

A great write here. Hats off to the Author.

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author avatar grey
29th Oct 2010 (#)

I'm probably addicted to witches now Mr. Coffey. hahaXD
i've never really heard of real life witches. so there are witches in america even until now? i guess we do have witches here but we call them by other names. sometimes they are even considered prophets or men/women of god.

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author avatar James R. Coffey
29th Oct 2010 (#)

Mr. Grey, there are (probably) more practicing witches in American today than at any time in US history.

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author avatar grey
30th Oct 2010 (#)

Mr. Coffey, first and foremost, i am female. hahaXD
ooh, i guess more and more people are looking for options.

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author avatar James R. Coffey
30th Oct 2010 (#)

Apologies, Grey. Screen names are impossible to guess!
History shows that people have always looked for options. Just that sometimes their quest is more public.

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author avatar grey
31st Oct 2010 (#)

hahaXD it's ok mr. coffey. thanks for these informative articles:)

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