“Witch!” yelled the crowd outside the courtroom. “Witch!”
They had evidence. Other convicted witches had said that this woman was one of them. Parishioners had stated that, when this witch was around, their children had fits. Others had seen her image appear to them. There was physical evidence too – ‘witch’s teats’, a mark on the body that was insensitive to touch. Today, we might call these moles, or birthmarks. In the witches homes the investigators found pots of ointment, and books. Sure proof of sorcery.
Prosecutors used the best scientific methods of the day to catch the witches. They baked a Witch Cake, made of urine from people afflicted by witchcraft, and fed it to a dog. As was well known at the time, when the dog ate the cake, the witch herself would feel pain, because of invisible particles she had sent to the afflicted which remained in the girls’ urine.
Still, not everyone was convinced. Some of the witches claimed that they were accused because of a previous family feud, or jealousy. Some court staff resigned over doubts about the validity of some evidence. Experts cautioned on taking the claims at face value. The accused attempted to publicly show that they weren’t witches. But the mob knew best.
Rumours spread like wildfire amongst the villagers. Bridget was a witch because she didn’t go to church. Someone else had seen Sarah’s spectre in her home. Fingers were pointed at likely suspects who fit some of the criteria of witches. Just being linked to another witch was proof enough.
Overall, 150 people were accused of witchcraft. Nineteen were executed, and five others died in prison.
We know better now.
We wouldn’t make the same mistakes again.