Pointy hat? Check! Warty nose? Check! Broomstick in the car park? Check! But in times gone by, there were far more 'interesting' ways to work out who was a witch...
1. Sink or swim
Probably the best-known test to see if someone was a witch was the swimming test
Basically, if you found someone you suspected of being an old crone, you’d drag them to a pond and chuck them in. If they sank, they’re were innocent (and probably dead) but if they floated they were guilty…and quickly executed. Lose-lose, then!
2. Exceedingly good witch cakes
A potential new round for the Great British Bake Off. (Not that we’re accusing Mary Berry of anything, you understand.) Any person suspected of falling under the spell of a witch would have a sample of their urine taken then mixed with rye meal and baked into a lovely cake. This was then fed to a dog in the hope that it’d then also fall under the spell of the evil witch and reveal the she-devil’s name. Ruff justice, perhaps?
3. Tit for tat
A witch-hunter would strip their victim and publicly check for blemishes or unusual birthmarks that were thought to have been made when the old hag formed her pact with the Devil. The tiniest of blemishes was usually all the proof the witch-hunter needed. Ginger, freckly types, take note.
When there was a witch-hunt on, villagers would sometimes cut off or burn any strange marks – but sadly the scars left behind were considered signs of sorcery!
An extra nipple was the ultimate sign of a witch. It was thought she used it to suckle her helper – usually an animal like a black cat. (And bear in mind that cats have very rough tongues.) If you’ve ever heard the expression ‘cold as a witch’s teat’, this is where it came from, as the extra boob-bit was thought to have no feeling.
4. A little prick
If no obvious signs of witchcraft were found, the hunter would resort to pricking the victim with a needle. As witches’ marks were insensitive to pain and wouldn’t bleed, any freckles or spots were prodded and poked until one was found that didn’t bleed or hurt.
Pricking was common practice throughout Europe, but was most prevalent in England and Scotland. Highly paid prickers would cheat and use blunt needles or a special tool with a spring-loaded needle so the suspect wouldn’t feel anything, thus proving their guilt. Did you feel that? No?! WITCH! WITCH! WITCH!
5. Down on your knees!
It was thought that saucy sorcery-types were unable to read out loud. So suspects would be made to read the Lord’s Prayer in front of their accusers without making a single mistake. Illiteracy or nerves were no defence – any errors were viewed as proof that the speaker was a servant of Satan.
Even a successful recital didn’t guarantee an acquittal… During the Salem Witch Trials, George Burroughs was tested to see if he was a magician but flawlessly recited the prayer from the gallows just before his execution. The performance was dismissed as a Devil’s trick, and he was hanged anyway. Nice! (No, noose.)
6. Weigh to go
The potential evil-doer was weighed against a bunch of Bibles. If she was heavier, she was guilty. Oh, and if she was lighter, she was guilty. But if she weighed exactly the same, she was innocent. What were the chances of that? Fat chance!
7. Talk to the animals
Witches would keep animals to help them with their spelling.
While a suspected magician was awaiting trial and locked in a cell, an observer would secretly watch to see if any beasts or creepy-crawlies entered. If so much as a rat or mouse – or even a beetle – crept in, it was believed the witch had summoned them with her powers.
8. Stone the crones
More of a torture than a test this one, but if it procured an admission of guilt then, hey – result! The accused was forced to lie down and then had heavy stones placed on them one at a time until they were either crushed to death or admitted they were a witch…