The signs of being a witch were widely shared and carefully watched during the periods of witch hysteria that occurred throughout history. Even during the Renaissance, widely held as a period of intellectual englightenment, those thought to be pagan witches found themselves harassed, imprisoned and executed.
In the ancient Celitc world, witches were valuable members of the community, because they studied medicinal herbs and understood the changes in the seasons. With the rise of Christianity, persecution of perceived witches became the norm. Prior to this time, witches' brooms and witches' hats were everyday objects used by pagan witches and ordinary people. Witch hysteria converted the broom, pointed hat and cauldron into fearsome objects of the occult and possible signs of being a witch.
The most notable campaigns against witches were the witch trials that happened in Europe from the middle ages to the 1700s, and the notorious Salem Witch Trials. Witch hysteria grew primarily due to Christians mistakenly believing that pagan witches were somehow consorting with the Devil. They believed that witches were evil and dangerous, as well as a threat to Christian people. They were wrong on all counts, and many innocent lives were lost as a result. The so-called signs of being a witch were unreliable, at best.
Is It a Witch?
One of the ways the Christians believed witches could be identified or possible signs of being a witch was by the appearance of certain marks on the body. Midwives were brought in to strip down the accused and examine their bodies for black spots, which were sure to be a sign of the Devil.
Another popular witch-detection method was to make the accused submit to The Lord's Prayer Test, in which the person had to recite the Lord's Prayer without making any mistakes. It was believed that only the innocent could recite it all the way through without error, as surely those possessed by the Devil could never manage to recite holy words.
One of the most controversial methods used to determine possible signs of being a witch was The Floating Test. The accused was tied up and tossed into a body of water. It was believed that if a person was a witch, she would float; if the person was innocent, she would sink. If a person was "innocent" and did not float, it was likely that she would drown. If a person was "guilty" and stayed afloat, she would be put to death for being a witch. There was no winning with this test, although the people of the time took solace in the idea that the innocent people who drowned would be welcomed to heaven.
Witch hunters employed various torture methods to try to elicit a confession out of the accused. Methods such as pressing, dunking and the use of torture devices such the Rack, Iron Maiden and Bootikens were so horrific that many innocent accused would confess to witchcraft simply to end the torture.
Many subjects died as a result of the injuries inflicted by these torture methods. Those that lived and confessed found themselves sentenced to death by hanging or burning.
We all know what a witch wears and uses, but how did these things come to be associated with witches? The answers lie in some well-known works of fiction.
Afraid of witches? Learning the facts about witches will help you separate the reality of the Wiccan religion from the scary stories told in fiction.
How do famous witches in history stack up against the real thing? These examples will show you how far fictional accounts are from the reality of modern Wicca.