The belief in witches existed for centuries
before the trials at Salem. Over time, a
considerable body of folklore developed
about how to identify witches. A
contemporary writer explains the most
Perhaps the reason witch-hunting has gotten a bad
name is that some practitioners used rather crude
methods to separate the guilty from the innocent.
The notorious judges of the Holy Roman Empire,
for example, simply applied thumbscrews until the
unfortunate suspects confessed. And during the
English witch craze in the 1640s, the Rev. John
Gaule recorded that 'every old woman with a
wrinkled face, a furr'd brow, a hairy lip, a gobber
tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice, or a
scolding tongue ... is not only suspected, but
pronounced for a witch." (Sexism was regrettably
widespread among Gaule's colleagues, even
though both men and women could be witches.)
But more discriminating European witch hunters
used far more refined techniques, as described in
early lawbooks, manuals and court records.
1. Devil's Marks and Witches' Teats According to
many witch-hunting guides, it is best to start
your examination by shaving the suspect's
body and examining it for devil's marks. These
are the spots where Satan brands his followers
to seal their pact with him. An English jurist in
1630 described' them as "sometimes like a
blew spot, or a red spot, like a Fleabiting.” One
problem: In the vermin-ridden 17th century,
such blemishes were hardly uncommon. So the
witch hunters devised an ingenious solution.
The Devil, they reasoned, would not allow
anything of his to be harmed. Therefore, they
pricked any suspicious marks with a long silver
pin. If the spot didn't bleed or was insensitive
to pain, the suspect was a witch.
English experts believed witches often had
extra nipples that they used to suckle demons.
Matthew Hopkins, a witch hunter under Oliver
Cromwell, exposed one woman as a witch
when she was "found to have three...