The different methods used to find out whether someone was a witch

Waking was used, and as the name suggests, the accused witch would be prevented from sleeping. In theory, this would prevent the devil or his imps from suckling the witch; in practice, it ensured the accused would be exhausted and more willing to confess to anything in order to get some sleep.

The accused were also walked, often as part of waking. This prevented them from sleeping, but also acted as a form of torture, walking barefoot for hours on hard floors would create enormous discomfort that would encourage confession.

Pricking was used as a definitive test for witchcraft. First, the accused would be closely examined for any sign of the devil’s mark or a likely teat for him to suckle. In reality, these might have been moles, warts, skin tags, birth marks or scars. Anything resembling a third nipple, irrespective of where it was found on the body, would then be pricked with a special blade or bodkin. When the devil’s mark was pricked, if the accused felt pain and bled, then innocence was declared. But if no pain was felt and no blood flowed, the accused would be found guilty of witchcraft and executed accordingly.

There are many theories attached to witch pricking. The lack of pain or blood might be to do with the witch pricker targeting parts of the body that are insensate to pricking. There is also evidence of witch-finders forcing people to bend double, making the blood rush to their heads, which might make a mole on the leg less likely to bleed. It seems that this technique was favoured by the Newcastle witch-finder.

Another explanation (and one which I prefer and use in my novel, Widdershins) is that witch prickers used doctored blades where the blade could retract into the handle (as with the middle pricker in the image above). In this way, the witch finder was free to choose which witch to find guilty and which witch to set free.

Image Source: (public domain)

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