15 Bizarre and Cruel Ways People Tested Witches

The mass hysteria that gripped people during the numerous witch trials that took place in our history is still difficult to understand. Equally incomprehensible is some of the weird ways they tested witches. One of the main sources for practicing witch hunters was a book titled Malleus Maleficarum, which translates to "Hammer of the Witches." The book outlines numerous ways to identify and prosecute witches.

The ways witches were tested ranged from the bizarre to the cruel, and included having their victims scratch them until they bled, baking their victims' urine into a cake, and being asked to perfectly recite a prayer. While these witch trial tests might sound absurd to us today, for many men and women, the outcomes of these tests would determine whether they lived or perished.

Photo: Joseph E. Baker / Wikimedia Commons

  • Their Victims' Urine Was Baked Into Cakes And Fed To Dogs

    Their Victims' Urine Was Baked Into Cakes And Fed To Dogs
    Photo: Robert Calef / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    One way to identify a witch was to bake a cake with rye and the urine of a witch’s victim and then feed the cake to a dog. There are differing accounts on how witch cake was used to identify witches. 

    If the dog began to exhibit symptoms similar to that of the victim, often that indicated that witchcraft was at work. The dog would then identify the witch. 

  • They Were Dunked Into Freezing Water

    They Were Dunked Into Freezing Water
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    A ducking stool was a medieval torture device that was primarily used to punish and humiliate women. The contraption resembled a seesaw with a chair affixed to one end. The device was placed along the edge of a river and the offender, who would be strapped into the chair, was repeatedly plunged into the cold river water.

    Witch hunters would use the device to coerce confessions from the accused. This method was later simplified - accusers forwent the device and just tossed suspected witches into the water to see if they would drown.

  • They Were Bound And Thrown Into A Body Of Water

    They Were Bound And Thrown Into A Body Of Water
    Photo: Wellcome Images / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-4.0

    Probably the ultimate example of a no-win situation, some accused witches had their hands and feet bound, and then they were thrown into a body of water.

    It was believed that if a person was a witch, the water would reject them and spit them back out. However, if they were innocent, they would drown

  • They Were Pressed With Heavy Stones

    They Were Pressed With Heavy Stones
    Photo: Henrietta D. Kimball / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    This method was used to manipulate accused witches into admitting their guilt. The witches in question had a board laid on top of them and their accusers placed heavy rocks on the board until they either confessed or they were literally crushed.

    Giles Corey, one of the few men who was accused, met his end in this unfortunate manner.

  • They Were Scratched By Their Victims Until They Bled

    They Were Scratched By Their Victims Until They Bled
    Photo: Thomkins H. Matteson / Wikipedia / Public Domain

    Some of the accused were tested by being scratched by their supposed victims. It was believed that those cursed by a witch would experience relief if they scratched the person responsible for their affliction.

    Victims would scratch the witch in question until they drew blood, and if their symptoms improved, they knew they had found their witch.

  • They Were Told To Pray - And It Had To Be Perfect

    They Were Told To Pray - And It Had To Be Perfect
    Photo: John W. Ehninger / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Accused witches were asked to recite the Lord’s Prayer - and to recite it perfectly. This meant perfect pronunciation - no stuttering, no twitching, no shaking.

    Real witches were known to be unable to recite the prayer perfectly - that is, without skipping a word or stuttering. Even passing this test was not always sufficient to reach an acquittal, however. George Burroughs was executed in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, even after passing the Lord's Prayer test.