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 victim’s 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 died.
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. In other accounts, the witch would begin to experience pain as the dog consumed the cake.
A ducking stool was a medieval torture device which 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.
Probably the ultimate example of a no-win situation, some accused witches had their hands and feet bound along with rocks to weigh them down, 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 back them out. However, if they were innocent, they would drown. Knowing that their death would clear them of all charges must have been a great source of comfort.
When we say the accused were "pressed," we don’t only mean for answers. 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 to death. Giles Corey, one of the few men who was accused, met his end in this unfortunate manner.