Witchcraft Beliefs and Superstitions
The Witches' SabbatThe witches sabbat was an event symbolizing the inversion of the traditional Christian worship service. It would traditionally include sexual acts, flying through the air to arive at the specific designation, and the ritual of kissing the Devil on his arse. A feast would also be included, often with the main course including the flesh of innocent children.
Since witchcraft was an inversion, we must also look at other forms of inversion such as festivals where misrule is allowed to prevail to further understand the context surrounding witchcraft. "Misrule was an ambivalent cultural form that was normally integrative but always contained the potential to disrupt, especially when circumstances rendered the structures of authority unstable and vulnerable to challenge." (Clark, 25)
Testing for Innocence
Scratching a WitchVictims believed that if they came into contact with the afflicting witch and scratched her somewhere on her person, enough to draw her blood than it would reverse the spell or act of maleficia that was enacted by the witch. The idea of scratching a witch follows the emphasis placed upon blood in that if you made a witch bleed, than you let out some of her power.
Kathleen McLuskie proposes that "the comic treatment of rural superstition undermines the belief in witches but it replaces that belief with the tradition of misogynist satire which locates the evil of witchcraft in the evil of women."(McLuskie, 72)
Burning the Thatch on their RoofAccusers believed that one could take the thatch off the roof of a supposed witch's house and burn it, if she really was a witch, she would appear. Goodcole described it as, "an old and ridiculous custom…which was to pluck the thatch of her house and to burn it, and it being so burned the author of such mischief should presently then come." (Corbin and Sedge, 113) Calling it an old and ridiculous custom did not make it any less popular among the lower classes.
Swimming a Witch
Another test of a witches innocence was the swim test. If the witch was pure of heart than the water would accept her and she would sink to the bottom. If she was guilty, the water would deny her and she would rise to the top. Unfortunately the human body naturally floats in water, causing most women to float. Also, if the woman sank, and was therefore innocent, she would eventually drown anyway.
Copyright © 2007 Shannon L. Meyer, University of Nebraska, Lincoln