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On the Torture of Witches



If the witch was obdurate, the first and it was said the most effectual method of obtaining confession was by what was termed 'waking her.' An iron bridle or hoop was bound across her face, with four prongs which were thrust into her mouth. It was fastened behind to the wall by a chain in such a manner that the victim was unable to lie down; and in this position she was sometimes kept for several days, while men were constantly with her to prevent her closing her eyes for a moment in sleep. Partly in order to effect this purpose, and partly to dicover the insensible mark which was the sure sign of a witch, long pins were thrust into her body. At the same time - as it was a saying in Scotland that a witch would never confess while she could drink - excessive thirst was added to her tortures. Some persons, it is said, have been waked five nights; one, it is said, even for nine.

The physical and mental suffering of such a process was sufficient to overcome the resolution of many, and to distract the understanding of not a few. But other and perhaps worse tortures were in reserve. The three principal tortures that were habitually applied were the pennywinks, the boots, and the caschielawis. The first was a kind of thumbscrew; the second was a frame in which the leg was inserted, and where it was broken by wedges driven in by a hammer; the third was also an iron frame for the leg, which was from time to time heated over a brazier. Fire matches were sometimes applied to the body of the victim.

We read in a contemporary legal register of one man who was kept for forty-eight hours in 'vehement torture' in the caschielawis; and of another who remained in the same frightful machine for eleven days and eleven nights, whose legs were broken daily for fourteen days in the boots, and who was so scourged that the whole skin was torn from his body.


From Psychology of Salem Witchcraft , by George M. Beard (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1882).



This account is from a 19th century book attempting to illuminate the Salem witch hysteria of 1692 with its modern scientific methods. What is horrifying in the account provided is not the element of witches, but the extent to which innocent persons have suffered throughout the ages.

None of the methods described here were used in Salem, but were apparently quite popular in Europe.