Torture of Witches
Fact or Fiction?
Only two winners left! **UPDATE: All winners chosen and prized given
Confessions brought on by torturing an accused witch were considered proof of guilt.
Even during the dark Burning Times, it was understood that most people would “confess” to anything given the right amount of torture. Not necessarily because of guilt, however, but because of a desperate need to stop the pain.
If “witches” confessed during torture, they were permitted a slight reprieve – a day, perhaps. They would then be taken back to court where the judge would read their confession back to them, permitting them the opportunity to repeat or reject it. Besides rereading their confession, the judge might also remind the accused that a “free confession” (one given without torture) might hold sway over his judgment, perhaps even convincing him to sentence them to a swift and more merciful death than, say, the stake or the wheel or the witch’s chair…
If the accused confessed this second time, while not in the throes of agony, their confession would be accepted. The court would then determine their sentence – whether it be that swift death, banishment, penance or some other punishment. Of course, though the accused were not being tortured at the time of their second questioning, that questioning took place under the clear threat of additional torture, which could be either the same or more extreme than what they had been subjected to before.
Perhaps one of the most interesting – and disturbing – aspects of the torture of accused witches was the understanding that witches could withstand great stresses, great pains and great indignities. Because of those abilities, harsher, crueler and more prolonged methods of torture were devised for use, specifically, on gaining confessions from these powerful, willful and stalwart witches.
If, for some reason, an accused did not confess during these extreme tortures, then they were, naturally, deemed guilty of witchcraft. However, if the pain grew too great and they did indeed confess – and follow that confession with a ‘free confession’ before the magistrate – then, again, they were deemed guilty of witchcraft.
It should be noted, too, that the clearly barbaric nature of the torture of accused witches was understood by those in power. Because of that, the torturer was given strict instructions to never look an accused in the eyes while administering these tortures. This was not due to concern that the tortured might bewitch or curse the torturer, but rather the concern that the torturer, upon seeing intense fear and agony in the eyes of the tortured, might do the unthinkable and fall prey to compassion… for a witch.
**Explanation of the images in this post –
Featured image at the top – interrogators are forcing scalding liquid down the throat of the woman stretched and bound since, at one point, it was believed that burning – by flame or otherwise – would loosen evil’s hold on the witch.
The second image is of an accused witch bound naked and forced to sit on a spiked chair made of iron, while a fire is set beneath her.
The final image is of an accused witch suspended by her wrists with heavy iron weights strapped to her ankles. In the image she is bared only to the waist. She, no doubt, would have been stripped bare and hung this way until the pain grew too great and she confessed.
These methods of torture were tame compared to others but were NOT among the methods used in Salem Village.