Archiver > ENG-ESSEX-WITCHES > 2002-12 > 1039444977

From: Mike Gallafent <>
Subject: [ESSEX WITCHES] Tests for Witches
Date: Mon, 9 Dec 2002 14:42:57 +0000
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In-Reply-To: <10c.1bd9920b.2b25f746@aol.com>

The following was taken from 'Witchcraft in Essex' by William Gilbert,
an article found in the transactions of the Essex Arch. Society, New
Series, Vol. XI, Colchester 1911. Subscribers to this list may find the
extract illuminating.

'The ordeal by swimming was one of the chief tests for witches.
The victim was stripped naked and bound with her right thumb to her left
toe, and her left thumb to her right toe, and was then cast into the
pond or river. If she sank, she was frequently drowned; if she swam, she
was declared guilty without any further evidence required, and so
escaped drowning to be hanged or burned. Truly a comfortable
The other modes of examination embraced inspecting their bodies
for private marks, requiring them to say the Lord's Prayer, weighing
them against the Church Bible (if the book were the heavier they were
condemned), and forcing them to weep (they being generally supposed to
shed only three tears, and those from the left eye). Bell, in his
'Discourse of Witchcraft' (1795), holds this to be a sure symptom. There
were several other so-called tests equally absurd, and many very

In the MS of the diary of John Bufton of Coggeshall there are the
following entries:

July 13 1699 The widow Comon was put into the river to see if she would
sink, because she was suspected of being a witch,- and she did not sink
but swim

And she was tried again July 19th , and then she swam again, and did not

July 24 1699 The widow Comon was tryed a third time by putting her into
the river, and she swam and did not sink.

Dec. 27 1699 The widow Comon, that was counted a witch, was buried.

The Rev. E.L. Cutts, B.A., who edited the above, remarked: "It is
somewhat wonderful that widow Comon had the opportunity of going through
the ordeal three times, and then of dying in her bed; for she lived in
the age of witch-burning."

To give some scale of the custom, some 60 witches of Essex were hanged
in one year.

Mike Gallafent - Publisher - CD 'Strangers, Foreigners & Aliens'
- CD 'Early Inhabitants of Kent'
- CD 'Middlesex Oath Rolls 1641-2'

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