Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Swimming Witches - Proof by Death of Guilt or Innocence

In Englnd witches were hanged, but on the Continent they were burned.
Public Domain,

Thousands of innocent women, as well as a number of men, suffered horrific deaths after being branded as witches in 16th and 17th century Britain.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the practice of "swimming" to catch witches was a no-win situation for many women, who may only have offended a malicious neighbour, or been branded a "scold" by their husbands. It is also claimed that twenty-five per cent of accusations of witchcraft were made by children informing on their relatives. It can be imagined how terrified mothers, aunts and grandmothers must have been of punishing the children too harshly.

If a woman sank and drowned, her innocence was proven as she was hauled out, dead, by a rope around her waist. Many did drown, so that their names were cleared in death. If a woman floated and was deemed guilty, she would be brought to trial to be hanged or burned at the stake.

Generally, women in Britain were hanged, while those on the continent were burned.
Witches, it was claimed, appealed for the intervention of evil spirits, performing diabolical rites on the Witches' Sabbath, which parodied the Mass and the practices of the Orthodox Christian Church, They repudiated Jesus and the sacraments in their pursuit of the Prince of Darkness, who rewarded them with supernatural powers.
Burning and Pricking of Innocent Women
The usual method of burning witches was to tie the condemned woman to a stake and surround her with faggots so her death agonies were hidden from sight by a wall of flames. Death may have come from shock or from burned lungs as she inhaled the smoke.
"Pricking" was another way of identifying witches, because people believed that witches bore the mark of the devil on their body, and that this area was impervious to pain. To this end, no part of the body was considered sacred, and the accused had to endure being stripped naked and brutally exposed to pain and humiliation.
30,000 to 50,000 witches were executed between the fifteenth and the nineteenth centuries by a number of grisly methods, burning, strangulation, beheading or hanging. Most of the persecuted were women, but around twenty per cent were men. Almost all of their confessions were extracted by torture.
The "Swimming" of Old Nell Garlinge
In Coldred, a small village of the outskirts of the Port of Dover in Kent, the village pond was regularly used for swimming during witch trials to establish guilt by whether the accused floated or sank. In the 1640s, an elderly woman, Nell Garlinge, was tightly bound, her thumbs and toes being tied crosswise, and then she was hurled into the water. Nell drowned, and was pronounced innocent! The village pond where Nell and other poor women met their fate still exists, although, fortunately, the only swimming taking place today is by the ducks.
Nell's tragic story appears on Coldred's historic notice board by the pond.
In 1736, the law against witchcraft was repealed, although the witch-hunts continued. The last recorded witch to be hanged in England was Alice Molland in 1686.
Folklore from historic plaques, word of mouth, Coldred, Kent.
This Sceptred Isle, Christopher Lee, Penguin Books, 1997.

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