and compiled by George Knowles
The marks of a witch has often been confused with the Devil’s mark and
throughout history mistakenly used interchangeably. While both were indicative marks of a witch’s supposed
allegiance with the devil, their physical characteristics are quite different.
The witch’s mark is generally described as a natural physical
abnormality, most commonly in the form of an extra breast (polymastia) or extra
nipple (polythelia), the latter being more common in men rather than in women
and a phenomenon that occurs regularly in a small percentage of the population.
On the other hand, the Devil’s mark (stigmata diaboli) sometimes called
a Devil’s seal (sigillum diaboli) was commonly a scar, birthmark or other
blemish on the skin.
During the witch hysteria of the 17th century such people as Matthew
Hopkins the infamous Witch Finder General, plus others before and after him in
their efforts to persecute witches, used the ignorance and fear of the general
public to turn such natural phenomena to their own advantage.
It soon became the case that any natural physical malformation, a wart,
mole, spot, fleshy skin protuberance or discoloration of the skin would be taken
as mark of a witch, and most particularly if it secreted liquid or blood.
God forbid if you were found with a bleeding tumour, piles, ulcers or
In the early sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, particularly in
England, it was presumed that any such protuberances or teats were used by a
witch to suckle imps and familiars, ‘the agents of the devil’, and when
found on a person it was taken as a sure sign and condemnation of witchcraft.
Similarly, it was thought that the devil sealed his compact with witches
by leaving them some mark of identification on the body, hidden in some secret
place. Therefore, anyone found with
unusual scaring, birthmarks or even tattoos were equally suspect and condemned.
As a result, many innocent people were tried, found guilty of witchcraft
After the early writers on witchcraft had established the main features
and principles of the heresy of witchcraft, the main being Jacob Sprenger and
Heinrich Kramer in their Malleus Maleficarum (first published in 1486).
They were followed in the late 15th century through to the early 17th
century by a whole host of “authoritative” writers calling themselves
Demonologists. In their own books,
these demonologist refined and deepened the now accepted theories on witchcraft,
and by doing so helped to inflame and spread the fear of it throughout the land.
In addition to being writers, many were men of importance and influence:
lawyers, theologians and even trial judges, who had an unrivalled
opportunity to see their theories put in to practice.
The most notable of these writers were: Lambert Daneau – Les Sorciers
(1564) later translated into English as A Dialogue of Witches (1575), Jean Bodin
– De is Démonomanie des sorciers (Paris, 1580), Peter Binsfeld – Tractatus
de Confessionibus Maleficorum et Sagarum (Treves, 1589), Nicholas Remy – De Démonolatreiae
(Lyons, 1595), Martin Antoine Del Rio – Disquisitionum Magicarum (Louvain,
1599), Henri Boguet – Discours des sorciers (Lyons, 1602), Francesco-Maria
Guazzo – Compendium Maleficarum (Milan, 1608), Pieierre de Lancre – Tableau
de L’inconstance des mauvais anges (Paris, 1612) and Ludovico Maria Sinistrari
– De Demonialitate (1700).
Lesser writers of note soon imitated their writings and a whole plethora
of books documenting arguments, anecdotes, trial reports and personal
experiences appeared on the scene. Frequent
reprinting of these books ensured their continuing popularity and many local
types of councils; judges and witch-finders used them as a guide to determine
“who and what constituted a witch”. One such writer was Michael Dalton who wrote in his Country
Justice (London 1618, 1630, 1647): “Their
said familiars hath some bigg, or little teat, borne by the witch upon their
body, and in some secret place, where he sucketh there”.
Of the devil’s mark he wrote: “being
pricked it will not bleed, and be often in their secretest parts, and therefore
require diligent and careful search”.
During the Hopkins hysteria many of the women he had taken, after
depriving them of sleep for several nights and forcing them to keep moving by
walking them up and down until their feet were bloody from the rough stone
floors of their stinking cells, in near states of total exhaustion they soon
confessed and confirmed Daltons theories. So
it was at the Suffolk trials of 1645 that - “Margaret, wife of Bayts, of
Framlingham, after two or three days walking, confessed that when she was at
work she felt a thing come upon her leg and go into her secret parts, and nipped
her in her secret parts, where her marks were found.
And at another time when she was in the churchyard, she felt a thing nip
her again in those parts, and further that she had two teats and they might be
made at once sucking”.
Of the devil’s mark, the demonologist Lambert Daneau in his A Dialogue
of Witches wrote: “There is not a single witch upon whom the devil doth not
set some note or token of his power and prerogative over them.
Judges should always, when suspects are presented to them, pull out hair
and shave, where occasion shall serve, all the body over, lest haply the mark
may lurk ender the hair in any place”. Ludovico
Maria Sinistrari in his De Demonialitate similarly believed that:
“The demon imprints on the witches some mark, especially on those whose
constancy he suspects. That mark,
however, is not always of the same shape or figure; sometimes it is the likeness
of a hare, sometimes like a toad’s foot, sometimes a spider, a puppy or a
dormouse. It is imprinted on the
most secret parts of the body, with men, under the eyelids or perhaps under the
armpits, or on the lips or shoulders, the anus, or elsewhere, with women, it is
generally on the breasts or private parts.
Now, the stamp which makes these marks is simply the devil’s talon”.
In modern times we would expect a wart or corn not to bleed and to be
insensitive to the prick of a needle, likewise an old scar might also become
insensitive, but in the 16th and 17th centuries such insensitivity proved
witchery. Francesco-Maria Guazzo in
his Compendium Maleficarum, relates such an incident at Brindisi in November
1500: “When Claudia Bogarta was
about to be tormented, she was shaved to the skin, as the custom is, so that a
scar was revealed on top of her bare brow.
The inquisitor then suspecting the truth, namely, that it was a mark made
by the devil’s claw, which had before been covered by hair, ordered a pin to
be thrust deep into it. And when
this was done, she neither felt any pain, nor was the slightest drop of blood
seen at the wound. Yet, she
persisted to deny the truth, saying that the insensitivity was caused a long
time ago by a blow from a stone. Later
she was tortured until she confessed”.
Many records of witch trials carried out in England, Scotland and New
England are especially rich in their accounts of witch’s marks.
Take an account from 1621 - Elizabeth Sawyer, the Witch of Edmonton was
found to possess a “thing like a teat the bigness of the little finger, which
was branched at the top like a teat, and seemed as though one had sucked it”.
In another case Temperance Lloyd was hanged for witchcraft in 1682 at
Exeter, she was searched by Ann Wakely who reported that:
“Upon search of her said body, she, this informant, did find in her
secret parts two teats hanging nigh together like unto a piece of flesh that a
child had sucked. And that each of
the said teats was about an inch in length (Howell, State Trails, 1816)”.
In 1692 Bridget Bishop was examined during the Salem witches trials and:
“a jury of women found a preternatural teat upon her body, but on a
second search, within three or four hours, there was no such thing to be seen
(Cotton Mather, Wonders of the Invisible World, 1693).
Not everybody believed that finding such marks was a sure way of
identifying a witch, for even in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there
were sceptics who voiced their concerns at the idea. One such was ‘Thomas Ady’ who dismissed all their claims
by writing in his book A Candle in the Dark (London, 1656):
“Very few people in the world are without privy marks upon their
bodies, as moles or stains, even such as witch mongers call the devil’s privy
mark… and many an honest man or woman have such excrescences growing upon
their bodies, as these witch mongers do call the devil’s biggs (teats)”.
In times more contemporary, the eminent anthropologist Margaret A. Murray
carried out an experiment to prove just such a theory.
Out of 315 randomly selected people, she found that 7 per cent of them
had supernumerary nipples.
Pleadings that these protuberances were natural availed the witch of
little, and such was the fear of being found with them, many ignorant people
endeavoured to cut them off, thus creating scaring which would then be
interpreted as the devil’s mark. An
example of this is given in accounts about Thomas Darling, ‘The Boy of
Burton’ who accused Elizabeth Wright and her daughter Alice Gooderidge of
bewitching him. Wright and
Gooderidge were arrested and examined in 1596:
“The old women they stripped and found behind her right shoulder a
thing like the udder of a ewe that giveth suck with two teats, like unto two
great warts, the one behind under the armhole, the other a handful off toward
the top of the shoulder. Being
demanded how long she had those teats, she answered she had been born so. Then did they search Alice Gooderidge, and found upon her
belly a hole of the bigness of two pence, fresh and bloody, as though some great
wart had cut off the place. Alice
said a knife had caused the wound when she slipped from a ladder two days
previously, but a physician said, “It seemed to be sucked”.
Adding to the discomfort of those accused of witchcraft was the spectacle
of being searched for the marks of a witch. The initial searches were often conducted in public and
provided much entertainment for a jeering ogling crowd of curiosity seekers.
As late as 1717 in Leicester it was reported that an old woman suspected
of witchcraft was inspected: “publicly
before a great number of good women in that town.
They deposed there were found on her secret parts two white pieces of
flesh like pap’s, and some swore they were like the teats of an ewe, and some
like the pap’s of a cat”.
If no immediate imperfections where found, the victim was remanded and
made to await inspection by the professionals.
The services of the likes of Matthew Hopkins and his assistant Stearne
were in great demand during these times, and for a fee, they would be called in
to search the victim’s for the elusive devil’s marks. Not an easy task in those days, for by this time the
demonologist’s had refined their ‘visible’ description and definition of
Devil’s mark to include the ’invisible’ devil’s mark, and these
could only be discovered by pricking with a needle until some insensitive spot
which did not bleed was allegedly found”.
Hopkins and others like John Dick of Scotland,
John Kincaid of Tranent and John Balfour of Corhouse, quickly became the
leading experts and were paid handsomely for their efforts, sometimes as much as
twenty shillings a piece for all they could condemn as witches.
These were unscrupulous men and not beyond faking a witch for their own
personal gain and prestige, often by using trick tools.
One outspoken critic of the time, Friedrich von Spee in his Cautio
Criminals (Rinteln, 1631) warned that: “The
torturer should be watched very closely, lest he only pretend to prick and then
cry out he had distinguished a devil’s mark, and lest he employ cheating
pricks, whether magic or charmed, or so made that at pleasure they enter and
wound or only seem to do so by sliding back into themselves”.
Not all of them got away with such tactics however, indeed one of them
ended up on the gallows himself because of his evil deeds.
A good example of how one of these fellows worked is revealed in a book
by Ralph Gardiner - England’s Grievance Discovered in Relation to the Coal
Trade (London, 1655, 1749). In March 1649, the magistrates at Newcastle decided to invite
“the man that trieth the witches in Scotland” (his name is not actually
recorded in the account) to give his tests in Newcastle and to be paid “twenty
shillings a piece for all he could condemn as witches, and free passage thither
and back again”.
Of the incident Gardiner reports: “When
the sergeants had brought the said witch finder on horseback to town, the
magistrates sent their bellman through the town, ringing his bell and crying:
“All people that would bring in any complaint against any woman for a
witch, they should be sent for and tried by the person appointed”.
Thirty women were brought into the town hall and stripped, and then
openly had pins thrust into their bodies. And
most of them were found guilty, near twenty-seven of them, by him and set
Today in more modern times given our knowledge gleaned from two or more
centuries of medicinal research and psychology, we are better able to understand
the psychological effects that severe trauma can have on the body, and how it
can sometimes effect paralysis or anaesthesia to certain limbs and bodily
functions. Imagine then the
tremendous emotional shock the poor victims of the witch craze went through when
publically stripped, shaved of all bodily hair, probed, prodded and pricked in
all their secret places before a jeering crowd of onlookers, neighbours and
Gardiner goes on to give an account of how during the preceding trials a
watchful and perceptively discerning judge saved one fortunate witch from the
gallows: “The said reputed witch
finder acquainted Lieutenant Colonel
Hodson that he knew women, whether they were witches or no by their
looks, and when the said person was searching of a personable and good-like
woman, the said Colonel replied and said, “Surely this woman is none and need
not be tried”. But the Scotsman
said she was, for the townspeople said she was, and therefore he would try her.
And presently in sight of all the people, he laid her body naked to the
waist, with her clothes over her head, by which fright and shame, all her blood
contracted into one part of her body. And
then he ran a pin into her thigh, and suddenly let her coats fall, and then
demanded whether she had nothing of his in her body that did not bleed.
But she being amazed replied little.
Then he put his hand up her coats and pulled out the pin and set her
aside as a guilty person and a child of the Devil.
And he fell to try others, whom he made guilty.
Lieutenant Colonel Hodson, perceiving the alteration of the foresaid
woman, by her blood settling in her right parts, caused that woman to be brought
again, and her clothes pulled up to her thigh, and required the Scot to run the
pin into the same place, and then it gushed out of blood, and the said Scot
cleared her, and said she was not a child of the Devil”.
As a result of these trails fifteen women were executed, confirmation of
their deaths is recorded in the parish register of St Andrew’s, Newcastle,
which names fifteen women who “were executed on the town moor for witches”
at that time. Of there deaths
Gardiner writes: “Those poor
souls never confessed anything, but pleaded innocence.
And one of them, by name Margaret Brown, beseeched God that some
remarkable sign might be seen at the time of their execution, to evidence their
innocency, and as soon as ever she was turned off the ladder, her blood gushed
out upon the people to the admiration (astonishment) of the beholders”.
Of the said witch finder who precipitated their deaths, he went next to
Northumberland were he increased his charges to ‘three pounds’ for each
witch he had convicted, and this at a time when the average weekly wage was just
sixpence. However his time was
running out, Gardiner reports: “Henry Ogle, Esquire, a late member of
Parliament, laid hold of him, and required bond of him to answer the sessions,
but he got away for Scotland. And
it was conceived that if he had stayed he would have made most of the women in
the North witches for money”.
Justice finally caught up with the man in Scotland, were he was indicted
(the charge is not given). Gardiner
reports: “And upon the gallows he
confessed he had been the death of above 220 women in England and Scotland, all for
the gain of twenty shillings a piece”.
The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology - by Rossell Hope Robbins
(A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature)
The Encyclopedia of Witches & Witchcraft - By Rosemary Ellen Guiley
Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft - By Raven Grimassi
To many websites to mention.
Best Wishes and Blessed Be.
Site Contents - Links to all Pages
A Universal Message:
Let there be peace in the world - Where have all the flowers gone?
Wicca & Witchcraft
Wiccan Rede / Charge of the Goddess / Charge of the God / The Three-Fold Law (includes The Law of Power and The Four Powers of the Magus) / The Witches Chant / The Witches Creed / Descent of the Goddess / Drawing Down the Moon / The Great Rite Invocation / Invocation of the Horned God / The 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief / The Witches Rede of Chivalry / A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality
Traditions Part 1 - Alexandrian Wicca / Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) / Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) / Blue Star Wicca / British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) / Celtic Wicca / Ceremonial Magic / Chaos Magic / Church and School of Wicca / Circle Sanctuary / Covenant of the Goddess (COG) / Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) / Cyber Wicca / Dianic Wicca / Eclectic Wicca / Feri Wicca /
Traditions Part 2 - Gardnerian Wicca / Georgian Tradition / Henge of Keltria / Hereditary Witchcraft / Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) / Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) / Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition / Nordic Paganism / Pagan Federation / Pectic-Wita / Seax-Wica / Shamanism / Solitary / Strega / Sylvan Tradition / Vodoun or Voodoo / Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /
Other things of interest:
Gods and Goddesses (Greek
Mythology) / Esbats &
Full Moons / Links
to Personal Friends & Resources / Wicca/Witchcraft
Resources / What's a spell? /
Circle Casting and
Sacred Space / Pentagram
- Pentacle / Marks
of a Witch / The Witches
Power / The Witches Hat
esoteric guide to visiting London / Satanism
Unitarian Universalist Association / Numerology: Part 1
/ Part 2 / Part
3 / A
history of the Malleus Maleficarum: includes: Pope
Innocent VIII /
papal Bull /
Malleus Maleficarum /
An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum
/ The letter of approbation
Nider’s Formicarius /
Heinrich Kramer /
/ Montague Summers /
/ The Albigenses
The Hussites / The
/ Shielding (Occult
and Psychic Protection) /
Sabbats and Rituals:
Sabbats in History and Mythology / Samhain (October 31st) / Yule (December 21st) / Imbolc (February 2nd) / Ostara (March 21st) / Beltane (April 30th) / Litha (June 21st) / Lughnasadh (August 1st) / Mabon (September 21st)
Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) / Antelope / Bats / Crow / Fox / Frog and Toads / Goat / Honeybee / Kangaroo / Lion / Owl / Phoenix / Rabbits and Hares / Raven / Robin Redbreast / Sheep / Spider / Squirrel / Swans / Wild Boar / Wolf / Serpent / Pig / Stag / Horse / Mouse / Cat
In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar. For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following: Birch / Rowan / Ash / Alder / Willow / Hawthorn / Oak / Holly / Hazel / Vine / Ivy / Reed / Elder. Also see: The Willow Tree (Folk Music)
Rocks and Stones:
Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin: / Apophyllite / Amber / Amethyst / Aquamarine / Aragonite / Aventurine / Black Tourmaline / Bloodstone / Calcite / Carnelian / Celestite / Citrine / Chrysanthemum Stone / Diamond / Emerald / Fluorite / Garnet / Hematite / Herkimer Diamond / Labradorite / Lapis Lazuli / Malachite / Moonstone / Obsidian / Opal / Pyrite / Quartz (Rock Crystal) / Rose Quartz / Ruby / Selenite / Seraphinite / Silver and Gold / Smoky Quartz / Sodalite / Sunstone / Thunderegg / Tree Agate / Zebra Marble
Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:
Murder by Witchcraft / The Fairy Witch of Clonmel / A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch / The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) / Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife / The Story of Jack-O-Lantern / The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost / Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) / The Two Brothers - Light and Dark
Old Masters of Academia:
(Ancient, Past and Present)
(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)
Abramelin the Mage / Agrippa / Aidan A. Kelly / Albertus Magnus “Albert the Great” / Aleister Crowley “The Great Beast” / Alex Sanders "the King of the Witches” / Alison Harlow / Amber K / Anna Franklin / Anodea Judith / Anton Szandor LaVey / Arnold Crowther / Arthur Edward Waite / Austin Osman Spare / Biddy Early / Bridget Cleary / Carl Llewellyn Weschcke / Cecil Hugh Williamson / Charles Godfrey Leland / Charles Walton / Christina Oakley Harrington / Damh the Bard (Dave Smith) / Dion Fortune / Dolores Aschroft-Nowicki / Dorothy Morrison / Doreen Valiente / Edward Fitch / Eleanor Ray Bone “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” / Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelly / Dr. Leo Louis Martello / Eliphas Levi / Ernest Thompson Seton / Ernest Westlake and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry / Fiona Horne / Friedrich von Spee / Francis Barrett / Gerald B. Gardner / Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca / Gwydion Pendderwen / Hans Holzer / Helen Duncan / Herman Slater "Horrible Herman" / Israel Regardie / James "Cunning" Murrell / Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone / Jessie Wicker Bell “Lady Sheba” / John Belham-Payne / John George Hohman / John Gerard / John Gordon Hargrave (the White Fox) / John Michael Greer / John Score / Johannes Junius the Burgomaster of Bamberg / Joseph John Campbell / Karl von Eckartshausen / Laurie Cabot "the Official Witch of Salem" / Lewis Spence / Margaret Alice Murray / Margot Adler / Marie Laveau the " Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" / Marion Weinstein / Matthew Hopkins “The Witch-Finder General” / Max Ehrmann and the Desiderata / Monique Wilson the “Queen of the Witches” / Montague Summers / Nicholas Culpeper / Nicholas Remy / M. R. Sellers / Mrs. Grieve "A Modern Herbal" / Oberon and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart / Old Dorothy Clutterbuck / Old George Pickingill / Paddy Slade / Pamela Colman-Smith / Paracelsus / Patricia Crowther / Patricia Monaghan / Patricia “Trish” Telesco / Philip Emmons Isaac Bonewits / Philip Heselton / Raymond Buckland / Reginald Scot / Robert Cochrane / Robert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and "The White Goddess" /Rudolf Steiner / Rosaleen Norton “The Witch of Kings Cross” / Ross Nichols and The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids / Sabrina - The Ink Witch / Scott Cunningham / Selena Fox / Silver Ravenwolf / Sir Francis Dashwood / Sir James George Frazer / S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” / Starhawk / Stewart Farrar / Sybil Leek / Ted Andrews / The Mather Family - includes: Richard Mather, Increase Mather, Cotton Mather / Thomas Ady / Vera Chapman / Victor Henry Anderson / Vivianne Crowley / Walter Brown Gibson / William Butler Yeats / Zsuzsanna Budapest
Many of the above biographies are brief and far from complete. If you know about any of these individuals and can help with aditional information, please cantact me privately at my email address below. Many thanks for reading :-)
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