Torture and Death for Accused Witches

By Jennifer Milanese

Long before the famed Salem Witch Trials, thousands upon thousands of men, women, and even children were being tortured and massacred throughout Europe. These horrible acts were even condoned by the churches. Towards the end of the thirteenth century witchcraft was proclaimed an act punishable by death. But death did not come easy to those accused.

All across Europe fingers began to fly. Accusations were made, and the guilty party was often tortured and made to confess to witchcraft and evil deeds. No evidence was needed to convict. Europe became obsessed with ridding themselves of witches. Witch hunters popped up all throughout the Continent. Books were published on the subject, perhaps the best known was " The Malleus Maleficarum." It was a guidebook on how what to look for in a witch and how to successfully kill them. France and Germany were especially known for their gruesome punishments.

As the need to punish and kill witches grew, dozens and dozens of torture tools and methods were developed. One such item was the bootikens. These were boots that went from the person's ankles to knees. Wedges were hammered up the length of the boot into the person's leg, breaking and crushing bones as it went. Another tool used was called The Pear. It was a pear shaped apparatus that was often inserted into orifices. It was then expanded by way of a screw. It was often expanded enough until it tore and mangled which ever orifice it had been inserted in. Death would follow shortly, from either blood loss or infection. It was usually equipped with sharp spikes at the end so that a person could also be stabbed with it, usually in the neck. Another device known as Turcas was used to tear the fingernails out. This was followed by sticking pins or needles into the raw and exposed skin of the fingers.

Using red hot pincers against a witch's body was also a favorite. Often a pincer was used to tear off pieces of flesh and in some cases inserted into vaginas and rectums. Many times a person would be stripped naked, horse whipped, and then would have the pincers used on them. Women sometimes had their breasts torn off with hot pincers to further humiliate them.

Crushing a witch was often used both to kill and force a confession. The accused would be made to lie on the ground or a table and usually a board was placed on top of them. As they lay there being questioned they would slowly place large rocks upon the board. They would add more and more until the person confessed and then, once having a confession, would add more until the person was no longer able to breathe. It was a slow and painful death.

A variation on crushing was stoning. Stoning allowed a mob of people to gather around the accused and pelt them with stones until the person was killed. Depending on the situation a person could be battered for minutes or hours before succumbing to death. Stonings were not always organized events, in some communities a mob would develop before the so-called witch could be tried.

Another method used to gain a confession was called the Strappado. In this case, the persons wrists were bound behind their back with a rope. The rope was then hoisted over a ceiling beam. The rope was pulled until the person was suspended in the air and then they were viciously dropped. This was repeated until the persons shoulders became dislocated.

From country to country, the methods varied. But no matter where you were, if you were accused you were in for pain, humiliation, and ultimate suffering.

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