Proof in witchcraft cases

The courts in Scotland in the 17th century recognised four ‘proofs’ of witchcraft. Having a bad reputation, being a ‘quarrelsome dame’ or having a history of bad behaviour was the first proof. This proof was the weakest the courts recognised but was all too easily gained. Much of life was lived publicly and an argument in the market place could easily result in a woman being labelled ‘witch.’ The second proof was being delated or named as a witch by another witch was the second proof.  A suspected with could easily name a friend or neighbour when under interrogation. The investigating ministers always wanted more names.

The third proof was confession. Many of those arrested soon confessed. Days of intense interrogation, brutal treatment and, in some cases, torture, soon resulted in an admission of being a witch if for no other reason that being allowed some rest. The fourth proof was that of having the Devil’s Mark on your body. It was believed that the Devil would mark his followers. And just as the Devil was unnatural so the Mark would be unnatural and not bleed if pricked or brodded with a steel bodkin. If a stubborn witch refused to confess the witch pricker or with brodder would be sent for to find the Devil’s Mark.

But there was one more proof that mattered. The Calvinist Kirk of Scotland was obsessed with the Devil. They knew they were God’s Elect and of course who would the Devil attack? Auld Nick had no reason to attack his followers, he was after the souls of the most Godly, the most pious. If a minister found a witch, the handmaiden of the Devil, in his parish this ‘proved’ the minister was Godly. The more Godly you were, the more witches would attack you: the more witches you found the more Godly you were.

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