Witch-pricker

Witch-pricker
Instrument used with sleight of hand to persecute accused witches for the personal gain of ‘witch finders’
This is an image of a witch bottle which can be found at the Museum of East Anglian Life, please see the stories so far below for more information.
A witch-pricker can be one of two things: a foul medieval implement used to test whether someone was a witch (during the period of persecution when suspected witches were put to death), or the name given to the person using it – literally a Witch Pricker. The item itself was a horrible thing, as its name hints at. It was a metal handheld tool with a sharp point at one end, to be used on people accused of being witches by pricking their skin. If they bled they were ‘normal’, but if they didn’t bleed they were considered to have supernatural protection and were therefore a witch. As if that were not humiliating and painful enough for victims to go through, the witch-pricker implement was actually a cruel trick worked by sleight of hand. The sharpened point would often be retractable, meaning that the person undertaking a test could carefully control the outcome. In this way a suspect could be made to bleed at will by the Witch Pricker, using the sharp point to pierce their victim’s skin. Or the victim could be made to appear a witch through not bleeding despite repeated stabbing, by the needle being retraced and hidden up inside the body of the tool. Sometimes a suspect was bled from various parts of their body before the Witch Pricker discovered a birthmark or mole or scar that they then declared was a ‘witches mark’ and which despite repeated pricking, could never be made to bleed.

Stories posted so far...

Posted by The Museum of East Anglian Life
Between the years 1644 and 1647, Matthew Hopkins embarked on a witch finding career which was responsible for the deaths of 300 women in the Eastern counties. Witch pricking was just one of the methods that the self-proclaimed “Witchfinder General” used to investigate those he suspected of witchcraft. All witches or sorcerers were supposed to possess a Devil’s Mark that was said to be dead to all feeling and would not bleed. In reality it was usually a mole or birthmark. If the suspected witch had no such visible marks, invisible ones could be discovered by pricking, therefore employed "witch prickers" pricked the accused with knives and special needles, looking for such marks, normally after the suspect had been shaved of all body hair.

This object, a witch-bottle in a bellarmine jar, is evidence of the everyday superstitions that Hopkins was able to exploit on his witch finding mission. The purpose of the bottle is to draw in and trap harmful intentions directed at its owner, with the practice of concealing witch-bottles starting in the 16th century.
Folk magic contends that the witch bottle protects against evil spirits and magical attack, counteracting spells cast by witches.
Urine, hair, teeth, nails, pins and blood, would be added to the bottle. It was thought that these things belonging to the victim would attract the witch or evil spirit to the bottle where it would become trapped - and be drowned or impaled on the contents!
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