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Old 02-17-2020, 12:31 AM
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Did the dunking of witches really happen?


You see it often in fiction-- if you throw a suspected witch into a pond and she drowns, she was innocent. If she floats, she's a witch, and gets burned at the stake.

Either way, she's just as dead.

The end result is so obvious that it seems hard to believe it really happened. What's the Straight Dope?
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Old 02-17-2020, 01:51 AM
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Ordeals by cold water definitely happened, not just for witchcraft but for other crimes as well.

But the accused was not left to drown if they sank. They were pulled out of the water before they could drown. That's why a lot of period illustrations show them bound and with a line attached.

And I notice you say "she", but note that the ordeal by cold water was actually much more likely to be used for men (who generally are more likely to sink).

Last edited by MrDibble; 02-17-2020 at 01:56 AM.
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Old 02-17-2020, 02:56 AM
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And I notice you say "she", but note that the ordeal by cold water was actually much more likely to be used for men (who generally are more likely to sink).
Why? Because women weigh the same as a duck, and are therefore made of wood?
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Old 02-17-2020, 02:58 AM
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King James VI & I wrote a book called Daemonologie about such things, and encourages trial by water.

But witches weren't always female, weren't always executed, and when executed were executed by other methods, in England by hanging.
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Old 02-17-2020, 05:13 AM
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Why? Because women weigh the same as a duck, and are therefore made of wood?
No, because the fat-muscle ratios are different, and therefore men are more naturally inclined to sink vs women. No-one in more organized areas, even at the time in question, wanted a test with too many false positives, it seems. See my first link.
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Old 02-17-2020, 05:17 AM
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But witches weren't always female, weren't always executed, and when executed were executed by other methods, in England by hanging.
Plenty of witches in Europe were burned. It was the prescribed punishment in the Holy Roman Empire, for instance.
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Old 02-17-2020, 06:50 AM
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King James VI & I wrote a book called Daemonologie about such things, and encourages trial by water.

But witches weren't always female, weren't always executed, and when executed were executed by other methods, in England by hanging.
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Originally Posted by MrDibble
Plenty of witches in Europe were burned. It was the prescribed punishment in the Holy Roman Empire, for instance..
And in Scotland too, although the condemned were almost always strangled first.

That link also points out that (whatever James VI and I might have said) the swimming test was only very rarely used in Scotland.
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Old 02-17-2020, 05:42 PM
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That link also points out that (whatever James VI and I might have said) the swimming test was only very rarely used in Scotland.
Well, Scotland is far enough north that many of the ponds & rivers would be frozen for part of the year. Almost anybody 'floats' when there's a couple of inches of ice on top of the water!

And witchcraft accusations seem to be more common in winter*.
In America, the Connecticut ones started in March, and the Salem Witch trials began in February, some years later.


*Possibly related both to people living in closer confinement together during winter, and also that toward the end of winter, people are eating up the last of their stored food, and poor storage could lead to contamination via mold or fungus growth on the food.
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Old 02-17-2020, 05:50 PM
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No, because the fat-muscle ratios are different, and therefore men are more naturally inclined to sink vs women. No-one in more organized areas, even at the time in question, wanted a test with too many false positives, it seems. See my first link.
Woosh.
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Old 02-17-2020, 06:05 PM
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Burn her anyway!!
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Old 02-17-2020, 09:22 PM
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Was it a woosh? Or did MrDibble simply take your “why?” literally because it seemed distinct from the jocular remainder?

I could see it going either way.
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Old 02-17-2020, 09:53 PM
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Was it a woosh? Or did MrDibble simply take your “why?” literally because it seemed distinct from the jocular remainder?

I could see it going either way.
Yeah, no.

And, it was RivkahChaya's response that flew past his head.
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Old 02-17-2020, 10:17 PM
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Yeah, no.
Interesting! Who pissed in your Cheerios?

Quote:
Originally Posted by beowulff View Post
And, it was RivkahChaya's response that flew past his head.
Oh, you’ve got me dead to rights. I inadvertently wrote “your” when I should have written “their.” Guilty as charged.

I made a typo, but it was you who posted “woosh” [sic]. Beyond the typo, was my response so challenging? I didn’t think so, but these are things about which reasonable people can disagree.
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Old 02-17-2020, 11:43 PM
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I'm quite familiar with the movie, but yes, I did take the "Why" part as an actual question, separate from the joke.
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Old 02-17-2020, 11:51 PM
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Let's dunk the woosh in a pond and see if it floats or not!
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Old 02-18-2020, 12:45 AM
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Much of the untrue stuff about dunking witches may have intertwined with the very real common law crime of being a "common scold" which was punished by dunking.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_scold

Quote:
a common scold was a type of public nuisance—a troublesome and angry person who broke the public peace by habitually chastising, arguing and quarrelling with their neighbours.
Is it too late to bring back this law?
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Old 02-18-2020, 01:12 AM
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Is it too late to bring back this law?
Why on Earth would we want to bring back a law whose primary purpose was really the oppression of any women who dared stand up for themselves or speak their minds?
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Old 02-18-2020, 01:15 AM
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Originally Posted by blindboyard View Post
King James VI & I wrote a book called Daemonologie about such things, and encourages trial by water.

But witches weren't always female, weren't always executed, and when executed were executed by other methods, in England by hanging.
Doesn't the fact that you and James co-wrote this page-turner hundreds of years ago, and you're now posting on the SDMB constitute proof of some kind of deviltry ? Eternal youth, time travel, or at the very least daemonic possession ?

If only we had some way to make a determination...
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Old 02-18-2020, 01:29 AM
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Why on Earth would we want to bring back a law whose primary purpose was really the oppression of any women who dared stand up for themselves or speak their minds?
I was joking. It would be nice for pain in the ass neighbors to get their comeuppance, though.
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Old 02-18-2020, 03:51 AM
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I was joking. It would be nice for pain in the ass neighbors to get their comeuppance, though.
That's what the Rough Music is for.
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Old 02-18-2020, 09:23 AM
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In Salem, ironically the one way to guarantee you'd survive is to confess. Everyone who refused to confess was executed; everyone who did confess was left alive, because punishing witches was God's business. This was perfectly sound logic to them.

Not that they got off scot-free; there were certainly very harsh social penalties to be paid, but you got to live.
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Old 02-18-2020, 09:39 AM
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King James VI & I wrote a book called Daemonologie about such things, and encourages trial by water.
Wow, a CELEBRITY in our midst!

A really OLD celebrity!

What was he like to work with? Did he let you call him "Jim," or was it all "Your Majesty" this, and "Your Highness" that?

ETA: Dammit, ninja'd.

Last edited by kaylasdad99; 02-18-2020 at 09:43 AM.
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Old 02-18-2020, 09:46 AM
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Wow, a CELEBRITY in our midst!

A really OLD celebrity!

What was he like to work with? Did he let you call him "Jim," or was it all "Your Majesty" this, and "Your Highness" that?

ETA: Dammit, ninja'd.
Careful: he'll turn you into a newt.
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Old 02-18-2020, 09:47 AM
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Careful: he'll turn you into a newt.
I'ma hide behind Themenin.
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Old 02-18-2020, 11:11 AM
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Well, Scotland is far enough north that many of the ponds & rivers would be frozen for part of the year. Almost anybody 'floats' when there's a couple of inches of ice on top of the water!
Scotland isn't really that cold in the winter despite being farer north than say New England. I've been there a couple of times in February and it was quite green and was able to play a round of golf. I don't normally play but hell, it's Scotland! It was in the upper 40's / mid-50's each time I went. I asked the locals and they said this was normal. Also swear I spotted a palm tree on the coast!
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Old 02-18-2020, 02:45 PM
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Scotland isn't really that cold in the winter despite being farer north than say New England. I've been there a couple of times in February and it was quite green and was able to play a round of golf. I don't normally play but hell, it's Scotland! It was in the upper 40's / mid-50's each time I went. I asked the locals and they said this was normal. Also swear I spotted a palm tree on the coast!
This. The influence of the Gulf Stream means that Scotland is wet (obviously) but relatively temperate. Inland bodies of water will freeze only for short periods. (And I say that as someone who once walked across the Lake of Mentieth when it was frozen.)

There is however a complication. The major persecutions of witches in Scotland took place during the 'Little Ice Age', so the modern climate isn't exactly comparable. But the more likely explanation for any difference is just that the legal and cultural contexts of the European witchcrazes were highly variable.
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Old 02-19-2020, 12:35 PM
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No, because the fat-muscle ratios are different, and therefore men are more naturally inclined to sink vs women. No-one in more organized areas, even at the time in question, wanted a test with too many false positives, it seems. See my first link.
Yes. Men weigh the same as very small rocks.

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Old 02-19-2020, 12:44 PM
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King James VI & I wrote a book called Daemonologie about such things, and encourages trial by water.
Nice to see someone so precise with terminology. James Stuart was James VI of Scotland and James I of England, and since he was king of Scotland decades before becoming King of England, he is properly called James VI and I (or VI/I).
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