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?

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).

Why? Because women weigh the same as a duck, and are therefore made of wood?

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.

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.

Plenty of witches in Europe were burned. It was theprescribed 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.

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.


Burn her anyway!!

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.

Interesting! Who pissed in your Cheerios?

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.

I’m quite familiar with the movie, but yes, I did take the “Why” part as an actual question, separate from the joke.

Let’s dunk the woosh in a pond and see if it floats or not!

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.

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?

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…

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.