The Urine Test
If a community suspected one of their number of being bewitched by an unknown witch or witches, then the victim’s urine could be used to establish for sure if they had been cursed by witchcraft. This ‘urine test’ could even identify who the witch was. Urine was believed to be potent in this respect because of its connection to the victim. In the sixteenth and seventeenth century it was also widely used in medical diagnosis. So it was a logical next step in the minds of the people of those times to use it to diagnose witchcraft.
One way of using urine to discover if a witch had cursed a stricken person was to bake a witch cake. This unappetizing confection was created by mixing rye with the urine of the victim and then baking it. The cake was then fed to a dog or if a suspect was already lined up, the supposed familiar. The animal in question was then watched closely. If it began to manifest the same symptoms as the victim, then witchcraft was at work.
The beauty of the witch cake was that it identified witchcraft and the witch at the same time. For as well as making the dog or witch’s familiar ill, the urine cake was supposed to enchant them so that they revealed the witch’s name. At the same time, the witch in question was also supposed to fall violently ill thus inadvertently identifying herself. It was through the use of a witch cake that the first batch of accused witches was rounded up in January 1692 in the Massachusetts town of Salem-although in this case; the result was an indirect one. For the cake did not work and so those who baked the cake found themselves, suspects, instead.
Urine was used to identifying witches in other ways. In 1717, the people of Wigston Magna in Leicestershire became convinced that witches were at work within the village. Several of the residents were stricken by an illness that caused “twisting and distorting of their limbs backward and forwards.” One unfortunate woman, Mary Hatchings actually died of the mystery affliction. So they turned to their minister to help identify the perpetrators and cure the afflicted. Unfortunately, the minister found himself to be powerless to do anything. So he sent for a local cunning man to resolve the matter.
The cunning man took samples of the victims’ urine and sealed it in a bottle. He then heated the urine over a fire. As with the witch’s cake, this process was supposed to have a two-fold result. Firstly, it was designed to cure the afflicted – but only if the urine stayed in the bottle. If any escaped as it boiled, then the afflicted remained cursed. However, when the urine was first set to boil, the witch or witches involved were supposed to be drawn into the room against their will, either in their own form or as a dog or cat. In this way, the villagers of Wigston Magna were able to identify their witches as the Clarke family.
The Clarkes were amongst the last witches in England to be subjected to the next witchcraft test.