Friday, 19 February 2010

Boscastle's Museum of Witchcraft, Part 2

I was very interested in the Museum of Witchcraft's display about England's historical witch hunts and persecutions. We don't see these types of artifacts in North America (except perhaps in Salem, I don't know). The exhibit is horrifying, of course, but its lessons are important to remember.

This photo shows a ducking-stool, an instrument historically used for the social humiliation and punishment of women deemed to be wicked.


Usually these women were accused of being "scolds," which meant that they had dared to challenge male authority in some way or were just generally uppity. The "scold" would be bound to the chair and either exhibited to public humiliation in the street or ducked in a river or pond as further punishment. In medieval times, ducking-stools were sometimes used to determine whether a woman was a witch. Bound to a wooden ducking-stool and thrown in a river, the unfortunate woman would be found to be a witch if she floated, but innocent if she drowned. Witches, of course, were executed by hanging or burning. Not very good odds either way.

This photo shows two examples of a "scold's bridle."


The iron muzzle or cage would be placed on the head of a woman accused of being a scold, shrew, gossip or practitioner of witchcraft. A heavy iron bar (often with spikes) would project into her mouth. So long as she did not speak, everything was fine. But if she tried to speak or protest, the movement of her tongue would cause painful torture by the bridle. The lesson to women publicly humiliated by forcible wearing of a scold's bridle? Hold your tongues.

Today we are rightly horrified about the persecution of Islamic women by the Taliban. But we must never forget that our Western forebears also had a similarly brutal history of using physical and emotional violence to keep women in a subordinate position.

On Monday, a cheerier post about other exhibits at the Museum of Witchcraft.

23 comments:

mxtodis123 said...

Oh, what torture!!! I cringe when I think of how that iron muzzle must have felt. Total insanity on the part of the people.
Mary

faerwillow said...

~just the thought is excruciating but to see the actual pieces is gut wrenching...in october my one studied the salem witch trials and was left bemused...did this really happen? so unfortunate our past has been...brightest blessings~

Aunt Amelia's Attic said...

"Today we are rightly horrified about the persecution of Islamic women by the Taliban. But we must never forget that our Western forebears also had a similarly brutal history of using physical and emotional violence to keep women in a subordinate position."

But please, may we not speak/act as if today's Islamic persecution of women is "OK," because it's part of their religion and culture.

inannasstar said...

Thank you for posting this, we all need to see this....but it still makes my heart hurt no matter how much I read and learn about those times.

Travis Erwin said...

Barbaric for certain but interesting to see the way things used to be.

Leviathan said...

I would not be so certain that we have advanced to the stage where the torture of women is no longer tolerated. Besides certain cultures in the developing world, read the newspapers of our US cities to see some of the worst crimes, abuses and oppression. In my city a 29-year-old woman was recently brutally tortured, stabbed and killed by people who she considered "friends".

That said, I am really enjoying the series Debra is writing about these historical sites. Fascinating.

Maryjo said...

Such brutality we humans do to each other! It is good to visit and learn about the past...and always keep it in mind going forward. These last few posts have been very educational and interesting. I hope you are having a wonderful time.
I was fortunate enough to visit Salem, MA with a friend. It's excellent. You must go!

Beatnheart said...

I just love your information, pictures...I wrote a song called "You can't keep a good girl down" pertaining to just this subject(The Ukettes Youtube)..
I shall be following you and yours..good stuff..
with warm regards, Cynthia

turquoisemoon said...

It's amazing how awful humanity can be. I simply find it so difficult to comprehend the logic, the justification...just can't figure it out.

submerina said...

The genius of the human imagination knows no bounds when it comes to torture. I am endlessly fascinated - and sickened - by these elements of history. I wonder how... just _how_ do you even come up with some of this stuff? HOW?? It boggles the mind.

Jaliya said...

I'm reminded of a trip I made to Charleston, SC ... my friends there took me to see the city's Holocaust Memorial ... a huge, bronze replica of a Jewish prayer shawl with one corner torn off (as a sign of mourning) ... It lay on a concrete square, surrounded by upright bars. That was all ... and it said everything ...

Your series here is amazing, Debra ... It's like we're all ambling along with you through your journey. Thanks so much :-)

Jeanne said...

How horrid!
The cruelty that mankind can dream up to inflict on each other saddens me.

Catpriestess said...

I have a feeling you're an empath and must have felt some of the terror and monstrosity those poor victims experienced. I really would love to visit all the "Burning Time's" sites and pay homage to those who were murdered. Thank you for such an excellent post : )
Blessings to you,
Wendy (Bast)

Beatnheart said...

Dear Debra,
Wow, you just made me day!! It would be a honor for you to use my song and video for International Womans day !!! Keep me posted!! Again, Thank you, Regards Cynthia Wolff

Emme Toaye said...

Excellent information on the past horrific evils of hysteria and self pompousness of humankind against humankind.

miss*R said...

that is just one place that i have been told to go to... I think that most of us would have faced something similar in a past life ;) - and me being Cornish ancestry, I think my ancestors were too..
thanks tons for the constant support over the past few days. I have lots to catch up on here and on other blogs.. xoxo

Eternally Distracted said...

I totally love your last paragraph... You are so right. I really want to write about where I live one day but so far am not brave enough!!

jaz@octoberfarm said...

this is great. thank you so much for sharing it and i can't wait to see more. i love the door on the museum. i have considered starting on myself. maybe someday! i will pass the complement on to the Blog Tech (brendan)!!! he is a sweetie!

YELLOWDOG GRANNY said...

men have always tried to keep women down...but we survived it all and now look at us..

Suzie said...

Oooh, I'm loving this trip! Thank you SO much for sharing it with us!

I would have loved to have taken that trip myself, but when I see all of those steps, and read about having to climb over rocks, my body aches just thinking about it,so I'm extra grateful to be able to emjoy the journey though your eyes! :-)

And I love the building the the museum calls home. It is SO charming. But not so charming are the barbaric methods people have of causing another pain. I am repeatedly appauled at this trait in some humans.

But it is interestinig to see, and to know what happened in the past. I'm looking forward to your next installment!

Sarah said...

Oh dear..that is horrid...but I am loving your trip too!!

Rue said...

The museum looks interesting, but those devices make me cringe. I'd be dunked for sure, because I can't stand being told what to do. I'd never have survived those days.

Blueberry said...

I wonder if there will ever really be respect and appreciation for religious diversity?