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The Ducking Stool


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In the 16th century Anglicans, Puritans and Catholics were united in their belief of the supernatural and in the existence of magic, sorcery and witchcraft.

Witchcraft was not always evil. Every village and town had its 'cunning man' or 'wise woman' who offered services like medical and veterinary care, tracing missing persons, recovering lost or stolen property and fortune telling. They were mostly employed in healing the sick. They usually touched and said prayers over the patient while some used herbal medicines.

Most Elizabethans believed in witches. Some believed that witches danced in a circle round their master, the devil, at witches' sabbaths. They also believed that witches had 'familiars' housing an evil spirit, such as a cat or hedgehog as in Macbeth's witches, although there is nothing to suggest an organised witch-cult in Elizabethan England.

It was stated in the Bible 'thou shalt not suffer a witch to live' and many people, usually old women with eccentric habits or a disfigured appearance were condemned as witches.

Suspected witches were punished by the use of a 'ducking stool' which they were made to sit on and were then dipped into the local pond or river. If they drowned, they were considered guilty and if they floated they were innocent.

Everyone's daily life was overshadowed by superstition; for example it was considered bad luck to hear an owl hoot or a raven croak and most villages had their own ghost.

17th Jun 2005

English, History

Key Stages:
Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3, Key Stage 4, Key Stage 4+

punish crime criminal torture witch woman confession water religion magic superstition pond river

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