Now, while you hear a lot in movies and so forth about the mark of the Devil but what is it really? What does it entail and where does it come from?
For those who are not aware, the Devil’s mark is also sometimes referred to as the witches mark. While some people do think the two are different from one another historically they are the same thing. This was something thought to be an initiating mark that the Devil placed on the bodies of women as a seal of their obedience.
The marks are said to be concealed in secret places on the body for instance under eyelids, on armpits, and within bodily cavities.
These marks were in the past considered to be proof or evidence that someone was a witch. It has been said that all witches and the likes have at least one mark of the Devil somewhere on their body.
It was his way of branding those who were loyal to him, or so we are told. Records show that people who confessed to having some kind of mark on their body were heavily tortured and went through far more than we could currently imagine.
Victim’s of witch hunts often were prosecuted over natural blemishes they had had since birth even though ‘experts’ claimed that they could distinguish these Devil marks from birthmarks and things of the sort.
Anyone who was thought to have made a pact of some kind with the Devil was said to have one of these marks and these marks were seen as signs of evil spirits able to carry out their bidding. That being said, across the globe there are differences in ideas of and thoughts surrounding the Devil’s mark(s).
Some of the popular concepts surrounding the Devil’s mark are as follows as explained by LawExplorers:
English writers of the time were familiar with the work of Continental theologians, who were the first to articulate the theory of the devil’s mark and the practical guidelines for the search, including search under the eyelids, under the armpits, on the breasts, on the roof of the mouth, in the rectum and on the genitals.9
And, indeed, primary sources attest that to find the devil’s marks, English witchcraft suspects were subjected time and again to an obtrusive bodily search. They were stripped naked and sometimes completely shaved, and every part of their bodies was thoroughly examined. The search superseded the norms of modesty and decency.
The suspected men and women, in the words of the sceptical physician, John Webster, ‘were so unchristianly, unwomanly, and inhumanely handled, as to be stript stark naked, and to be laid upon Tables and Beds to be searched (nay even in their most privy parts) for these their supposed Witch-marks: so barbarous and cruel acts doth diabolical instigation, working upon ignorance and superstition, produce’.10
Although it was not part of official English criminal procedure, the technique became highly elaborated and institutionalized.
Almost invariably the search was not an expression of a spontaneous attempt at lynching, but rather a standard element of the pre-trial investigation, ordered by men of authority (mostly JPs, but sometimes the mayor or other figures of authority) and conducted according to customary practice.
Around 1645, at the peak of the Hopkins witch scare, East Anglian communities and urban corporations hired witch finders. The search was used extensively, and women searchers (not officially appointed) routinely accompanied Hopkins on his journey.11
However, the practice of the search continued, even after the witch-scare episode of the 1640s, up to the early eighteenth century.
The evidential significance of the devil’s mark in early modern England emerged out of two epistemologically inconsistent sources. In high, or learned, theory, which was influenced by Continental theology, the devil often sealed a covenant with the witch by branding her body.
The pact with the devil was central to the definition of witchcraft in Continental theology.12 According to this theory, the mark almost always implied a meeting with Satan himself (rather than his demons), very often involving sexual activity.
The mark signified the contractual-like and consensual relationship between the witch and the devil.13 Although in England the value of the devil’s mark was mocked as early as 1584 in Reginald Scot’s influential treatise,14 and English culture emphasized the element of evil-doing (maleficium) rather than the pact as the constituent element of witchcraft, significant English writers adopted the Continental theory of the devil’s mark.15
The other source for the meaning of suspicious bodily features was the popular belief in imps and familiars, which figured prominently in English witch trials up to the early eighteenth century.
The English concept of the witch’s familiar had no parallel in other European countries.16 The familiars were devils transformed into animal form that aided the witches in their malevolent missions.
It was widely held that witches suckled their imps with their own blood. The indicator of such demonic suckling was either the teat, a nipple-resembling growth, or the appearance of a freshly sucked spot. Marks in strange or animal shapes could also have diabolical implications.
The growths were sometimes squeezed to check whether blood or other fluids could be expressed.17 Around the 1630s, teats or spots that were believed to be habitually sucked by imps were often searched for in ‘shameful’ or ‘privy’ parts and were associated with the suspect’s sexuality and carnal relationship with the devil.18
Many elements of the English popular belief in familiars challenged Christian dogma. Can the devil, just like God, create life? If the imps were made of spirit (as the theologians, who denied that the devil had the ability to create real life, claimed), why did the witches feed them? Why did they nurse them with blood?
If the imps were an embodiment of supernatural spirits, why were they at the command of poor, old and often demented women? The popular English stories about friends or relatives giving familiars to neophyte witches contradicted the Continental demonology that viewed the contract with the devil as an essential step in becoming a witch.19
Another theologically unsettling element that persisted in the popular view was of enjoyable erotic or sexual contact with imps.
Whereas the demonologists emphasized the icy feeling and pain caused by contact with the devil, some English texts embraced testimony of suspects who expressed sensations of pleasure at the devil’s touch.20 The dissonance between theological principles and popular beliefs left room for doubt and scepticism.21
Despite the theological difficulties, the widespread search for incriminating marks on the bodies of English witchcraft suspects was supported by a fusion of learned and popular concepts. There was clearly some overlap of the learned concept of the mark and the popular idea of the teat.
Both established bodily attributes as a manifestation of a diabolical connection, and both enabled their use as physical evidence. It was therefore intellectually feasible to transpose conceptual elements from one domain to the other.
A typical narrative in English witchcraft pamphlets was that of the witch who made a contract with the devil, after which she was branded by the devil with a mark through which she later nursed the imp with her blood.
Some even held that the first drawing of blood by the devil was for the writing of the covenant.22 Such a narrative combined the element of the pact with the devil and the suckling of the imps.
The conflation of the demonological concept of the devil’s mark with the teats and familiars is reflected in the theological reading of English folklore.23
Locating the familiars in a theological framework alleviated the theological difficulties. The conflated narrative further supported feasible methods of legal proof – the search for bodily marks and testimonies about familiars.
The high and popular origins of the devil’s mark are clearly visible in the language. While authors of learned treatises used the term mark, which echoed the elite demonological theory of the pact, the searchers for the marks constantly reported to the JPs and judges about finding teats and bigs, which figured in the English lore of the animal familiar.
The different terminology did not necessarily signify distinct traits. In some cases, the same features were deemed probative, although the JPs and gentlemen called them marks, and the searchers said teats.
For example, the JPs ordered a group of women to search the body of Alice Goodridge and her mother ‘to see if they could find any such marks on them, as are visually found on witches’, but the women reported to have found teats and warts.
Afterward, the searchers exposed the suspicious body parts, demonstrating the evidence to the satisfaction of the JPs.24 Although the JPs used the term ‘marks’, they were clearly satisfied with teats as physical evidence of ‘good worth’.
In the case against Elizabeth Sawyer in 1621, the bench ordered a group of three women to search the defendant’s body for any ‘vnwonted marke’. When these women testified in court, they described something ‘like a Teate the bigness of the little finger, and the length of half a finger, which was branched at the top like a teate, and seemed as though one had suckt it’.25
In these cases, the differences in terminology were not a cause for conflict. It seems that despite the different terms, there existed a shared meaning of the evidence of the devil’s mark, a meaning that emerged in the context of the witchcraft trials and that combined high and popular elements.
There is a lot of pain and suffering surrounding the idea of the Devil’s mark in general. For more information on this please feel free to check out the video below.
While the witch trials and other things of the sort are not as talked about in modern times, they should be. These people were wrongfully damned and our actions need to be known, if we forget our past we will repeat it in one way or another.