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A witch, like a wolf, doesn't torture her sacrifice. Only priests and inquisitors do that.
— Mary Sibley to Increase Mather

Torture devices are one of the most notorious methods employed by witch-hunters, usually to obtain confessions but, in most of the cases, even lead to death.


Within continental and Roman Law witchcraft was crimen exceptum: a crime so foul that all normal legal procedures were superseded. Because the Devil was not going to "confess", it was necessary to gain a confession from the human involved. To do so, witches were captured, usually following more or less founded accusations, and tortured into confessing. However, in some countries and after the Spanish and Roman Inquisition, physical torture was seen as illegal or immoral, as pointed out by Reverend Cotton Mather when he accused his father of using methods comparable to a medieval inquisitor. Ignoring social norms, Increase employed underhanded methods of psychological torture to gain a confession.

Restriction and Torture

Torture methods and devices are the most terrible and frightening human invention ever created, designed to destroy the spirit and the body of other human beings. Hereinafter is given a list of methods and devices shown in the TV series.


Increase Mather self-inflicting pain with a cilice

Increase Mather often wears a cilice in the form of a spiked chain around his abdomen. This self-inflicted punishment is said to make him closer to Jesus' pain and is used as a method of repent and submission. A source of relief for his harsh methods on others, Mary Sibley exploited it to magically inflict pain or her sworn enemy from afar.


Cutting could be used for the torture and execution of a living person or applied as an act of humiliation after death. The executions generally consisted of cuts to the arms, legs, and chest leading to amputation of limbs, followed by decapitation or a stab to the heart. If the crime was less serious or the executioner merciful, the first cut would be to the throat causing death; subsequent cuts served solely to dismember the corpse. In the show, this kind of torture was used on the slave witch Tituba by Increase Mather.


Mab undergoes the ordeal of water

This was a form of punishment that was mainly reserved for supposed witches. One straps a subject to a seat and lowers it all the way into the water, then briefly allows the subject to come up for air before being lowered back down. While desperately inhaling, the subject is asked to confess. If there is no confession, it means more dunking. If there is a confession, it could very well mean an immediate conviction and death by dunking. Ordeal by water began with the witch-hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries. King James VI of Scotland claimed in his Daemonologie that water was so pure an element that it repelled the guilty. Madame Mab has suffered this treatment by the hand of Increase Mather, with the aim to obtain the names of other witches.

Heretic's Fork

Increase Mather's showing the heretic's fork to Tituba

The heretic's fork was a torture device, loosely consisting of a length of metal with two opposed bi-pronged "forks" as well as an attached belt or strap. The device was placed between the breastbone and throat just under the chin and secured with a leather strap around the neck, while the victim was hung from the ceiling or otherwise suspended in a way so that they could not lie down. Increase Mather used it on Tituba in The House of Pain.

Iron Maiden

A metal sarcophagus of human dimensions with metal spikes on the inside that penetrate the flesh of a prisoner when the lid is closed. Smaller, but equally painful, it also an iron mask with spikes, which is affixed to the face of the prisoner and then hit with a hammer so that the spikes penetrate the skull. This method is usually fatal. One of the previous incarnations of the Countess Von Marburg was killed by this torture device by Roman legionnaires.

Pear of Anguish

Cotton Mather shows the pear of anguish to the crowd during the trial

It may be named for a fruit, but there is most certainly nothing sweet about it. This device is placed in a subject’s orifice, then slowly cranked open wider and wider until the subject confesses. A death from blood loss was not uncommon. During the trial of John Alden, Cotton Mather showed to the crowd gathered in the meeting hall a pear of anguish, accusing his father of having extorted the confession from Emily, Charlotte, and Suzanne by means of this instrument.


This simple yet effective method of torture comes from the shores of France. One simply presses an increasing load of weight on a subject who refuses to plead innocent or guilty until the load becomes too much to bear. It is important to monitor the weight carefully, however, for slip-ups resulting in a flat subject are known to happen. This method was extremely dangerous and often passed from being a torture to an actual execution, as happened to Giles Corey.

Sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation was used as a means of interrogation by witch hunters during the Great Witch Caze, which has resulted in court trials over whether or not the technique is a form of torture. Under one interrogation technique, a subject might be kept awake for several days and when finally allowed to fall asleep, suddenly awakened and questioned. Increase Mather used it to interrogate the hapless acolytes of Mercy Lewis: Charlotte, Emily, Suzanne, and Charity, taking the girls tied to chairs and screaming against them sermons on eternal damnation.

Witch's Bridle

Main article: Witch's Bridle

The Witch's Bridle is a metal muzzle affixed to the face of the prisoners to prevent these from biting themselves or others during interrogation. The Witch's Bridle is mostly restraint device, but the psychological torture and humiliation of wearing it can affect the psyche of the prisoner, who feels trapped. Mercy Lewis has undergone the treatment of the muzzle.

Capital Executions for Witches

Main article: Salem Witch Trials

Since witchcraft was held responsible for plagues and famines, practitioners of magical arts, especially Maleficiumpractitioners, were therefore punishable by law. Condemned to a shameful death, their remains were thrown into mass graves, sprayed in the wind or left feeding the stray dogs, depriving them of a funeral ceremony.[1].

Death by Burning

The Barkers (presumed witches) burned at the stake

Deliberately causing death through the effects of combustion, or effects of exposure to extreme heat has a long history as a form of capital punishment. Many societies have employed it as an execution method for such crimes as treason, rebellious actions by slaves, heresy, witchcraft and demonstrated sexual deviancies, such as incest or homosexuality. The best-known type of executions of death by burning is when the condemned is bound to a large wooden stake. This is usually called Burning at the stake (or, in some cases, auto-da-fé during the Spanish Inquisition's trials). But other forms of death resulting from exposure to extreme heat are known, not only by exposure to flames or burning materials. For example, pouring substances, such as molten metal, onto a person (or down their throat or into their ears) are attested, as well as enclosing persons within, or attaching them to, metal contraptions subsequently heated. Immersion in a heated liquid as a form of execution is reviewed in death by boiling. Both the death by burning than the hot water torture have been used on the show. The Barker family was burned alive, while Mercy's acolytes were tortured with boiling water. Both on the order or directly executed by Increase Mather.

Death by Hanging

Young alleged witches hanging from the gallows

While there are four known methods of causing death by hanging, only one was used in the American Colonies: the short drop. This meant that the victim would die of strangulation. Much later, the world would adopt the long drop method, which would “humanely” snap the victim's neck before the pain of strangulation was felt at all. When a criminal was hung at the gallows in the town square, the hanging was hardly about the criminal. It was about everybody else who was there to watch. Public hangings were considered morality lessons for children and other vulnerable townspeople. There was thought to be no greater deterrent for criminal activity than the sight of a criminal’s death.

Peine Forte et Dure

'Peine forte et dure' (Law French for "hard and forceful punishment") was a method of torture formerly used in the common law legal system, in which a defendant who refused to plead ("stood mute") would be subjected to having heavier and heavier stones placed upon his or her chest until a plea was entered, or the defendant died. This execution method is closely related to the aforementioned pressing method of torture, being its direct continuation in case of continued refusal of the prisoner to confess.

Memorable Quotes

Cotton Mather: "Be reasonable, man. I have the power to press you for an answer. All you have to do is say the words "guilty" or "not guilty," and we can stop all of this."
Giles Corey: "If I say "guilty" you'll hang me before dawn. And if I say not, my fate is still in the hands of you bastards. I'll hold my peace and trust in the Lord!"
The Vow
Increase Mather (dunking Mab): "I will ask again, but first a caution. The next time, the saltwater that filled your mouth only will travel down your throat into your lungs. And then the taste you struggle to discern will not be of water, nor of air, but of death. A name."
Increase Mather: "Ah, tongue tearer! This is for snipping the lies from the mouths of those we question. Skull crusher. Breast ripper. Both of these are, well, quite aptly, if somewhat crudely, named."
Cotton Mather: "Father, I once pressed an innocent man to death! There must be a better way. Father, you must know, a tortured prisoner will confess to anything to stop the pain... Anything, true or not!
Increase Mather: "Yes, that is surely so. But you grossly mistake my faculties if you think me fool enough to accept as truth the first pained pourings that invariably come from the tormented lips."
Increase Mather: "Now, what you must do is meditate on these instruments which you see before you. You must set your mind firmly in pursuit of the goals which you must achieve, that of your survival and your salvation."
Increase Mather: "The heretic's fork. Yes. To keep you attentive and alert during the process. And this. Well, this you surely recognize thumbscrews. I believe these to be the simplest, and yet the most effective method of revealing the truth. And so let us begin."
Cotton Mather: "You employ the very tools of oppression perfected by the Inquisition! Tools used against good Puritans by those who would call us heretics!"
Increase Mather (to Tituba): "This tool it is called the choke pear, although I have heard it called the pear of anguish. It is inserted into the darker cavities and then opened up, with the expectation that the subject, too, will open up."
The House of Pain
Cotton Mather: "Put to the rack, threatened with death, even an innocent girl might think herself a witch and any man around her a devil."
Cotton Mather: " I submit to you that everything you've seen here today is the result of torture worthy of the Inquisition! Who is it who has really violated women? John Alden, or one who possesses and uses tools such as this?"
Ashes, Ashes
Mary Sibley (to Increase Mather): "You are no better than those you hunt. No, you're far worse. A witch, like a wolf, doesn't torture her sacrifice, only priests and inquisitors do that."
All Fall Down
Countess Von Marburg: "Were you there to hear the screams of thousands of children sliced apart by Crusaders? Have you smelled the human flesh searing to the red-hot irons of the Inquisition?"
Til Death Do Us Part




  • Modern scholarly estimates place the total number of executions for witchcraft in the 300-year period of European witch-hunts in the five digits, mostly at roughly between 40,000 and 50,000. The majority of those accused were from the lower economic classes in European society, although in rarer cases high ranking individuals were accused as well.
  • Contemporary witch-hunts have been reported from Sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Papua New Guinea. Official legislation against witchcraft is still found in Saudi Arabia and Cameroon.
  • From at least the 1930s, the term "witch-hunt" has been used figuratively to describe activities by governments (and, occasionally, by business entities) to seek out and expose perceived enemies, often appearing as a means of directing public opinion by fostering a degree of moral panic.


See Also