The greatest of all English witch-finders was Matthew Hopkins, who flourished during the middle of the 17th century. Hopkins was the son of a fanatical Puritan minister and obviously absorbed some of father’s ruthless Calvinism. Hopkins attempted to practice law but, after failing in that, became a witch-finder. He adopted the title of “Witch-finder General” and using King James’ Demonology as a textbook, he toured the country. Hopkins charged a community twenty shillings a visit whether or not he found any witches there. He also received board and lodging during his stay plus traveling expenses. In addition, he got another 20 shillings per witch discovered.
Until Hopkins got going, no one had had any idea how many witches were about. Hopkins’ favorite method of detecting a witch was “swimming” the accused. The womans hands and feet were tied crossway behind her, the bigtoe of the right foot being tied to the thumb of the left hand and visa versa. She was then carefully laid on a blanket spread out on a quiet body of water like a mill pond. If she floated, she was a witch and Hopkins hanged her. If she drowned, she was innocent, and Hopkings was always the first to acknowledge that he’d made a mistake.
If the woman kept quiet she usually floated. If she struggled, she usually drowned and Hopkins lost his 20 shillings. So the witch finder was forced to use other methods. The accused was taken to a convenient room, stripped naked, and tied in a sitting position on a stool for 24 hours without food or sleep. All witches had a familiar, a sort of pet demon, that visited them at least once a day, and the demon might take any shape. If any living creature, including a fly, was seen in the room during this period, it had to be the witchs familiar and her doom was sealed.
In case no flies showed up, Hopkins still wasn’t beaten. Witches fed their familiars from a spot on the body from which the demon sucked a special fluid. This place was insensible to pain. So Hopkins and his assistants stuck needles into the accused until she either confessed to being a witch or they found some numb spot. There are several such spots in the human anatomy and one of Hopkins’ helpers, an old woman named Goddy Phillips, knew them all. However, in case Goddy was off testing another witch, Hopkins could usually get a girl to confess by saying, “I have tested you everywhere with this long needle except up the nipples of your breasts. Do you confess or shall I try there next?’ Most girls confessed.
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HeritageDaily: Matthew Hopkins – The Real Witch-Hunter. https://www.heritagedaily.com/2020/07/matthew-hopkins-the-real-witch-hunter/134360