History

Trial by Ordeal

The surprising accuracy of the Dark Ages' trial by fire rituals

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We all know the classic scene below from Monty Python and The Holy Grail: The village mob drags onto the street a woman whom they've outfitted with a witch hat and prosthetic witch nose. They bring her before Sir Bedevere the Wise, claiming that she's a witch. Bedevere walks them through the science: Witches burn. Wood burns. Wood floats. Ducks float. Therefore, if the woman weighs less than or equal to a duck, she's obviously a witch.

A couple of centuries after the age of King Arthur, much of Europe began to engage in similarly ridiculous rituals to determine guilt in cases that lacked eyewitnesses or physical evidence. These rituals, called ordeals, were usually conducted in a church by high-ranking clergy. Three ordeals in particular were popular.

In the first, the accused was to retrieve a stone ring from a pot of boiling water. If his arm emerged unscathed, he was believed to have been protected by God, and proclaimed innocent. In the second, the accused walked nine paces while carrying a piece of heated iron. Again, if he managed to avoid severe burns he was deemed innocent. The third submerged the accused in icy water. If he sunk, he was believed innocent. If he floated, he was guilty.

Absurd as these rituals sound, their intent wasn't torture. Torture will produce a confession from anyone, guilty or innocent, if it's sufficiently harsh and unrelenting. Ordeals, on the other hand, really were intended to separate the guilty from the innocent. A fun, provocative new paper (PDF) from George Mason University economist Peter Leeson, now visiting at the University of Chicago, makes a compelling argument that ordealists were also uncannily good at it.

Leeson, author of The Invisible Hook, the wonderful book on the economics of pirates, explains that during the Dark Ages, belief in the ordeal system was strong enough that even most of the guilty bought into iudicium Dei, the idea that these rituals invoked the hand of God to condemn the guilty and protect the innocent. The believing guilty, then, faced an easy choice: admit guilt, be punished, and be spared the loss of an arm or the discomfort of frigid waters; or endure the ordeal, face the discomfort and possible loss of a hand or limb, and be punished anyway. Most of the guilty, Leeson argues, admitted their guilt before proceeding to the ordeal.

Only the believing innocent, then, would actually subject themselves to the rituals, knowing that God would protect them. Here's where it gets fascinating: Leeson argues that the clergy who oversaw the ordeals knew this, and consequently rigged the process to ensure that the innocent passed the tests. A priest, for example, might ensure that the pot of water was less than scalding by the time the accused submerged his arm. With the hot iron test, he could temper the fires to keep the irons at a manageable temperature before the accused walked the nine paces. In both cases, priests could make liberal use of Holy Water, perhaps turning a ritualistic sprinkling into a dousing to protect the skin of the accused. The ordeals also often took place in large churches, where the congregation was well removed from the act, giving the priest some leeway to rig the test. In both cases, it was up to the priest to determine if the accused had been scalded to the point of guilt, again opening the system to manipulation.

Leeson finds similar room for chicanery with the cold-water tests. The instructions for ordeal rituals were vague on the amount of time a suspect had to be submerged in water before a determination could be made on whether he floated or sunk, again giving clergy wide discretion. Interestingly, Leeson points out that lean men were more likely to sink (and thus be cleared) than women. Priests, then, were much more likely to subject men to the cold water treatment than women. Again, clergy were looking for ways to help them pass. Leeson found that where we have records, those records show that an overwhelming percentage of people who chose to endure ordeals actually passed them, certainly not what you'd expect if the the ordeals had been conducted "properly."

Interestingly, while our own post-Medieval criminal justice system functions best when those in power are subject to skepticism, checks, and balances, the ordeals system did best when the community unflinchingly believed the priests in power were driven by the hand of God. Within the surrounding community, the more fervently and unquestioningly the laity embraced the superstition, the fewer innocent people the priests would need to condemn in order to stave off suspicion. A completely devoted laity would accept a 100 percent exoneration rate. A more skeptical laity wouldn't.

So the success of the ordeals relied on the guilty believing that God wouldn't intervene to save them, the innocent fully believing that God would intervene, and a surrounding community willing to accept a high clearance rate for those who allowed themselves to be tested.

As Leeson explains, when doubt entered the system, the delicate balance was thrown askew. But while they lasted—up until the Church of England withdrew its support for the notion in the 13th century—ordeals were a more efficient, likely even more accurate, way of determining guilt than expensive fact-gathering and inquisitions (which were likely subject to their own forms of manipulation).

It's doubtful there are many lessons we can glean from ordeals today. We aren't about to return to a society so reliant on divine intervention. But Leeson's paper is a fascinating look into a system that, though driven by objectively false beliefs, not only produced surprisingly accurate results, but produced results that only became more accurate the more fervently the community believed.

Radley Balko is a senior editor at Reason magazine.

NEXT: 'The American People Don't Care About Process'

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  1. If only believing really hard could make stimulus spending work.

      1. We’re apparently the only people who have found this article, as it for some reason isn’t on the H&R front page.

        1. Why don’t you kids get a room?

  2. Trial by ordeal is wrong. Except when it’s performed on public officials. Then it’s deliciously right.

  3. How to Fall 35,000 Feet?And Survive
    You’re six miles up, alone and falling without a parachute:

    Though the odds are long, a small number of people have found themselves in similar situations?and lived to tell the tale. Here’s PM’s 120-mph, 35,000-ft, 3-minutes-to-impact survival guide.

    http://www.popularmechanics.co…..44036.html

    1. I saw that–pretty cool. I’m jumping off a mountain this weekend to see how it goes.

      1. Good luck with that.

        1. First you find a 35000 foot mountain…

          1. That was just a maximum. They highlight falls from lower altitudes, too.

            1. Find something taller than your desk so this can be a real test.

      2. That was just a maximum. They highlight falls from lower altitudes, too.
        reply to this

    2. Contrary to popular belief, water is an awful choice. Like concrete, liquid doesn’t compress. Hitting the ocean is essentially the same as colliding with a sidewalk, Hamilton explains, except that pavement (perhaps unfortunately) won’t “open up and swallow your shattered body.”

      Um, anyone that watched cartoons as a child knows that falling from a great height into a body of water will shatter your body.

      1. But jumping right before impact will save you.

  4. What’s with the lack of alt-text today?

    1. Hordng. Evil, Capitalist thug hording.

  5. The believing guilty, then, faced an easy choice: admit guilt, be punished, and be spared the loss of an arm or the discomfort of frigid waters; or endure the ordeal, face the discomfort and possible loss of a hand or limb, and be punished anyway.

    Deal, or Ordeal?

    1. Bust a deal, face the wheel?

      1. THAT’S a back room deal I can get behind.

        Thunderdome: Reconciliation.

        1. Awesome.

  6. Let’s have Trial By Combat instead.

    Zog will favor the right!

  7. It’s too bad prosecutors aren’t required to swim a river of fire to file an indictment.

  8. I see a flaw in this.

    I was in T-ball as a 6-year-old. Someone broke the Tee and blamed it on me. He got the other kids to chant confess, confess, confess. Being innocent, I refused and was kicked of the team. Had I the option of proving my innocence by placing my hand in boiling water, I’d have told them to go fuck themselves and left on my own. Either that or I have lied and said the coach put his hand down my pants and squeezed my wiener.

    1. You are leaving out the fact that the ordeals require the people involved to fervently believe that God will step in and protect them from being burned; therefore the flaw is not in their reasoning but your own.

      1. What God is a greater God than baseball? Besides football, of course. Huh?

    2. you’re also forgetting that walking away wasn’t an option.

      – confess and get big punishment

      – deny and get saved by god (i.e. get a pass in a rigged trial by ordeal)

      – deny and get hurt in the ordeal and then big punishment for guilt

      These are the only options the true-believing public saw.

      1. Look. If I’d “confessed” I’d have received punishment for something I didn’t do. Do you really believe that no one who was innocent didn’t “confess” in order to evade the ordeal?

        Is this the same group of bloggers that opposes enhanced interrogation techniques because they can produce false confessions? Really?

        1. No one claimed it was perfect, but your argument is still premised upon the idea that the accused didn’t fervently believe that the ordeal wouldn’t hurt them if they were innocent; something that the study admits is necessary for the system to work. When people are rightly skeptical about sticking their hands in the fire of course it can and will produce false confessions like torture.

          The argument was that assuming a society largely composed of true believers Ordeals are surprisingly accurate; your first attempt to just argue against Ordeals being surprisingly accurate sans belief failed, so then you shifted the argument again substituting surprisingly accurate for perfect with your claim that “no one who was innocent didn’t “confess”.

          Maybe you should try to understand the argument and discuss it rather than obfuscate to make a point on “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Methinks Chad has a right wing brother.

          1. and your argument assumes the conclusion

  9. Very nice article, and I rather liked “Ordeals,” Leeson’s unpublished manuscript–thanks for the link!

    Ever since reading The Invisible Hook last year, I’ve checked in from time to time to see what else Leeson is producing. His writing doesn’t have a lot of flair, but it’s quite approachable (no thanks to Princeton Press’s terrible copyediting–I counted over three dozen typos in my readthrough of Invisible Hook). Leeson offers a good introduction to self-ordering systems for people who might accept reigning technocratic paradigms out of simple social default.

    Many thanks for this interesting (and rather refreshingly apolitical!) article.

  10. when doubt entered the system, the delicate balance was thrown askew

    Until encountering that, I had forgotten we weren’t blogging politics.

  11. Threadjack:

    Apple Entry into Market Means Higher eBook Prices

    Why are media producers so fucking clueless about shifts in technology?

    1. I think they are just filling up space in the article with the first two causes of higher prices which will clearly go away with more entrants into the ebook device field; but their logic on amazon no longer being able to use its market power to decrease the price of books to promote the kindle is sound. It’s also a good example of how lefties shouldn’t freak out about market power when another company can easily enter the market and compete for the economic profits until the technology becomes an everyday item with firms mainly competing for normal profits.

      1. I found it more remarkable that publishers want to charge a substantial portion of the cost of a hard-cover book for 1 and 0’s. As a consumer, that’s fairly obnoxious and offensive and yet another reason why won’t get an e-reader.

        1. I don’t know much about book pricing, but I think that much of the cost of the hardcover book goes to pay the publisher/author rather than just to pay for the paper needed to make the book itself and is just another form of price discrimination. They sell the book for 30 dollars in hardcover to everyone who will buy it at that price, then release the book in paperback at a discount price to sell it to everyone else. Any electronic media should be practically free if it was sold at marginal cost, as with most intellectual property. The hardcover book likely didn’t cost 28 dollars to print either. DVDs certainly don’t cost 20 bucks to make either. Most of the money goes to whomever owns the intellectual property on the medium, not to pay for the medium itself.

          1. I understand that. Once you deduct the cost for printing, binding, shipping, warehousing, retail rent, etc, that’s a big chunk of the cost of a book. I don’t have a problem with selling at whatever the market will bear and everyone getting their fair cut, but c’mon, only a 25% discount? Are you *sure* you want people to adopt a method of distribution that costs you virtually nothing and puts money in the bank in the blink of an eye?

            Charging 75% of the cost of a physical copy for a digital copy is a indication of not understanding the **cough** paradigm shift. Paying that much is a fools game, which, of course, loyal Apple customers are accustomed to.

    2. Quite simple: They’re members of the Apple Cult. For the cultists, the price has just gone up.

  12. Who were these LEO priests that rigged the lie detectors in favor of the accused? I don’t believe it. Way I heard it, thems that upset the establishment (say by not giving their property to the church) inevitably failed the ordeal. Soon enough some inquiring Spanish priests come to find out everybody was guilty and needed to be burned. Of course it was a mercy burning to save their immortal souls. Naturally all their property would be turned over to the church. It’s only right.

    1. Good thing no one expected the Spanish Inquisition.

      1. NO ONE expects the Spanish Inquisition!

    2. The inquisition was not an ordeal, that was torture. Besides, the ordeal was obsolete by the 1200s the inquisition was in the 1400s

      1. We were doing inquisitions in 1184. The Spaniards came late to the party.

  13. Our modern-day analog is the polygraph. The machine doesn’t actually do anything, but when everyone believes that it does, they’ll be much more likely to spill the beans.

    1. Wiggle your toes when your lying, I hear thats how our dear leader gets away with it so easily.

  14. This is ridiculous. Not only is the basis of these ordeals completely irrational, but the idea that a clergy not only performed ‘justice’, but controlled justice is awful. How about we give judges guns and if the bullet doesn’t penetrate your skin, your innocent? (Don’t worry, the judge already knows who’s innocent and just shoots them with an airsoft pistol).

    1. I AM the LAW!

  15. It seems the equilibrium that Leeson describes requires that the priest disbelieve in the system they are administering. Does Leeson present evidence that such was the case?

    1. It seems the equilibrium that Leeson describes requires that the priest disbelieve in the system they are administering. Does Leeson present evidence that such was the case?

      Exactly, the priest would have to know that they need to rig the test. Leeson presents statistical evidence that the majority “passed” their ordeals, but still a significant percentage did not. Either some priests didn’t know they had to rig the tests, or they decided to condemn someone they had no good reason to believe was guilty.

      http://www.peterleeson.com/Ordeals.pdf

      1. As well as the issue of skepticism among the laity that would relative to degree of which was present would require a few be sacrificed to appease somewhat skeptical, many more with very skeptical, and with a devoted laity, one not skeptical at all, 100% could be found innocent.

        1. See my comment below. A significant percentage of those who underwent the ordeals (over 35% of cases Leeson cites) were convicted. Theoretically, all those who agreed to undergo the test were innocent; since those who were guilty would refuse (trust in the priesthood was almost total at that time). So the only information the priests had about those defendants based on the ordeals was suggesting “this person is innocent”. And yet they failed to rig the test in the person’s favor in those cases.

          Also, a rational person (admittedly these were in limited supply during the middle ages) would understand that the conviction rate for these tests is far from being dispositive of whether God actually intervenes in the tests (and believing that God intervenes is the only reason one would believe that one’s guilt or innocence would affect the outcome if one takes the test). Convicting 35 or 36 percent could simply mean that the priests are failing to rig the test in certain circumstances for whatever reason (taking bribes, trying to make the system appear to work, just messing with people, etc).

          If I were an investigative reporter in the middle ages producing a Special Report Scroll on the criminal justice system, I wouldn’t just look at the conviction rates. I would want to be present for the ordeals – and touch the water or iron for a split second right before the test to see if it is really boiling or red hot. Then I would observe the test and come back at the unwrapping to observe the result (including the state of the person’s arm and the verdict). Since I wouldn’t be the one on trial, there would be no reason for God to protect me from feeling the heat of the object any more than He does for ordinary, non-judicial contact with heated objects.

          I would want to ask church officials: “How do you know that God intervenes in these tests? How was this discovered in the first place? If God is willing to intervene, why don’t we just ask Him to ‘please strike down the guilty’ ? why bother with the test? Shouldn’t we have independent observers do what I propose to do for my Special Report to ensure that we don’t have widespread rigging? After all, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

          Of course, they might burn me as a heretic for being too rational – so that would be one way to handle the “problem” of skepticism.

    2. I’ve always assumed that to be true. What was the point of being clergy otherwise?

      Presumably the clergy had spies and wanted to keep not just their identity, but their very existence, secret. The spies knew who was guilty.

    3. The central claim of Balko’s argument expressed in the subtitle is unsubstantiated. Just because the system is rigged or that the majority of people were cleared does not mean it was accurate. For all we know it was rigged to expressly to exonerate the guilty who gave the church a cut of their criminal activity.

      Also, I would argue that the purpose of the ordeals was not seperate the guilty from the innocent but to reinforce the authority of the church and scare the crap out of it’s enemies.
      In fact, I would expect many show trials to exonerate some suspects if only to bolster their own authority. It’s a common ploy in rhetoric and ideological arguments to make a big show of making some concessions in order to establish that you are ‘fair.’ I wonder if a study of show trials during the cultural revolution wouldn’t yield similar results.

      Still, fascinating article. I’ll have to read the original when I get home. Now, how can I use this to hate on Obama?

      1. You read the articles? I just like the pictures.

        1. Reading is for rocket scientists and pictures are too difficult to understand, I just like hating on people.

          1. Ratko,hating on people is a waste of time but shit disturbing is a time honored tradition. You may be familiar with my work. 😉

      2. So in order to show their system worked, the system had to acquit more people than it convicted. For our modern system, we need to convict more than we acquit.

        An understanding sky being, an unforgiving leviathan.

    4. Not really. The priests belief in the infallibility of such system need not be shaken by his intervention on behalf of the accused.

      It would be simple to conclude that it is only by miraculous intervention that an innocent who sticks his hand in the water is unburned because God wills it so.

      Of course to believers, God’s way is not necessarily the way of mere mortals, so instead of using miracle, perhaps he takes the more mundane approach. The Priest, in response to what he interprets the will of God to be, puts warm water in the bowl instead of boiling water.

    5. Let’s see if I can play the FIFY you game.

      It seems the equilibrium that Leeson describes requires that the priest politicians disbelieve in the system they are administering.

      After all, they know best.

  16. Then there’s the story of the lie detecting donkey with the lampblack-coated tail.

  17. not as delicious or ridiculous as Trial by Hors d’oeuvres

    1. BACK IN THE 1500S, THE URKOBOLD WAS FORCED TO UNDERGO A TRIAL BY WHORES. IT WAS WHORIBBLE!

      1. Did they at least have the decency to serve whore d’oeuvres during the trial?

  18. A smooth, clever argument, but would YOU risk YOUR arm, or leg, or hand,
    or life, on a theory that it was all quietly arranged and beneficent in the end?

    The clergy were the de facto government of those times, right? Well would you trust today’s DMV or the DHS to bring you through such an ordeal safely? Why, then ascribe superior competence to the local parish priests? Priests are men, and are subject to the usual temptations and stupidities of the rest of the human race.

    Trial by ordeal was mostly a public demonstration of who was popular, just as trial by combat merely a demonstration of who was stronger and crueler.

    1. You are being too rational to understand a system that is based purely on faith.

      1. How could the system be based purely on faith if people were acquitted? I don’t think the blind faith argument holds here.

  19. Among the many logical flaws in this argument, it assumes that the clerics were somehow able with unerring accuracy (through divine inspiration?) to distinguish guilty defendants from innocents. Even our modern, substantially more sophisticated criminal justice system fails to accomplish that with perfect consistency, so I don’t see why we should assume that medieval clerics were able to do so.

    1. I thought the point was that they did not need to know who was innocent and who wasn’t. The system would determine it for them.

  20. That makes perfect sense – it’s not as if the peasants were members of a faith that preached that all human beings are, you know, sinners (and thus automatically guilty) or anything.

  21. The radical pseudo-Islamic terrorists of today are very superstitious. Perhaps a modern day version of this could be implemented. For example, we could lock them up without trial for years, pile them nude on top of one another and have women laugh at them. We could make them think they are drowning. If we wanted to try this in a modern setting that is. But we could never get away with any of this because it would go against our modern sensibilities and no American in modern times would defend any of these things.

  22. 1. Many of the critics appear to have missed the meat of the matter. A guilty person who “believed” would know that they would fail the ordeal, so they confessed. Only a truly innocent “believer” would subject themselves, assuming that God would actually save them.

    2. Another key is “high-ranking” clerics. Anyone really think that the high-ranking weren’t smart enough to know that they were involved in a con? (the whole organized religion system). And also smart enough to easily pull the wool over the eyes of the “believers”.

  23. Leeson cites two first hand sources on the exoneration rates of ordeals.

    The first lists 208 “completed” Hungarian hot iron ordeals (100 were aborted before they could be completed) in which 78 defendants were convicted and 130 were exonerated. If we assume that these individuals were all innocent (because all the guilty would have declined the ordeal) then we are left with the conclusion that Hungarians using this system convicted 37.5% of its innocent defendants.

    Of course a more realistic interpretation of Leeson’s theory is that only most defendants were innocent. A few were guilty, but skeptical enough to take a chance noticing the high exoneration rate.

    Also, some innocent defendants – if they were skeptical and didn’t know that the exoneration rate was high – probably declined the ordeal and effectively plead guilty.

    The second source involves British ordeals and had a higher exoneration rate but a smaller sample size: 17 out of 20 exonerated.

    I saw no data on how many people declined the ordeals. And it is not at all clear how priests determined who they should convict and for whom to rig the test to exonerate.

  24. You could survive that fall, if you fell into a mattress factory, or a 6 mile high pile of feathers.

  25. I realize this article is merely a lark, but still, nothing like writing about events 600-900 years ago with no evidence, just modern thought processes superimposed over relatively primitive existences. Why put such trust in religious figures to be merciful? Surely the unwashed masses would become unsettled if every trial by fire came out unscathed! Is Reason.com seriously acquiescing to the idea of placing trust over life and death in the hands of religious authorities? They might as well join the Republicans as well as the washed masses on the Dems’ side too.

  26. Fortunately, there was a haystack in the field below.

    Unfortunately, there was a pitchfork sticking out of it.

    Fortunately, he missed the pitchfork.

    Unfortunately, he also missed the haystack.

  27. Can we compare this Medieval justice to our “full faith” in the dollar. Is it’s value false? Is the fed’s management of the currency qualify as a useful ruse? Is this a secular superstition? Certainly losing faith in the currency has and will, in the short term, make the markets less effective.

  28. just build a bridge out of ’em. that’ll show em.

    1. Ducks?

    2. So dollars do have value, but not as intended.

  29. As detailed in a sociological study of Christianity, a great many of the accusations against the Church and its institutions are simply false, while a great many more are exaggerated or overly simplistic. Among other things, the author notes that priests, like members of any other institution, had differing levels of faith and belief in what they were doing. The monolithic appearance of the Catholic Church in medieval times was an illusion.

    In the case of Peter Leeson’s paper, I’d say the way these ordeals were handled varied from one parish to another much as the faith of the priests did. Some of the more skeptical priests might well have knowingly rigged the tests, but I’d be willing to bet a fair number of true believers were less consciously rigging the tests, as with some of the priests using the boiling water ordeal claiming that the hand of the accused was healing just fine and therefore he must be innocent.

    (Another example: He sure seems innocent to me… Oh Lord, I would that he didn’t have to face this grave ordeal… “Say, Brother John, could we say a few more prayers over this cauldron we just took off the coals? I’m not sure we said that blessing right earlier; let’s ask God for fair judgment just one more time.” Later: “And now, as we sprinkle the holy water on he who stands accused, oh Lord, we pray earnestly for Thy justice as commonly tempered with Thy mercy to be in full evidence…” etc. etc. etc. Meanwhile the water is cooling to more tolerable levels every minute the prayer continues…)

    In a book of folk tales from the backwoods, I also found a more recent story about a preacher from some unspecified Protestant sect conducting a clever trial at an inn where he was staying to determine who’d stolen some money and help settle a dispute that had arisen over it. He had a kettle that had been hanging over the fire brought to him, turned it upside down, and claimed that with a little blessing, the kettle would sound out the thief when he ran his hand over it. Then he ordered the doors locked and the lights doused, and ordered everyone there to come run his hand over the kettle.

    When the kettle made no sound and everyone present claimed to have made his trial, the preacher expressed his confusion that the test seemingly hadn’t worked, and then had the lights re-lit. As soon as the lights were back on, he ordered everyone to show him their hands, and when he saw that all the men had soot on their hands but one, he grabbed that one by the shoulder and said “Now you give that money back, sir!”

    As for the tender mercies of the Church, some parts of it were nicer than others. The Inquisition’s gotten a bad rap from some of the doings of its local chapters, especially the ones partially or completely under the control of the “secular” authorities (the Spanish Inquisition particularly), but the further up the hierarchy a defendant could get his case appealed, the more likely he was to receive a light sentence. (“Bless your inquisitor a few times, say a few Hail Marys, do a round of penance, and say you’re sorry and you’ll never do it again.”) Sometimes he could even get a full acquittal.

    It was also the higher-ups in the Inquisition who quashed many of the worst witch trials and had the witch hunters prosecuting them sentenced to death for what the inquisitors deemed to be extremely heretical activities. (While there were some laws against sorcery, belief in the existence of a mythological species of witches was considered an absurd and malicious superstition and punished accordingly.)

    In medieval times, it’s worth remembering, the priesthood contained virtually all of Europe’s intellectuals, which is why it presided over so much of both the corruption and the reform of Western Civilization. The way these trials by ordeal were conducted reflects both aspects of this influence as well.

  30. I just read the Leeson paper. He seems to assume that the only way for anybody to pass the test unharmed (at least for the hot water and hot iron ordeals) would be some kind of trick by the performing priest, and that, in all ‘innocence’ cases, finally the water (or iron) was not so hot…

    First, I have never heard about any case where a priest was caught red-handed pouring ice cubes in the boiling water, or any similar trick. Don’t forget that the accused was not the only one taking a risk : if the innocence of the accused was ‘proved’, then the accuser was labelled as a perjurer, and the penalty for perjury was death. So the accuser, his family and his friends obviously had a very close look at the water or the red-hot iron, ready to protest if they did not find it hot enough !

    More, there was a way for the accused to ‘cheat’ and pass the test :

    In his 1920 book ‘The miracle mongers, an expose’, the great magician Harry Houdini gives a formula he found in a 1702 book by Albertus Magnus (but was obviously well known centuries and centuries before it was written) :

    ?Take juice of marshmallow, and white of egg, flea-bane seed, and lime; powder them and mix juice of radish with the white of egg; mix all thoroughly and with this composition annoint your body or hand and allow it to dry and afterwards annoint it again, and after this you may boldly take up hot iron without hurt.?

    (no, I have not tried it)

    There were a lot of different formulas to accomplish this purpose…

    Many tricks performed by magicians today were already known during antiquity. Some egyptians papyri written more than 3500 or 4000 years describe various magic tricks.

    Of course only a small minority of the population knew about such formulas, but it would be surprising that during the centuries where such ordeals were in common use the clergy could keep all this secrets out of reach of the professional criminals and other interested parties (‘Hey, man, I heard that next week you will have to carry a red hot iron… Want to be sure of the result ? Easy, give me twenty gold coins’).

  31. There appears to be a logical flaw in the theory.

    If we assume that ordeals worked because people fully believed then logically that belief must extend to the priesthood as well. If the latter were rigging the trials then that implies that they didn’t believe that God would protect the innocent. It suggests that the priests were therefore using the laity’s credulity.

    The priests were not true believers.

  32. While we may not be as obsessed with the divine as we once were, it’s clear that at least some aspects of our criminal justice system only work because everyone thinks they work, and could function just as well if replaced with a guessing chicken, if we could somehow convince the world that the chicken had all the answers.

  33. e science: Witches burn. Wood burns. Wood floats. Ducks float. Therefore, if the woman weighs less than or equal to a duck, she’s obviously a witch.

  34. If we assume that ordeals worked because people fully believed then logically that belief must extend to the priesthood as well. If the latter were rigging the trials then that implies that they didn’t believe that God would protect the innocent. It suggests that the priests were therefore using the laity’s credulity.

  35. wolves gray Certainly only a compact minority in the society understood with regards to these kinds of formulation, nonetheless it might be amazing which in the decades exactly where these kinds of ordeals were being within frequent utilize the clergy may retain almost all this specific tips from attain in the expert scammers and various involved parties (‘Hey, gentleman, POST listened to which in a few days you’ll need to carry any reddish colored sizzling iron bars… Strive to be convinced in the end result? Effortless, auto repair present me personally twenty platinum coins’).

  36. .It absolutely was also the higher-ups from the Inquisition who quashed most worst witch demos and had that witch hunters prosecuting these folks sentenced to demise for what that inquisitors deemed that they are extremely heretical things to do. (While there were being some laws alongside sorcery, belief in the presence of a mythological kinds of witches appeared to be considered an absurd in addition to malicious superstition in addition to punished accordingly. )

    If we consider that ordeals did wonders because people completely believed then practically that belief must extend into the priesthood as good. If the second item were rigging that trials then that means they didn’t believe God would secure the innocent. It suggests the fact that priests were therefore with the laity’s credulity.

  37. It absolutely was also the higher-ups from the Inquisition who quashed most worst witch demos and had that witch hunters prosecuting these folks sentenced to demise for what that inquisitors deemed that they are extremely heretical things to do. (While there were being some laws alongside sorcery, belief in the presence of a mythological kinds of witches appeared to be considered an absurd in addition to malicious superstition in addition to punished accordingly. )

    If we consider that ordeals did wonders because people completely believed then practically that belief must extend into the priesthood as good. If the second item were rigging that trials then that means they didn’t believe God would secure the innocent. It suggests the fact that priests were therefore with the laity’s credulity.

  38. It absolutely was also the higher-ups from the Inquisition who quashed most worst witch demos and had that witch hunters prosecuting these folks sentenced to demise for what that inquisitors deemed that they are extremely heretical things to do. (While there were being some laws alongside sorcery, belief in the presence of a mythological kinds of witches appeared to be considered an absurd in addition to malicious superstition in addition to punished accordingly. )

    If we consider that ordeals did wonders because people completely believed then practically that belief must extend into the priesthood as good. If the second item were rigging that trials then that means they didn’t believe God would secure the innocent. It suggests the fact that priests were therefore with the laity’s credulity.

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