Lecture 4: Witch Marks

Detecting the so-called ‘witch’s mark’ or ‘devil’s mark’ was a means of proving someone was a witch. This bodily marker was some physical aberration, supposedly inflicted by the devil to symbolise the pact made with the alleged witch. It usually manifested around a nipple or nipples, or could, in fact, be an extra nipple or several extra nipples, and was insensitive to pain. The association with nipples also furnished an additional belief that a devilish minion, an animal or imp, could suck at the aberrant site. In this illustrated lecture, complete with written extracts, we also consider the means by which the torturer tests the mark or marks to determine their authenticity, usually with an implement called a ‘witch pricker.’ We will also explore the authenticity of witch prickers and the trickery involved in using them.

For a peak preview of some of the topics we’ll be looking at in this lecture, read ‘The Devil’s Mark’, Law Explorer (November 9, 2015): https://lawexplores.com/the-devils-mark/

You may also be interested in ‘Witch’s mark’, Art and Popular Culture: http://www.artandpopularculture.com/Witches%27_mark

Image for Lecture = T. H. Matteson. ‘Examination of a Witch’. 1853. Creative Commons


Marguerite Johnson is Honorary Professor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Queensland. She is a cultural historian of the ancient Mediterranean, specialising in sexuality, gender, and the body, particularly in the poetry of Sappho, Catullus, and Ovid, as well as magical traditions in Greece, Rome, and the Near East. She also researches Classical Reception Studies, with a regular focus on Australia. In addition to ancient world studies, Marguerite is interested in sexual histories in modernity as well as magic in the west more broadly, especially the practices and art of Australian witch, Rosaleen Norton. She is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

Bodies Behaving Badly – From Vagina Dentata to Wandering Wombs – 6 part Lecture Series

This is the fourth lecture in a special six-part series, Professor Marguerite Johnson takes us on an uncanny journey across time and space into the wilds of human imagination. Each lecture introduces a particular case study – from vaginas that bite to penises that disappear – and is extensively illustrated along with written accounts of these bodily anomalies. Participants will also receive a reading list for those interested in pursuing the topics in more detail.

Image for Series: Mary Magdalene, 15th century, wood, from Altschwendt, Austria

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