17. You ‘looked the part’: As witch hunts became increasingly commonplace, so-called ‘experts’ believed they knew what a witch looked like
For witch-hunters, the simplest ways were often the most effective. Quite simply, by the mid-17th century, a popular idea of what a witch looked like had emerged. If a woman had a visible wart, or a crooked nose, or if she limped or had a hunched back, chances are someone would accuse her of being a witch. Looks on their own were not enough to haul a woman before a grand jury. However, the transcripts of numerous witch trials show that appearance was often used as supporting evidence and might even be enough to see a woman hanged.
In 1640s England, the Revered John Gaule, who fancied himself an expert in rooting out witches, issued his thoughts on the matter. He explained: “Every old woman with a wrinkled face, a furr’d brow, a hairy lip, a gobber tooth, a squint eye, a squeaking voice, or a scolding tongue is not only suspected, but pronounced for a witch.” Given the intense paranoia and hysteria of the time, many people took this advice to heart, leading to a wave of older women being accused of black magic by their neighbors, even their families.