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In the lore of the witch, this is claimed to be an extra teat or nipple on a witchs body from which she or he permitted a familiar or imp to suckle human blood which these creatures supposedly craved. Although extra nipples appear naturally in a small percentage of the population, a fact which was either not widely known or disregarded in medieval times, these extra bodily protuberances took on an infernal association during this period. During witch trials virtually any wart, mole, tumor, outstanding swelling or discoloration of the skin was suspect as being a witchs mark. After their arrest witches were bodily searched to see if any peculiarities could be discovered. Even red spots, or bumps under the tongue and folds in the vagina were considered paps for familiars.
People were employed as "prickers" during the trials to prick the skin of the accused witches to see if any insensitive portions on their bodies could be found. This was frequently done before the judge, jury and audience. The accused was usually naked to the waist, and often had to raise her skit for the examiner to examine her. The examining tool was usually a sharp instrument such as a pin or needle, as well as other instruments. An insensitive portion of the body was one which did not bleed when pricked, and so designated a witchs mark. The prickers were often paid to discover witches, so much a witch, and some cheated by using a blunt ended instrument so certain portions of the skin would not bleed when pricked.
Out of fear people sometimes cut off their warts, moles, and other bumps in order not to be suspect as a witch. These tactics helped very little, if any, because scars that were left indicated where an incision had been made. When discovered the scars were judged to indicate the person had something to hide, and the person was suspect of being a witch. Often the terms witchs mark and devils mark were used interchangeably, so the person might also be thought to be in covenant with the devil.
Currently witchs marks are described as unusual birthmarks. The Witch Sybil Leek believed in them and said that she and other members of her family had them.
Witches marks are used in initiation rituals of some traditions of modern Witchcraft. These marks are symbolic and may take the shapes of X-crosses made with anointing oil on the body of the candidate. As described in the Book of Shadows for the Gardnerian tradition, the crosses are traced over the third eye, the heart and the genitals, symbolizing the freeing of the mind, heart and body.
A witch mark in Appalachia, a rural portion of the southeastern United States, is a star, similar to the Maltese cross, which is etched or drawn over the doorway of a house or barn, to keep witches away. Also, it can be cut out of wood and nailed over the door. A.G.H.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen.The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft.
New York: Facts On File.1989. pp. 388-389