According to folk belief, witches are unable to shed tears. The origins of this belief may be found in the tears shed over the crucifixion of Christ and a statement by St. Bernard (1091–1153) that the tears of the humble could penetrate heaven and conquer the unconquerable. Therefore, the reasoning went, tears were an offense to the Devil, who would do whatever was necessary to prevent his witches from crying.

This “truth” was repeated in medieval witch-hunters’ guides such as the Malleus Maleficarum (1486) and by leading Demonologists of the 16th century, such as JeanBodin. In De la Demonomanie des Sorciers (1580), Bodin stated that witches and Wizards can neither cry nor look a man directly in the eye. James I of England (James VI of Scotland) wrote in Daemonologie (1597):

. . . threaten and torture them [witches] as ye please, while first they repent; (God not permitting them to dissemble their obstinacie in so horrible a crime,) albeit the woman-kind especially be able otherways to shed teares at every light occasion, when they will, yea, although it were dissembingly, like the crocodiles.

An accused witch’s inability to cry during her interrogation, torture, or trial was taken as proof that she was a witch. The possibility that a person might be beyond tears due to terror or pain was never considered; a defendant was damned if she didn’t cry, and damned if she did. The Malleus Maleficarum instructs judges to take particular note of tears:

For we are taught both by the words of worthy men of old and by our own experience that this is a most certain sign, and it has been found that even if she be urged by solemn conjurations to shed tears, if she be a witch she will not be able to weep.

Judges were warned that witches, knowing that the absence of tears as proof of their guilt, might try to fake crying by smearing their cheeks with Spittle. Defendants were to be watched closely at all times for this trick.

The Malleus Maleficarum notes that while witches will not cry in the presence of judges, or during their interrogation, they will weep while in their cells. This was not to be taken seriously, however, because it was most likely a trick of the Devil, “since tearful grieving, weaving and deceiving are said to be proper to women.”

If an accused witch was able to cry, she was supposed to be discharged, unless there still existed a “grave suspicion” that she was indeed a witch. Naturally, many defendants who cried were nonetheless convicted of witchcraft, as there were plenty of other ways to prove guilt.

In passing sentence, a judge might give a defendant one last chance to prove her innocence by crying. According to the Malleus, he would place his hand upon her head and pronounce:

I conjure you by the bitter tears shed on the Cross by our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world, and by the burning tears poured in the evening hour over His wounds by the most glorious Virgin Mary, His mother, and by all the tears which have been shed here in this world by the Saints and Elect of God, from whose eyes He has now wiped away all tears, that if you be innocent you do now shed tears, but if you be guilty that you shall by no means do so. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

By the time sentence was passed, many victims were incapable of tears. Some had been tortured to the point where they were barely conscious; others had had their will to live broken. Crying might only mean a return to torture; refusal to cry could bring a speedier, and therefore merciful, death.

See Also:

Further Reading:


The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca – written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 1989, 1999, 2008 by Visionary Living, Inc.

You may be also interested in :

The Witch’s Coin: Prosperity and Money Magick Christopher Penczak
The Cyber Spellbook: Magick in the Virtual World - Patricia Telesco, Sirona Knight
Charms, Spells, and Formulas - Ray T. Malbrough
7 Occult Money Rituals - Henry Archer
Dunwich's Guide to Gemstone Sorcery - Gerina Dunwich
Exploring Spellcraft: How to Create and Cast Effective Spells -  Gerina Dunwich
Utterly Wicked: Curses, Hexes & Other Unsavory Notions - Dorothy Morrison
Secret Magic Spells of the Romany Gypsies - C. McGiolla Cathain & M. McGrath
The Everything Spells and Charms Book: Cast spells that will bring you love, success, good health, and more – Skye Alexander
Magickal Cashbook: Attract Money Fast With Ancient Secrets And Modern Wealth Magick - Damon Brand
Moon Spells: How to Use the Phases of the Moon to Get What You Want – Diane Ahlquist
Tarot Spells
Magic with Incense and Powders - Anna Riva
Wicca Book Of Crystal Spells -  Lisa Chamberlain
The Gypsy Wisdom Spellbook - Denise Alvarado
Crone’s Book of Magical Words – Valerie Worth
Everyday Witch A to Z Spellbook: Wonderfully Witchy Blessings, Charms & Spells -Deborah Blake
How to Cast Real Spells - David Angel
6th and 7th Books of Moses
Financial Sorcery: Magical Strategies to Create Real and Lasting Wealth –  Jason Miller
A Practical Guide to Witchcraft and Magick Spells - Cassandra Eason
Words of POWER and Transformation  - Tazkuvel, Embrosewyn
Wicca Spellcraft for Men - A.J. Drew
The Magickal Job Seeker: Attract The Work You Love With Angelic Power –  Damon Brand
The Little Black Book of Nasty Spells - Curse Queen
The Quimbanda Goetia : Afro- Brazilian Magic Spells and Rituals - Carlos Antonio De Bourbon-Montenegro
Wicca Book Of Herbal Spells - Lisa Chamberlain
Protection and Reversal Magick (Beyond 101) – Jason Miller
Magickal Seduction: Attract Love, Sex and Passion With Ancient Secrets and Words of Power – Damon Brand
Golden Secrets of Mystic Oils: Over 300 Oils and 1000 Spells - Anna Riva