A witch-finder was an expert at examining and identifying witches. Witch-finders were especially important during the height of the witch hunts in the 16th and 17th centuries.

In Britain, every town and county had its witch-finder, who was kept busy investigating all mishaps and accidents, which usually were believed to be caused by witchcraft and sorcery. Even acts of nature, such as hailstorms that destroyed crops, were blamed on the maleficia of witches.

Witch-finders identified suspects and prepared them for judicial examination and trial. They carefully examined bodies for Witch’s Marks. Many witch-finders pricked suspects with needles and sharp instruments. If the suspect did not cry, or moles and warts did not bleed, the suspect was a witch. If they could not recite the Lord’s Prayer without stumbling, they were witches. Ownership of cats, dogs, toads and other creatures were taken to be Familiars. Some said they could identify witches simply by looking at them.

Witch-finders might give suspects special diets to counteract whatever magical charms they might have ingested to hide their identities or to become invisible and escape. Witch-finders were well paid for their services, and many traveled about the countryside for hire. They were paid per person fees for every suspect found guilty. Most were not above torturing suspects into confessions in order to enhance their fees and reputations.

One of the most highly paid witch-finders was Matthew Hopkins of England. Many clergymen were witch-finders for hire. In Scotland in the 17th century, ministers competed with one another to secure the condemnation of the most witches. If professional witch-finders were not available, communities hired witches and Wizards themselves.

Further Reading:

  • Grant, James. The Mysteries of All Nations: Rise and Progress of Superstition, Laws Against and Trials of Witches, Ancient and Modern Delusions, Together With Strange Customs, Fables and Tales. Edinburgh: Leith, reid & Son, n.d.


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

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