Cakes

Remembering ‘Witch Cakes,’ the Evil-Fighting Baked Goods of the 1600s – Atlas Obscura

Summary

Depending on whom you ask, the Salem Witch Trials were the result of fear, confusion, psychological trauma, or possibly even a hallucinogenic fungus. But as the fervor was just beginning, the village reverend blamed another culprit: cake.

The origins of the tragic trials lay within Reverend Samuel Parris’s own home. In January 1692, his daughter, Betty, and his niece, Abigail Williams, claimed to be suffering from fits and feeli…….

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Depending on whom you ask, the Salem Witch Trials were the result of fear, confusion, psychological trauma, or possibly even a hallucinogenic fungus. But as the fervor was just beginning, the village reverend blamed another culprit: cake.

The origins of the tragic trials lay within Reverend Samuel Parris’s own home. In January 1692, his daughter, Betty, and his niece, Abigail Williams, claimed to be suffering from fits and feelings of being attacked by an invisible force. Thinking it the work of witchcraft, a local woman named Mary Sibley proposed countering the dark magic by baking a cake using flour and the girls’ urine, then feeding it to a dog. While the reverend and his wife were away, Sibley had the Parris’s enslaved servants, Tituba and John, make the cake and give it to the family pet.

Many illustrations unfairly depict Tituba, who was also accused of witchcraft, terrifying Salem’s children. Alfred Fredericks/Public Domain

When Parris found out, he was incensed. Not only did the cake fail to change the girls’ symptoms, more people came forward with claims of being bewitched. Also, some of the girls now accused Tituba, who merely carried out Mary Sibley’s orders, of witchcraft (Sibley was never accused). To Parris, it was the cake, more so than the girls’ symptoms, that unleashed evil upon Salem. In his sermon on March 27, 1692, he said, “Witchcraft was suspected” but hadn’t truly been confirmed “until Diabolical means was used by the making of a cake … since w’ch Apparitions have been plenty, & exceeding much mischief hath followed. But by this means [it seems] the Devil hath been raised amongst us, & his Rage is vehement & terrible.” Sibley repented before the congregation, but, to Parris, the damage was done.

What followed was a year of false accusations and hysteria that culminated in the executions of 20 innocent people. And yet, while the details of the Salem trials are well-known, this pivotal, “diabolical” cake has faded into obscurity. But Sibley’s suggestion wasn’t the unique idea of a lone, misguided woman; it was a traditional folk practice in 17th-century England and its American colonies.

Owen Davies, a historian specializing in the history of witchcraft and magic at the University of Hertfordshire, has found references to anti-witchcraft cakes dating back to the 1620s. They exist alongside other charms, such as hag stones and witch bottles. The latter were similar to the cakes, in that they also used a bewitched person’s urine, along with materials such as hair, iron nails, and bent pins.

“Diabolical means was used by the making of a cake … by this means [it seems] the Devil hath been raised amongst us.”

The term “witch cakes” is more of a modern rebranding. They were mostly known as “urine cakes” or, if the writer was feeling fancy, …….

Source: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/what-are-witch-cakes