Struth! with David Ellis | Oudewater Witches Weighhouse

WE’VE good news today for the ladies, particularly those whose husbands (or others) are prone to mutter such asides as “you’re nothing but an old witch…”

Because in the medieval township of Oudewater in the centre of the Netherlands, there’s a circa-1482 weighhouse where today you can actually get yourself official documentation that you ain’t no witch.

HEAVY BURDEN: Actual weighing scales dating back over 500 years at Oudewater’s Witches Weighhouse. Photo: Museum de Heksenwaag)

HEAVY BURDEN: Actual weighing scales dating back over 500 years at Oudewater’s Witches Weighhouse. Photo: Museum de Heksenwaag)

Weighhouses like the one in Oudewater were used in medieval times across much of Europe to weigh crops and livestock, and to tax goods based on their weight. And from the mid-1550s to late-1600s when witch-hunts became something of a popular pastime, countless hundreds of women were rounded-up, hauled to the weighhouses and – as a consequence of what often occurred there – burned at the stake.

This was because witches were thought to have no soul, and thus be light enough to walk on water or to ride a broomstick across the sky. And if the weighhouse scales showed a woman to be lighter than a group of male judges considered her to be by simply looking at her, she was deemed to be a soul-less witch and thus sent to her fate.

Historians believe that most such weighhouse findings were blatantly rigged for any number of official or domestic reasons – except in Oudewater where the Roman Emperor Charles V decreed that its weighhouse be a fair-weighing site. And as a result, it’s understood that no woman ever went to her death there as a witch.

Today Oudewater’s weighhouse is a museum where visitors can be weighed and issued with a certificate confirming that their “body weight is in proportion to their build,” and proving therefore that they too are no witch.

There are some 30 other ancient weighhouses across the Netherlands, Germany and Poland, but few as elaborate as Oudewater’s Witches Weighhouse.

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