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Snippet of Lore: A Hole in the Head

Last Played: March 01, 2021
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Before society had any formal investigative or forensic techniques, murder cases were often solved by a practice known as trial by ordeal. As brutal as it was, the practice was a way of determining somebody's guilt or innocence, based on their God given reaction to torture: trial by fire, trial by water, trial by hot iron, trial by poisonous beans, trial by diving or trial by blood. Trial by blood is the narrators favorite type of ordeal, so much of the remaining episode focuses on stories of cruentation.
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centuries ago, none of our modern forensic tools were available. No DNA testing or fingerprints or security footage. So to give a boost to the frustrating process of dishing out justice in a murder investigation, people began to incorporate elements of divination into the process. Specifically ah, practice known as trial by ordeal. And the reasons were out of this world literally. You see, there was a common belief that the gods would favor the innocent, sometimes by offering protection but most commonly by helping bring their killers to justice. And this wasn't purely a Christian belief, either. According to historian Mitchell Roth, For about 400 years, beginning in 12 15, almost every single culture in the world included trials by ordeal in their legal system, because in the face of the unknown, the help of the gods was often needed. The basic idea behind trial by ordeal is relatively simple. If someone was murdered, there were certain things that could be done to give the gods a chance to point out the true killer. If those steps were followed correctly, there would be no question, and the killer would be brought to justice. One type of trial by ordeal that was common in Europe was known as trial by fire. Of course, you've probably used that phrase at one point in your life, usually to hint at a trying or painful experience. But in the Middle Ages, its name was a lot more literal. A trial by fire usually involves some variation of endurance in the presence of deadly heat. Sometimes the accused was required to walk on burning coals, while other times they had to dip their arm into scalding water to retrieve a stone. It all depended on the culture you lived in and the local traditions of your day. Differences aside, though the goal was always the same. The accused would endure painful, deadly heats, and then their wounds would be treated three days later. Those wounds would be checked if they had healed sufficiently. They were declared innocent and set free if they had not, though it was a sign of their guilt, and their true punishment began. Another common method of divination for justice was known as trial by water. Just think of that classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail scene, where they discussed dunking the accused, which a bit of comedy that was based on a horrible reality. If he accused was innocent, they would sink if they floated, though, or even simply swam away. They were guilty. Trial by hot iron probably makes sense just from its name. But because I'm a fan of detail, here are the basics. The accused would be handed a red hot piece of metal, usually iron, and then they were required to carry it a prescribed distance. If they dropped it, they failed. If the wound didn't heal fast enough, they failed. Either way, the gods had spoken and there were others, including one called Trial by Morsel, which involves swallowing a piece of food and trial by being another connected to food, This one involving a being that was poisonous. Trial by diving seemed to be limited to India and Southern Asia, and it involves staying underwater long enough to be proven innocent. But the most bizarre test, as far as I'm concerned, was known as tri ALS by blood. Keep in mind in the case of murder, there's a lot of emotion. There's pain and loss as well as anger and confusion. People want answers, and the biggest question is usually about who the true Killer Waas. So trial by blood served the purpose by giving people a systematic way of discovering that person's identity. Here's how it worked. Once the search for the true killer began, the body of the victim was placed naked on a table or floor in a common space. Then the suspects would be led one by one toward it, where they were instructed to circle the body three times. Then they would approach the body and touched the wound that had killed the victim. If nothing happened, they would be considered innocent and released from custody. But if they're touch somehow caused the wound to produce fresh blood. That was seen as a sign that they were guilty. Historians call the process crew intonation from the Latin crew Antara, which means to make bloody. According to forensic psychiatrist Robert Britain, this tradition most likely has origins in ancient Germany and was probably spread across Europe by the advancement of the Roman Empire. King James, the first of Scotland in his 15 97 book called Demonology, described presentation with rich detail In a secret murderer, he wrote, If the dead carcass be at any time thereafter, handled by the murderer. It will gush out blood as if the blood were crying to the heavens for revenge of the murderer God having appointed that secret supernatural sign. But the intervention of God wasn't the only core belief in action. There have been a lot of theories over the centuries about why crew int ation was an effective practice for finding the true killer. Depending on the era or the latest scientific ideas, the reason for its usefulness shifted slightly. 16th century physician Paracelsus believed that the human soul resided in the blood and that violent murder could cause the soul to stay in the body longer than normal death. If a suspect's touch cause fresh blood to flow, he believed it was the souls way of getting the final word. 17th century physician John Webster had a similar idea to him. Though the relationship between the body and the soul was a romantic one, they were bound together by love, and a murder had a way of severing that bond prematurely. In response, the blood inside the body would flow outward in the presence of the killer to seek revenge. It was an unusual tradition to say the least, but for a very long time it made sense to people. In fact, it found its way into popular literature, which highlighted how widespread it really was but also served to keep the tradition alive. Sir Walter Scott mentions it in his novel The Fair Maid of Perth as the Shakespeare in Richard The third. It even appears in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by legendary author Mark Twain, but that's the benefit of our modern world. All those crazy traditions from ancient history, however justified or rationalized they might have been are now relics of the past. Thanks to our maturity as a culture, it would be reassuring to know that traditions as gruesome and superstitious as crew went ation have retreated into the shadows, but that would be a lie.
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