In medieval Netherlands, weigh houses were a common feature in many markets up and down the country. They were run by the local authorities, and traders were required to weigh their goods before they were sold. The authorities would then levy a tax on the goods transported through or sold within the city.
Many a times, people accused of witchcraft would be dragged to a weigh house to be weighed. It was believed that a witch weighed next to nothing. After all, how could they fly on a broomstick? The Heksenwaag (Witches' scale) in the town of Oudewater became famous for such witch trails.
A witch trial at the Heksenwaag, in Oudewater. Photo credit: Memory of the Netherlands
Witch trials were often rigged resulting in the burning or drowning of hundreds of innocent victims all across Europe, but the people of Oudewater refused to take part in the delusion of witchcraft. The Heksenwaag provided a fair weighing process to the accused. It is said that the Roman Emperor Charles V granted Oudewater the privilege to weigh persons suspected of witchcraft and to issue certificates if found to be of normal weight.
Legend has it, that in 1545, Charles V doubted the outcome of a witch trail at a Dutch village where a woman had been weighed and was found too light. He ordered a second weighing at Oudewater, showing her to have a weight of 100 pounds, thus saving her. As a sign of gratitude for the correctness of the staff at the weigh-house he granted them the privilege. Nobody here was ever convicted of being a witch.
Sadly, not many people had the fortune of getting themselves weighed at Oudewater because many judges refused to allow such trials. A single rumor or an unsubstantiated witness was enough to convict innocent people of sorcery. Historical records account for only 13 such trials at the Heksenwaag between the period 1674 and 1743.
Today, Heksenwaag is a museum and a tourist attraction. Visitors can weigh themselves on an ancient oak scale and receive certificates declaring them as not witches, just like they used to hand out in the old days.
The weigh house. Photo credit: Rumex12/Wikimedia
Photo credit: Alan Grinberg/Flickr
Photo credit: bert knottenbeld/Flickr
The certificate visitors receive after passing the weight test. Photo credit: Louise15101970/Tripadvisor.com
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