10 Ways to Identify a Witch

By Stacy Conradt, Mental Floss

As we know today, some of the measures taken during the Salem Witch Trials to “prove“ whether a person was guilty or innocent were ludicrous. But in case you’d like to employ some of them for yourself, here are 10 ways to identify a witch, according to those running the Salem Witch Trials.


What’s a witch cake, you ask? It’s definitely something you don’t want to eat. You take the urine of the people who are thought to be under the spell of the witch in question, mix it with rye meal, and make a little patty. Then you feed the patty to a dog. Because some of the powers the witch used to cast a spell on the afflicted people were in their urine, when the dog eats the cake, it will hurt the witch, and she’ll cry out in agony.


If the suspected witch is heavier or lighter than the stack of Bibles, then clearly she’s guilty of evil-doing. If the scales balance out, she’s in the clear. You can imagine that a perfect balance didn’t happen often.


These are all Marks of the Devil. But if you need even more proof, try pricking the Devil’s Mark with a blade. If it doesn’t bleed or hurt when it’s pricked, you’ve definitely got a witch on your hands. During the Salem Witch Trials, some unscrupulous witch-hunters actually used knives with retractable blades, so of course when they appeared to puncture the Mark, nothing happened.


During the Witch Trials, one accused woman, Sarah Good, was damned partially based on the fact that she was sometimes seen muttering to herself, and sometimes this even happened when she was leaving people’s houses. Her accusers knew she was casting spells on people, even though Good claimed she was just reciting the commandments or a particular psalm. Her claims weren’t enough to save her, because she was hanged on July 19, 1692.


If they don’t, they’re guilty. If they do, they’re guilty too. George Burroughs, the only minister to be executed during the Trials, ran across this problem. He was standing at the gallows to be executed when he recited the Lord’s Prayer to prove his innocence—it was believed that a witch (or warlock, in this case) would be unable to utter the holy words. People were momentarily convinced that the jury had wronged him, until a minister named Cotton Mather told the crowd that the Devil allowed George Burroughs to say that prayer to make it seem as if he was innocent. Ahhh, of course. With Satan himself apparently working right through him, Burroughs’ fate was sealed, and he was hanged moments later.


If she doesn’t respond, she’s definitely a witch. This happened to 71-year-old Rebecca Nurse. She was known to be a very pious woman, and most people in the community were hesitant to accuse her or believe the pointing fingers that were. In fact, she was found not guilty during her first trial. But when there were more outbursts from young girls who said they were being tormented by a witch, Nurse was reconsidered. When another prisoner claimed that “she was one of us” during the trial and Nurse failed to respond, she was immediately assumed guilty and hanged.


A woman who has pets—or even says hello to the neighbor’s cat—is surely using that animal as a familiar. In fact, if a fly or a rat entered a woman’s cell while she was awaiting trial, it was assumed that the witch had used her powers to summon a familiar to do her bidding.


John Willard was the constable in Salem responsible for bring the accused to court. After bringing in so many people, including those who were known for their church-going ways and elderly woman who barely understood what they were being accused of, Willard began to doubt how real these accusations really were. In May 1692, he finally put his foot down and declared that he would no longer take part in any arrests, sarcastically saying, “Hang them all, they’re all witches.” Willard was immediately accused of witchcraft himself, stood trial, was found guilty, and was executed just three months after his sarcastic comment.


Sarah Osborne denied all witchcraft accusations that were thrown her way. Her downfall was when she admitted she had recurring dreams that an Indian would seize her by the hair and drag her out of her house. Apparently that was enough to convince the village she was likely casting spells on them. However, Osborne ended up dying while being held captive and never stood trial for her “crimes.”


At least a couple of the women tried for witchcraft were married two or more times and were accused of killing their former husbands (“bewitching” them to death) or evilly seducing them.

New Study Confirms Growing Up in a Home Filled With Books Is Good for You

BY Emily Petsko – Mental Floss

People who buy more books than they can possibly read can now use science to justify their spending sprees. As Pacific Standard reports, new research confirms that people who grow up with books at home tend to have higher reading comprehension and better mathematical and digital communication skills.

But how many books is enough to make a difference? The magic number seems to be above 80, according to a team of researchers led by senior sociology lecturer Joanna Sikora of Australian National University. Those who had around 80 books at home tended to have average scores for literacy—defined as “the ability to read effectively to participate in society and achieve personal goals”—while owning fewer than 80 books was associated with below-average literacy. Literacy continued to improve as the number of books increased to about 350, at which point the literacy rates remained steady.

Their findings are based on comprehensive surveys taken between 2011 and 2015 by the Programme for the International Assessment of Competencies. Respondents were between the ages of 25 and 65, and they came from 31 countries, including the U.S. and Canada. First, they were asked to estimate how many books they had at home when they were 16 years old. After racking their brains for a mental image of their childhood libraries, they were tested for reading comprehension, their understanding of common mathematical concepts, and their ability to use digital technology as a communication tool. The results showed a positive correlation between these skill sets and having books at home.

“Growing up with home libraries boosts adult skills in these areas beyond the benefits accrued from parental education, or [one’s] own educational or occupational attainment,” the researchers wrote in their paper, published in the journal Social Science Research.

The greatest impact, not surprisingly, was seen in the area of reading comprehension. Likewise, a 20-year study from 2010 suggested that access to a home library impacts a child’s educational attainment just as much as their parents’ occupations and education levels. Researchers aren’t sure if digital books will have the same positive effects if they eventually outnumber printed materials, but the team behind this latest study did point out that “home library size is positively related to higher levels of digital literacy.”

Bloody Mary, and Why We Think We See Things in Mirrors

BY Emily Petsko  Mental Floss

As a child, one of the surest ways to prove your courage to all the other kids at the slumber party was to march into a dimly lit room (it was almost always a bathroom, for some reason), stare at your face in the mirror, and repeat the words Bloody Mary 13 times. According to legend, a woman would suddenly appear in the mirror and scratch your face off—or perhaps even kill you. Different iterations of this game exist around the world; alternate versions say the mysterious mirror woman goes by Mary Worth or Kathy, and in another version, the devil himself makes an appearance.

Of course, no ghosts or demons ever actually appeared, but that didn’t stop us from running out of the bathroom screaming, convinced that we saw a twisted or bloodied face looking back at us. Even as adults, our minds sometimes play tricks on us. We may get spooked after thinking we see something in the mirror while getting ready for work or brushing our teeth, even though we are rational beings and understand that nothing is there.

It turns out there’s a perfectly logical explanation for this. The longer you stare in a mirror, the more likely you are to start seeing things that aren’t there—even if you haven’t been forewarned that something ghastly will appear. This is partly due to a phenomenon called the Troxler effect. When you stare at the same object for a prolonged period of time, there comes a point when your brain adapts or gets used to unchanging stimuli. As a result, your neurons cancel the information out, and the image often appears blurry, faded, or distorted until you blink or look around.

Likewise, if you gaze into your own eyes in front of a mirror, your whole face will start to look strange if you look long enough. You can try this optical illusion out for yourself—no mirror needed. Stare at the plus sign in the center of the image below for seven or eight seconds.

Did the colorful blotches fade to gray? This is just one of the many ways your brain can trick you and distort your vision. It’s actually an important coping mechanism, though. As Live Science puts it, “If you couldn’t ignore the steady hum of your computer monitor, the constant smell of your own body odor or the nose jutting out in front of your face, you’d never be able to focus on the important things—like whether your boss is standing right behind you.”

Another part of the phenomenon is the recently described “strange face in the mirror” illusion. Italian psychologist Giovanni Caputo conducted an experiment in 2010 in which people were asked to enter a dimly lit room and look at their reflection in the mirror for 10 minutes. Afterwards, they were asked to report what they saw. Of the 50 test subjects, 66 percent reported seeing “huge deformations” of their face, and 48 percent also saw “fantastical and monstrous beings.” Others described seeing the face of a parent (some of whom were deceased), the face of an animal, or the face of an old woman or child.

Humans in general have a remarkable ability to see faces in everyday objects—from clouds to trees to pieces of toast—so it makes sense that dim lighting and visual tricks would cause people to see another face of some kind. In addition, when an image is distorted, your brain draws from past experiences and expectations to fill in the gaps. Hence the dead relatives.

Interestingly, the same effect “can also be obtained during eye-to-eye gazing between two individuals,” Caputo tells Mental Floss. In fact, this “inter-subjective gazing” produced an even higher number of “strange faces” seen by test subjects, according to another experiment conducted by Caputo in 2013.

So we’ve ruled out the presence of mirror monsters, but what about Bloody Mary? The origin of this particular mirror game would seem to be related to “Bloody” Mary I, who served as Queen of England in the 16th century—but folklorists are unconvinced.

That the figure goes by multiple names—such as Mary Worth, Mary Worthington, Mary Lou, etc.—suggests against a real person as the inspiration. Psychoanalysts have proposed that the game has to do with young girls and the onset of menstruation. Others have noted earlier analogues of the game, including a Robert Burns poem where he explained that if you “[t]ake a candle, and go alone to a looking glass; eat an apple before it; and some traditions say, you should comb your hair all the time,” you’ll see over your shoulder the face of the person you’ll marry (and some psychoanalysts have even proposed an importance of the homophone Mary/marry). But as far as we know, no one has ever actually appeared in a mirror to confirm what—or who—Bloody Mary is about.

Fake Cursing In The Movies

For a number of reasons, many movies choose to refrain from dropping any curse words that would give them anything above a PG rating. But cussing is just so much fun! So instead, many will invent fake curses that are simply hilarious.

As Burger Fiction says, “When you wanna keep it PG, you gotta get creative.” They put together this awesome compilation of PG ‘cussing’ in the movies.


Lessons to Children and How They Backfired

By Pippa Raga – Distractify

There’s nothing more pleasurable as a kid than getting your way without *technically* breaking any of your parents’ rules.

I had a friend whose parents came home one day to find a homeless man sitting at their kitchen table because they had taught my friend to help the needy whenever possible — and she knew there was plenty of food in the family’s fridge.

I can’t imagine how many of these lessons parents teach their kids with the best of intentions that later come back to bite them with embarrassment. People on reddit banded together to share lessons they tried to teach their children that completely backfired in their faces.

Scroll down for 19 lessons parents tried to teach their kids and the results that will make you simultaneously laugh and shake your head.

1. Want to potty train your kid using logic?

Source: iStock

“Not a parent, but my in-laws love telling this story about my fiancé.

He was resistant to potty training, and they eventually got him to start using the potty by telling him that he had to be out of pull-ups before a family trip to Disney World, because ‘Mickey Mouse only sees big boys and girls.’ And also who wants to log a diaper bag around Disney?

Anyway, it went great, they had a great trip… and the day after they got back, he took a [dump] in the living room. When asked, he said, ‘I don’t gotta use the potty cause I already saw Mickey Mouse.’ They very firmly told him that if he was old enough to use logic, he was far too old for diapers, and that was the end of that.”


2. Go ahead, teach them how to argue.

Source: iStock

“Taught my daughter that whining and begging doesn’t get her what she wants. She needs to make a logical argument. I’m now living with a 12-year-old lawyer who is really good at making me change my mind on house rules.”


3. You thought the reward system was a good idea?

Source: iStock

“One of my 5-year-old twins was still having occasional accidents because she would get so caught up in playing/doing something else that she just wouldn’t go and would pee her pants. To combat this we would give her a special prize of some variety when she wouldn’t have an accident. This, in turn, caused her twin sister to START having accidents so she could get prizes for not having accidents (even though she was fine on this front beforehand.) We had to rethink our methods.”


4. You’ll want to teach your kids not to gamble.

Source: iStock

“My sister tried to teach her kids not to gamble. She bought a few lottery tickets to show them that they were all going to be losers. She won $500…”


5. Ah yes, good old parenting books.

Source: iStock

“Read a book that suggested you ask your kid what an appropriate punishment for misbehaving would be and then carry it out. 6-year-old son pinched his brother or something, so we asked what an appropriate punishment would be. He said, ‘Pluck out my eyeballs and throw me over a cliff?’ We didn’t follow through. And stopped reading parenting books.”


6. Cleaning your room is part of the unsigned family contract.

Source: istock

“My kids were begging for a pet. I don’t want to take care of a pet, and I told them that they don’t clean up after themselves without me hassling them, so why would they clean up after a pet without me hassling them. Told them if they could keep there room clean for six months without me telling them, they could get a pet.

Youngest child proceeds to clean room, then move clothes and a sleeping bag into the hallway and lock his door so his room can’t get dirty as he sleeps in the hallway.”


For those curious to see how this turned out, the poster updated: “We told him if he was living in the hallway, then the hallway was his room. As his brother tended to leave a trail of clothes and dirty towels between the bathroom and the bedroom, this was no longer optimal, and he moved back.”

7. I bet the parent didn’t see this one coming.

Source: istock

“Taught my now-16-year-old to always compliment people who insulted you. We were in a Burlington Coat Factory in Michigan when my mother was shopping for a bathing suit to take to Florida. There were few to choose from, so she was complaining. My kid was 4.

A woman trying on pants and said something rude to my mom who was asking my opinion and my daughter caught on that my mother was agitated. She squeezed out behind me and told the woman, ‘Your teeth are such a pretty yellow!'”


8. Novel approach to age-old rule.

Source: iStock

“My dad tried to implement the whole you MUST eat ALL the food on your plate in our house during meals. My mom was never a fan of that lesson, but my dad was stubborn so she just let it go. Well, one day my sibling had 2-3 bites of food left on their plate and was very clear that they were absolutely full and couldn’t eat another bite. Dad wasn’t having it and insisted they could not leave the table until all the food on their plate was gone. My sibling realized they weren’t going to convince our dad that they were too full and finished the last few bites and then proceeded to vomit on the table and our dad. He stopped enforcing the rule after that.”


9. A brief lesson on friendship.

Source: iStock

When my oldest kid was 3 or 4, a few months after I separated from his mom, I found a home with a couple of these DJs who needed a roommate to split the bills. Mike was terminally ill, Louie was a pothead. I was a young divorced dad. Pretty suave home am I right?

One day after cleaning the kitchen I stepped out to pick up my kid, came home and the kitchen’s a wreck. Louie got high and decided to make himself a smoothie. He left milk, ice, bits of juice and just gross crud, everywhere.

I told Louie he needed to clean it up, he told me he’d get to it in a little bit, I told him I needed to make my kid dinner now and needed to work in the kitchen, he told me to clean it up yourself, one thing led to another and pretty soon we’re in each other’s faces, really close, almost bumping chests, fingers pointing at each other, yelling really loud, lots of cuss words, before we both storm off.

I go up to my room, and kiddos up there with a quivering lip and eyes welled up. He bravely tells me, ‘Louie is our friend and you yelled at him very mean.’


I go back to the living room. ‘Louie, could you come down here please?’

‘WHAT??!’ .. he stomps into the living room

‘.. sigh .. I was very frustrated because I worked hard to clean the kitchen, then I saw it messy again, but I did not ask what you were doing or how your day was before getting mad about the kitchen. I should not have yelled at you or said bad words. You’re my friend and I will try to use nicer words from now on.’

Louie looks at me and says, ‘.. the ^%&*%$@??!’

Then he turns and sees kiddo watching both of us. ‘Oh fine …’

And he cleaned the kitchen.

My kid asked us to hug each other afterward.

Louie and I are still friends. He’s got his own baby now. [That’s] karma [for you], Louie!!


10. When you have to explain to your parents that you’re really this lame.

Source: istock

“Not a parent, but my I remember when I was 17, my parents thought I was lying about where I was when I was going out. Like I wanted to extend my curfew or something. Backstory, I am from a REALLY small town, with really not a whole lot for teenagers to do. So my friends and I liked to hang out at the Waffle House by this bar. Every Friday/Saturday night, it never failed, like three or four drunk people would get arrested and my friends and I liked to watch. It was 10/10 entertainment.

So one night, [something] was going DOWN at this particular Waffle House. So I called my parents and asked them if I could extend my curfew. I told them why and they didn’t believe me, so they called the Waffle House where I was and asked for me. When the waitress (who knew me well, because I was there A LOT) handed me the phone, my mom was like, ‘…Oh, you really are at the Waffle House.’

I think that was the first time my mom realized that I was a loser. Needless to say, I got my curfew extension.”


11. Certain lessons need to be taught side by side.

Source: istock

“When I was about 2 years old my family was at a game in Angel’s stadium. My mother went to the restroom and left me and my siblings with my dad. While he was busy watching, I wandered off. When they eventually found me I was halfway around the stadium. A crowd had gathered to watch as a police officer held me out at arms length while I screamed, ‘Call the police, this man is not my daddy’ over and over again. My parents had taught me stranger danger, but forgot to teach me what police look like.”


12. Ah yes, the specialized pedagogical approach.

Source: istock

“Not a parent, but I work in a school.

At my school we have a lot of kids with learning disabilities (more than in your average school, as we have a special program for it and get special funding), so one of the first lessons of the school year is ‘everybody needs different things to learn, and if somebody is getting something different from you it’s because that’s what they need to learn at school.’ You know, a kid-friendly way of explaining accommodations.

Now, the usual accommodations we offer are special chairs/wiggle seats, extra breaks during the day, and extended testing time and tests taken in a quiet room. One kid, however, has decided to take the ‘everyone learns differently’ lesson to heart and now talks in a fake British accent (I live in America btw) all day. Because ‘it helps him learn.’

Then all of the other kids started talking in fake accents.”


13. When does this conversation NOT backfire?

Source: istock

“Me: We need to talk about you and your girlfriend. Look, when you are ready to have s-

Son: Dad..

Me: Wait, listen to me.

Son: It’s too late.

Me: ……..”


14. Teach them the value of a hard-earned dollar.

Source: istock

“When my daughter was young I was trying to teach her the value of money and decided to start giving her an allowance. She had a few tasks to do around the house and afterwards on the weekends before we would go out, I’d give her $5. I explained that because she helped out and did her chores, she had earned money to spend on whatever she wanted. She happily accepted and stashed her money in her room, I thought nothing of it. Later that evening before I tucked her in to bed after reading to her, she goes to her money jar, pulls out $2 and hands it to me, and explains that it’s for being a good daddy.”


15. Ahem! Manners!

Source: istock

“My aunt and uncle were trying to teach my cousin manners, and wanted him to address people as Mr. and Mrs. They used each other as examples, and consequently were known as Mr. Iannuccilli for two months. One of the funniest moments of my life was hearing my uncle describe how in the middle of the night instead of ‘dad’ he started hearing ‘Mr Iannuccilli!’ Cracks me up every time.”


16. Life’s not fair, kiddo.

Source: istock

“I’ve been teaching my kids that life isn’t always fair. The tantrums when one is invited to a birthday party have been too much. It’s been helping, some.

Then I was playing tic tac toe with my youngest. She covered up the column she wanted to use to win. When I told her that cheating isn’t fair and I didn’t want to play if she was going to cheat, she reminded me, ‘Life isn’t fair, momma.’

Touché, kiddo.”


17. Tag your adult selves.

Source: iStock

“Not a parent but when I was around 12, my father suspected that I stayed up late playing video games, even though I didn’t. One night he went into my room and told me that I shouldn’t play my Game Boy Advance past bedtime, because I needed to rest. That’s when I realized I could play my Game Boy Advance past bedtime, and I’ve suffered from insomnia since then.”


18. There’s an age for everything.

Source: istock

“Taught them to read early. My son could read by age 4, and my daughter by age 3. This leads to some unwanted conversations as they will read things over your shoulder when you aren’t expecting it. Or even just signs on the road. ‘You’re going too fast, Daddy. It says 55 mph and you’re going 70.'”


19. Woops.

Source: istock

“In order not to teach him how to ‘lie better,’ I never challenged his lying and we just told him what needed to be fixed. I never told him how I knew he was lying, I just avoided confronting him and got to the point of what needed fixed, despite attempts to deny it.

For example, if someone ate all the brownies, and his mouth and fingers were stained with chocolate, I never told him, ‘I can tell you are lying because of the evidence,’ I just said he now had to make a new batch or do chores because the old batch was gone. I was figuring, ‘hey, he’ll figure out that eating the brownies and lying about it still had consequences.’

Thus, he never really got very good at lying. But he keeps trying, which is the part I didn’t expect. He’s 28 now, and just so terrible at it because he doesn’t understand how people can so easily figure it out. This has socially crippled him in ways I did not understand when he was young.

I think learning how to lie is essential to social development, and I thought I was being all high and moral. Oops.”