In the 1600s, baked goods made with flour and urine were believed to ward off evil

Atlas Obscura has a weirdly fun piece about "witch cakes," a popular baked good from the 1600s. As it turns out, the Salem Witch Trials were not, uhhh, taking the piss:

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.


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. 

I can't imagine why Arthur Miller left this detail out of The Crucible. But these pee-based witch cakes were hardly unique to the denizens of modern-day Danvers:

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.

The term "witch cakes" is more of a modern rebranding. They were mostly known as "urine cakes" or, if the writer was feeling fancy, a cake made with a person's "water." While a far cry from a delicious cake ingredient, urine was the crucial element in warding off witches. The belief in the cake's efficacy was rooted in sympathetic magic: the best way to break that connection was to take a physical representation of the bewitched (i.e., their urine) and manipulate it in some way.

It's a weirdly fascinating article, if you have the stomach for it.

Remembering 'Witch Cakes,' the Evil-Fighting Baked Goods of the 1600s [Sam O'Brien / Atlas Obscura]

Image: Linda Marklund / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)