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As a lover of strange and wonderful places, I knew that I had to visit the Witches Weighing House in Oudewater, the Netherlands. This house was used for weighing goods ….and witches. This guide to the Oudewater Witches Weighhouse will discuss logistics of visiting this fascinating witch museum in the Netherlands.
About the Oudewater Witches Weighhouse
During the 15th and 16th centuries, witch hunts were quite common throughout Europe. Numerous women and men were accused of witchcraft whenever disease broke out, something went wrong in the city, or simply someone acted strangely. At the time, there were few ways to clear your name if you were accused of being a witch. Unfortunately, most of these methods were dependent on luck.
The city of Oudewater was quite well-known at the time for its honesty and it’s unknown when suspected witches started coming to Oudewater to have themselves weighed (although it’s said it started in the 16th century). (This pair of scales was even blessed by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V for its fairness in weighing. At the time, it was believed that witches were incredibly light (to make it possible to fly), so much so that they would weigh less than an average human being. Therefore, you could weigh a witch and know the truth about him/her.
Within its history, a witch has never been found using this weighing method, so I braved the scales. (I was disappointed to find out that I’ll never get my Hogwarts letter.) Afterward, you can request a certificate in case you fall under suspicion of witchcraft, which states that “your body weight is in proportion to your build.” Needless to say, you might be surprised by your results.
Within the Oudewater Witches Weighhouse, you’ll find several exhibitions that showcase the less-kind methods used to determine if people were witches and a few tales about the countless victims of witchhunts. One such method included reciting a Latin formula before throwing a sieve (a draining tool for food) on the ground while someone said names. If it turned as it fell, the accused were witches. In many cases, those accused of witchcraft were subject to torture to give up the names of fellow witches prior to being put to death, often by burning.
One of these methods is the well-known floating test where a person was bound and tossed into a river. If they could float, they were a witch and if they sunk (and possibly drowned), they weren’t a witch. You can imagine this did not go well for most people who can reasonably float with a little effort.
You’ll also see other antiquated methods, including placing a key into a bible onto a passage that witches were supposedly afraid of. The names of suspected witches were read while someone had their finger within the eye of the key. If the key moved while the name was read, that person was a witch. You can imagine how easy it was to rig this. As late as 1926, this test was held within the Netherlands as a pair of parents accused their neighbor of placing a spell on their daughter to make her obese. We can laugh today at the ridiculousness of these accusations, but can you imagine if you were held to this standard? It’s easy to see why many suspected witches made their way to Oudewater to get a certificate proving their innocence!
Overall, we had a blast at the Heksenwaag museum from watching the stories of people accusing people of giving children cursed biscuits to browsing the old depictions of witches. Anyone who is a history geek (or occultist) will love this museum and the town surrounding it, which reminded me a bit of Salem in terms of embracing its heritage. (They even hold a Witch festival (Heksenfestijn) each June!
Visiting the Oudewater Witch Weighhouse
The museum itself is within Oudewater, a beautiful and sleepy town that is about an hour from Amsterdam by car. We ended up biking from Woerden, which is a scenic city about 30 minutes by bike through the Dutch countryside. It’s possible to come by bus although I’d definitely recommend biking!
The town of Oudewater itself is picturesque and it’s easy to spend at least 45 minutes within the museum browsing the exhibitions/watching the movies. (The exhibitions are in English and Dutch.) The certificate can be given in Dutch or English!
Admission is free with the Museumkaart if you happen to live in the Netherlands. Otherwise, admission is 6.50 per adult and reduced for children (2019). The museum has different hours depending on the season, but it is generally open in the afternoons on weekends year-round.