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Notable Notes
August 2016

Witches and Warts

Author Affiliations
  • 1University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery, Miami, Florida
  • 2Creighton University School of Medicine, Omaha, Nebraska
JAMA Dermatol. 2016;152(8):877. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.4419

The appearance of warts in fairy tales, folklores, and superstitions throughout history provides a rich source of theories of the causes of warts as well as a variety of suggested remedies. Stereotypical witches are portrayed with green skin, wrinkled faces, and large warts on their noses. This depiction of “warty witches” has both been commercialized, as well as exploited during the “witch trials” in early modern England.

Folk beliefs dating back hundreds of years provide numerous explanations for the sudden appearance of warts: a child was said to have recently handled a toad, or perhaps he had washed his hands in water that had been used to boil eggs.1 Subsequently, as the appearance of warts became associated with “evil,” the superstitions regarding warts carried heavier consequences. In the 17th century, warts were seen as the “devil’s mark,” a justification given to accuse women of witchcraft during the Salem witchcraft trials. It was believed that the devil would confirm his pact with a witch by giving her a mark of identification. Devil's marks included not only the typical warts but a variety of dermatological lesions, including moles, scars, birthmarks, skin tags, supernumerary nipples, and natural blemishes.2

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