Something Scary for Halloween

Real life can be a whole lot scarier than the fictional monsters and situations that are created to entertain us. For example, a scold’s bridle. Admittedly, such torture devices aren’t part of our everyday life unless you’re into the furthest reaches of sado-masochistic games, and since I’m not, I’d never heard of them. Or more probably, I’d forgotten what I knew since that’s not the sort of thing I want to remember.

Anyway, if you don’t know, a scold’s bridle is an iron facemask with a bit for the mouth, often with a spike that rests on the tongue so that any mouth movement causes terrible pain. (Some even had a spike on both the bottom and the top of the mouthpiece, which pierced the tongue.) Theses iron masks were created to tame shrews and to punish “scolds,” women who had a vicious tongue or nagged their husbands or were a general nuisance, especially to authority. The bridles were illegal in many places, but still commonly used for hundreds of years to humiliate and control rebellious women (the last known public punishment using such a device was about 1840). When bridled, the women were often subject to jeering, lewd comments, and even sexual assault, apparently because the perceived immodesty of those women titillated the people they encountered.

Women who rebelled against any of the strictures of their life were subject to laws of a scold and punished by this medieval device, as were woman who spoke out against abuse, religious woman who preached in public, women who wanted a say in their own lives, women accused of witchcraft, and women who didn’t act demurely. Even widows and poverty-stricken women were punished with the scold’s bridle, not because they were unruly or did anything wrong but simply because they weren’t under the control of a man and so were considered a threat.

Yikes. How’s that for scary?

It’s amazing to me that with all that’s been done to women (as well as to anyone considered inferior), that docility wasn’t bred out of women. Or maybe it’s because of the torture women endured that it wasn’t bred out; perhaps the torture created even more rebellion. I don’t really know. I do know that things like this — the way so-called moral people acted against those they feared (and apparently a woman not under the strict control of a man was someone to be feared greatly) — scare me more than any made-up Halloween monster.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

3 Responses to “Something Scary for Halloween”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Not just scold’s bridle, but just about all the ways women have been oppressed over the millennia. Look what happened to Elizabeth Bathory! For all we know, she was innocent and not a serial killer like people accused of her of being. The fact that she was powerful and that the king of Hungary owed her a favor probably made her more fearsome.

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