(redirected from Ordeals)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Legal.
Related to Ordeals: Ordeal of cold water


ancient legal custom whereby an accused person was required to perform a test, the outcome of which decided the person's guilt or innocence. By an ordeal, appeal was made to divine authority to decide the guilt or innocence of one accused of a crime or to choose between disputants. This custom was known to ancient peoples as well as to those of fairly advanced material culture. Until recent times the ordeal was practiced in many parts of Asia and Africa. In the early Middle Ages it was widely used to settle legal questions in Western Europe. In England it was a regular form of trial and persisted until trial by juryjury,
body convened to make decisions of fact in legal proceedings. Development of the Modern Jury

Historians do not agree on the origin of the English jury.
..... Click the link for more information.
 became common. Forms of the ordeal varied with the locality and with the nature of the crime. The ordeal by fire—walking through fire or putting the hand into a flame—was common, and there were other fiery ordeals, such as walking on hot plowshares or plunging the hand into molten metal. Usually it was believed that if the accused were innocent God would spare him. Commonly there was a lapse of several days before the injuries were inspected; then someone considered a competent judge decided from the severity of the injuries as to innocence or guilt. One form of ordeal, the trial by water, was that used to determine whether or not an accused woman was a witch. The woman was bound and cast into water that had been blessed. If the water rejected her—i.e., if she floated—she was considered guilty. If the water received her, she was considered innocent. A common form of ordeal in contentions between two parties was the submission to some trial of chance, e.g., casting lotslots.
The casting of lots was an ancient method of making a choice, settling a dispute, or determining a course of action. In biblical times lots were cast to determine the will of God (it is believed that the Urim and Thummim, mysterious sacred objects carved on the breastplate
..... Click the link for more information.
. Allied to this in spirit was the duelduel,
prearranged armed fight with deadly weapons, usually swords or pistols, between two persons concerned with a point of honor. The duel may have originated in the wager of battle, an early mode of trial in which an accused person fought with his accuser under judicial
..... Click the link for more information.
, which supposedly worked on the principle that God would favor the cause of the righteous in the battle. The trial by battle or by combat (sometimes called a judicial duel or wager of battle) was a recognized procedure in the Middle Ages. It was introduced from France to England after the Norman Conquest. In this trial, one of the contending parties issued a wager of battle, or challenge. Both parties under oath declared their assertions truthful; a duel was fought, and the victor was awarded the decision. In case one of the parties was a woman, a child, or a feeble man, he or she could be represented by a champion, i.e., a knight who was a relative or who had agreed to fight. As time went on a class of professional champions arose. The Roman Catholic Church from early times disapproved of the ordeal despite its apparently religious aspect, and in 1215 it categorically forbade the clergy to take part in such ceremonies.


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The torture inflicted upon an accused witch during the persecutions. It might take the form of red hot irons, thumbscrews, boot jacks, water torture, or any of a number of atrocious punishments administered by the Christian persecutors.

The "Ordeal" is also the name given to the part of the Wiccan initiation ceremony in which the neophyte is bound and blindfolded. There is no torture involved here, but the very fact of not knowing what is about to happen is considered an ordeal of sorts.


History a method of trial in which the guilt or innocence of an accused person was determined by subjecting him to physical danger, esp by fire or water. The outcome was regarded as an indication of divine judgment
References in periodicals archive ?
The law also reserved ordeals for cases that judges couldn't confidently decide without them.
CONTRARY TO WHAT you might expect, ordeals exonerated the majority of people who underwent them.
COURAGE 3 Adele McGuire, Rebecca Forrester and twins Thomas and Kevin Timlin spoke out about ordeal
In these days of ordeals for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, we have to come out and face the truth.
Louise Casey called for a new law to guarantee the rights of victims' families to help them cope better with the ordeal of going through the justice system.
Travelling back was an ordeal though: no direct train through to Flint after the match (only if you were prepared to miss out on the last 15 minutes of the game).
SAFE: Bridge up after ordeal of Helen, right; DESPERATE: Helen dangles from railing
He said: 'We wanted to help the kids get over their ordeals as quickly as possible, and the golf days seemed like a great opportunity to regain their confidence.
The Intern Blues: The Private Ordeals of Three Young Doctors.
All ordeals, except the ordeal by battle, were abolished in England by law in the early 13th century.
In ordeal by battle, the accused person was obliged to fight anyone who charged him with guilt.
WHILE celebrating the end of Alan Johnston's ordeal - we should all reflect on what is happening to the families and friends of thousands in the Middle East who are suffering similar or even worse ordeals than Alan and are being completely ignored by the West