ordeal


ordeal
/awr deel", -dee"euhl, awr"deel/, n.
1. any extremely severe or trying test, experience, or trial.
2. a primitive form of trial to determine guilt or innocence by subjecting the accused person to fire, poison, or other serious danger, the result being regarded as a divine or preternatural judgment.
[bef. 950; ME ordal, OE ordal; c. D oordeel, G Urteil. See A-3, DOLE1]

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In customary law, a test of guilt or innocence in which the accused undergoes dangerous or painful tests believed to be under supernatural control.

Ordeals by fire or water are the most common. Burns suffered while passing through fire (as in Hindu custom) or rejection (i.e., being buoyed up) by a body of water (as in witch trials) would be regarded as proof of guilt. In ordeal by combat, as in the medieval duel, the victor is said to win not by his own strength but because supernatural powers have intervened on the side of the right.

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▪ trial method
      a trial or judgment of the truth of some claim or accusation by various means based on the belief that the outcome will reflect the judgment of supernatural powers and that these powers will ensure the triumph of right. Although fatal consequences often attend an ordeal, its purpose is not punitive.

      The main types of ordeal are ordeals by divination, physical test, and battle. A Burmese ordeal by divination involves two parties being furnished with candles of equal size and lighted simultaneously; the owner of the candle that outlasts the other is adjudged to have won his cause. Another form of ordeal by divination is the appeal to the corpse for the discovery of its murderer. The ordeal of the bier in medieval Europe was founded on the belief that a sympathetic action of the blood causes it to flow at the touch or nearness of the murderer.

      The ordeal by physical test, particularly by fire or water, is the most common. In Hindu codes a wife may be required to pass through fire to prove her fidelity to a jealous husband; traces of burning would be regarded as proof of guilt. The practice of dunking suspected witches was based on the notion that water, as the medium of baptism, would “accept,” or receive, the innocent and “reject,” or buoy, the guilty.

      In ordeal by combat, or ritual combat, the victor is said to win not by his own strength but because supernatural powers have intervened on the side of the right, as in the duel in the European Middle Ages in which the “judgment of God” was thought to determine the winner. If still alive after the combat, the loser might be hanged or burned for a criminal offense or have a hand cut off and property confiscated in civil actions.

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Universalium. 2010.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Ordeal — Or de*al ([^o]r d[ e]*al), n. [AS. ord[=a]l, ord[=ae]l, a judgment; akin to D. oordeel, G. urteil, urtheil; orig., what is dealt out, the prefix or being akin to [=a] compounded with verbs, G. er , ur , Goth. us , orig. meaning, out. See {Deal},… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • ORDEAL — ORDEAL, the generic term for the various ways and means by which divine judgment would be ascertained. The most common form of ordeal, which survived long into the Middle Ages and beyond, was entirely unknown to biblical as well as to later… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • ordeal — index aggravation (annoyance), burden, infliction, nuisance, pain, trouble Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton …   Law dictionary

  • Ordeal — Or de*al, a. Of or pertaining to trial by ordeal. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Ordeal — may refer to The American title of What Happened to the Corbetts, a 1939 novel by Nevil Shute Trial by ordeal, the judicial practice This disambiguation page lists articles associated with the same title. If an …   Wikipedia

  • ordeal — (n.) O.E. ordel, lit. judgment, verdict, from P.Gmc. noun *uzdailjam (Cf. O.S. urdeli, O.Fris. urdel, Du. oordeel, Ger. urteil judgment ), lit. that which is dealt out (by the gods), from *uzdailijan share out, related to O.E. adælan to deal out… …   Etymology dictionary

  • ordeal — [n] trouble, suffering affliction, agony, anguish, calamity, calvary, cross, crucible, difficulty, distress, nightmare, test, torment, torture, trial, tribulation, visitation; concepts 674,728 Ant. happiness, pleasure …   New thesaurus

  • ordeal — ► NOUN 1) a prolonged painful or horrific experience. 2) an ancient test of guilt or innocence in which the accused was subjected to severe pain, survival of which was taken as divine proof of innocence. ORIGIN Old English …   English terms dictionary

  • ordeal — [ôr dēl′, ôr′dēl΄] n. [ME ordal < OE, akin to Ger urteil, judgment < WGmc * uzdailjo , what is dealt out < * uzdailjan, to deal out, allot, adjudge < * uz , out + * dailjan < * dails, a part, share] 1. an ancient method of trial in …   English World dictionary

  • ordeal — or|deal [o:ˈdi:l, ˈo:di:l US o:rˈdi:l, ˈo:rdi:l] n [: Old English; Origin: ordal trial, judgment ] a terrible or painful experience that continues for a period of time ordeal of ▪ She then had to go through the ordeal of giving evidence. ▪ She… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • ordeal — The most ancient species of trial, in Saxon and old English law, being peculiarly distinguished by the appellation of judicium Dei, or judgment of God, it being supposed that supernatural intervention would rescue an innocent person from the… …   Black's law dictionary


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