About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Alternative Oaths to Swearing on the Bible

For 36 years I have been seeing witnesses sworn in to give evidence at trials in Canada. A witness is called upon to swear upon the Bible (usually the New Testament) that the witness will tell “the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God”. It is a familiar oath used in every book, movie or play featuring trials.

Yet it is far from the only oath that has been used in court proceedings even in Canada. I had known there were some different oaths used decades ago and started searching on the net.

The Stream, the British Columbia Courthouse Libraries blog, had an interesting article on Uncommon Oaths.

As late as the 1920’s there were special Chinese oaths occasionally used in B.C. Courts.

Most spectacular was the Chicken oath. The article states:

“The oath involved the witness signing his name on a piece of paper, followed by a ceremony outside the court in which a rooster's head was chopped off on a block and the paper oath was set on fire.”

The actual words are:

“Oath made by --- (witness signs his name) --- being a true witness, I will enjoy happiness and my sons and grandsons will prosper forever.

If I give false evidence I shall die upon the street, earth will destroy me, and I shall forever suffer in adversity, and all my offspring will be exterminated.

In burning this oath, I humbly submit myself to the will of heaven which has brilliant eyes to see.”

The article went on:

“Other non-Christian Chinese oaths consisted of the candle oath (whereby the witness holds their hand over a lit candle while swearing the oath and then extinguishes the flame), the saucer oath (when the witness breaks a saucer and then swears to tell the truth) and the paper oath (the witness signs their name to a piece of paper and then burns it).”

The wording of the paper oath was:

“The evidence which you shall give to the court shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, or your soul shall be consumed by fire, as is this paper.”

The blog quoted from a 1965 article on some African oaths:

"Colonial Magistrates used to encounter many strange customs. ... [I]n North Kenya some tribes used to bite skin from a live dog and say 'as I bite this dog, so may I be eaten if I lie.'  A Masai presented the court with cooked rice decked with seven yellow solanum berries.  In Tanganyika a member of the Akimbu tribe once held a deadly puff adder before his face saying, 'If I am going to tell lies may this snake kill me.'  The snake did not.  Nevertheless, the tribesman lied heartily and was jaoled for perjury."

The Scottish oath has grandeur to it:

“I swear by Almighty God as I shall answer to God at the great day of Judgment that I will speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”

The Japanese oath is:

“The statement I shall make before the Court shall be in the whole nothing but the truth according to the custom, religion and belief of this country and my own.”

In current times Canada has abandoned exotic oaths if a witness does not want to swear on the Bible. A witness affirms, simply promising to tell the truth.

While the current processes of swearing an oath on the Bible or affirming to tell the truth are efficient they seem rather dull and prosaic compared to other possible oaths.


  1. Bill - Oh, this is such an interesting post! I knew that there were alternatives to swearing on the Bible, but had never heard of some of these. What an interesting way to think about different attitudes towards what "counts" as promising...

  2. Margot: Thanks for the comment. Maybe another day I will post about some of the English history on the development of oaths.

  3. Saint Augustine couldn't do it. But can you explain what kind of fruit Adam and Eve ate in the story? After thousands of years it's time to think, read, and give the real explanation based only on the facts in the story. No guesses, opinions, or beliefs. We've already had way too many of these. Treat the whole thing as a challenge. You can do it! Or can you? But first, do a quick Google search: First Scandal.