Witches and witch hunts after Salem

Although the witch craze in Salem ended, with many consequences as I have mentioned in an earlier post, the belief in witches did not end. With an increasing interest and belief in science, a belief in witches faded but did not disappear, either in Europe or in the Colonies – new United States. Legally, a witch trial and a judicial solution to perceived witch craft became unlikely (and I imagine that the uncritical acceptance of spectral evidence by Samuel Parris in Salem had a lot to do with increasing skepticism) hanging by lynch mobs could still happen.

In Europe women were still attacked and in some cases executed for witchcraft. In Denmanrk (1800), in Poland in 1836 and even in Britain in 1863. Violence continued in France through the 1830’s. And in the United States, as previously mentioned, Ann Lee of the Shakers was arrested and charged for blasphemy in 1783. But she was released.

In the 1830s a prosecution was begun against a man (yes) in Tennessee. Even as recently as 1997 two Russian farmers killed a woman and injured members of her family for the use of folk magic against them.

Why am I blogging about witchcraft? Well, one of the comments about one of my earlier posts talked about the influence of one person in swaying a community to hunting a witch. No matter how you look at it, most of the motivations behind witch hunts show the worst of human nature. Readings I’ve done point to class warfare and gender conflict. And while it is true that in some European countries men have been accused, in most of Europe and the United States the ones hunted have been women. There are a variety of opinions: control of a woman’s sexuality for one. The control of women’s reproductive life (and the eradication of midwives) for another. Considering what is still happening here I believe it. But some of the other motivations are equally as unflattering: greed, malice, revenge.

With all of this bouncing around in my head, I’ve decided that my next Will Rees (after Death in Salem) will look at some of these themes. You heard it here first.


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