Witches and witchcraft – not just Salem

Although I don’t address witchcraft of the trials in Death in Salem, I write about a period 100 years later, I do use it in The Devil’s Cold Dish.I am fascinated by the persistent belief in witches.

Although the trials ended before 1700 and reparations began to be paid to surviving victims and families of the executed, belief in witches and the trials did not end then. As I have written in other posts, belief – and accusations – continued well into the 1800’s. ( And actually into modern times ). With Halloween only days away, it seems appropriate to address the topic again.

The craze in Massacheusetts came after several centuries of the trials and burnings in Europe. Belief in magic was widespread. Girls used spells to try and see the faces of future husbands and superstitions regarding illness, birth, harvest were rife. Harelips were caused when the mother saw a rabbit, birth marks because the mother ate strawberries, for example. One of my favorites: to protect a mother and child during birth put an ear of corn on the mother’s belly.

Reasons given for the explosion of belief and hangings in Salem are many. I just read several pieces on Tituba. Variously described as an Indian or a black slave, her testimony apparently drove much of the content of the stories and was a direct cause of the eventual hangings of women described as her confederates. (Although they all protested their innocence, sixteen were hanged. Tituba was set free.) A shadowy character, she has been also described as practicing voodoo. Her testimony. at least to me, reads more like the Christian belief in demons and the devil. Once she was released, however, she, like the girls whose fits started the terror, faded into obscurity.

By the late eighteen hundreds her name was used to frighten children and she is shown in illustrations in the witches’s black dress holding her broom.

Considering the amazing staying power of accusations, one has to wonder about the psychology behind these beliefs. Of course malice plays a huge role as does mysogyny. But why the belief in evil supernatural powers and submission to the Devil? I still have trouble wrapping my mind around it.




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