A unchecked and uncontrollable genocide was happening in Germany. No, not that one. This one was about witches or, rather, the unfortunately accused. Just like later on in history, the perfect circumstances were brewing, no pun intended, for a series of events to occur and lead to the mass killing of people that many saw as a problem. Just like the Jews later on, witches would be the scapegoat for the situations surrounding German society and the people who live in it.
gen·o·cide: (noun) the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular ethnic group or nation. synonyms: mass murder, mass homicide, massacre;
But why Germany? The German empire had a weak central government that resulted in small units of political power. In these small units, the court was very powerful and that power went mostly unchecked. This resulted in the court having absolute authority over its jurisdiction. German's religion also changed with every new prince, resulting in hysteria of what religion was the one the small societies within the country should follow. The changing of religion lead to a constant stream of accusations and persecution. Depending on what side the accused was on, it could result in being burned on the stake or walking free. These reasons and many more resulted in the increase of accusations and persecution of witches in 17th century Bamberg.
Witches killed in Bamberg: est. 1,000 people
Witches killed in Salem: 20 people
The profile of witches in Germany were about as standard as everywhere else. The accused was typically an older woman, unmarried, etc, but German accusations also had another party that they accused. It was still an older woman, yes, but the accused were called lying-in-maids, which is a person who stays with a mother and baby 6-8 weeks after the baby is born to take care of the baby, mother, and house. This seems like an unlikely group to be accused, but when the jealousy of a mother over her newborn baby comes into play, it starts to make sense. There was also folklore in Germany about older widows ruining young men sexually, so this was an easy category of people to accuse. During this time, these women were accused because of small circumstantial reasoning, but the majority of the population was also accused for the same reasoning.
"Older widows were believed to have the power to ruin young men sexually...because they were sexually ravenous, and would suck out their seed"(Roper 27-28).
Some reasons to be accused of witchcraft: Female, middle aged, related to a known suspect, married with no children, stubborn or contentious, been accused of other crimes, low social position, and a confessed "witch" accusing another fellow "witch".
Men and women were both accused of witchcraft and many people contributed to their mass killing, but one man was almost mad with the thirst of blood from witches. He contributed to the most intensive period of witch trials in early modern Bamburg. This man was Prince-Bishop Johan Georg II. His biggest contribution was building a special witch prison called the Hexenhouse, where he could hold up to forty prisoners at a time to be torture until they confessed. It is estimated that he facilitated the torture and burning of 600 victims. The most famous victim murdered in this time period is Johannes Junius in 1628. He was a falsely accused citizen that suffered the consequences of uncontrolled power. In a secret letter written to his daughter, he accounts the horrific moments right before his death.
"Now follows, dear child, what i confessed in order to escape the great anguish and bitter torture, which it is impossible for me longer to bear"-Johannes Junius (Levack 202).
Johannes Junius was tortured mercilessly by thumb screws, leg screws, strappado, and countless more methods without a hint of confession. It is detailed that he proclaimed his innocence throughout his torture by saying that he "knows nothing of witchcraft"(Levack 199). He told his torturer many times that "he never denied God," "he never renounced God," and "God will not forsake him" (Levack 199). But as the torture continued, he could not take anymore and began to confess, fully aware of the consequences.
In this time period, a confession had to be uttered under torture or it was not legitimate. So the torturers were granted unlimited opportunities to torture until there was a confession. It was important to have a confession so that the accused's soul was cleansed of their sins before they were burned. This idea meant that the accused were essentially kept in prison and tortured until they confessed to being a witch. There was no escape after being accused, which caused many innocent people to confess to witchcraft just to make the pain stop.
""you will not escape...but one torture will follow after another until you say you are a witch" (levack 201).
After his tortured confession, he was burned at the stake. The policies and the brutality of Prince-Bishop Johan Georg II proved too much for even the mayor of Bamberg to escape from. His confession after uncontrolled torture proved that absolute power over other people, will force even innocent people to confess to witchcraft and be burned. Later on in history, a man with uncontrolled power began building special prisons, just under a different name.
Auschwitz Concentration Camp
"Those that do not learn history are doomed to repeat it."
Witchcraft in Spain
If witch hunting was the sport of "saving souls," Germany came in first and Spain came in at a close second. Spain was in the middle of the Spanish Inquisition, which was the purging of non-Christians from Spain. It is as brutal as it sounds. Though it had mostly a political agenda, it had religious applications. These people wanted to spread religion their religion by any means necessary, even at the tip of a weapon or a stake. This reign of intolerance and resistance of other cultures and customs began the perfect conditions for the society of Spain to purge not only for religious reasons, but also anyone they deemed needed to be tortured and die. Heretics were Spain's new souls to save.
a person believing in or practicing religious heresy;a person holding an opinion at odds with what is generally accepted.
Many people during this time period were accused of witchcraft. Men and women with the power to cure illness, especially when calling on "forces" or used a prayer improperly, men searching for enchanted treasures hidden by Muslims or Jews, men who used "masculine magic" or magic that derived from other disciplines, such as astrology and alchemy, and women who used "love magic" could all be accused of witchcraft. The problem with all of these reasons is the fact that they were vague enough to be applied to almost anyone, but specific enough to get a conviction with the right circumstances. Anyone could be accused, so anyone could be convicted.
"Love magic" was the primary accusation for women in this time period. In this culture, women could not be single and survive and there was a surplus of women compared to men, so women had anxiety about finding and keeping a husband. The only other choice for these women were to become a nun and even that was not promised. This started a strain of accusations because it relied on the accounts of feelings and hearsay. It also made the Catholic church unhappy because it went against what their faith was about by using the saint's names improperly and complicated the idea of free will.
Free Will:the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one's own discretion.
All of these reasonings and circumstantial evidence made the perfect storm for the Spanish Inquisition to purge heretics. In the beginning, Pope Sixtus IV aided the inquisition, but as it went on he fought against the abuse of it. Pope Innocent VIII succeeded him and he loved the idea of the inquisition. The love of the Inquisition paved the way to for the Grand Inquisitor, Tomas de Torquemada, to abuse the power that came with the title. He took quite a passion into ridding Spain of heretics and would torture all accused repeatedly because they were guilty until proven innocent. With the Spanish Inquisition, they valued a confession, but it was not necessary for a conviction. Confession was prison; no confession was death. Under his reign, punishments ranged from public shaming to being put to death.
"the hammer of heretics, the light of Spain, the savior of his country, the honor of his order."-Sebastián de Olmedo
Many practices came out of this heretic hunt. The first was a torture convention or scaffold called Auto De Fe that had a mass execution and punishment for the whole society to come and watch. There would be a parade of victims, drums, banners, and many other acts that one would see at a celebration. They also always occurred on Sundays and every person had to attend or it was enough suspicion to accuse a person of heresy. The victims were the people they felt were more guilty or uncooperative than the others. They were given one last chance to confess before they were burned at the stake. A confession meant strangulation before burning; no confession meant no "mercy."
Before these people were put on the stake, they had to march in something like a parade. They were made to wear what is called a san benito or a yellow tunic covered in images of the person's alledged sin. For witches, they would have images of devils, people burning, etc. If the person did not confess before they lit the fire, the tunic was left like it was. If the person confessed before, the tunic was turned inside out to symbolize that this person had confessed. If a person was especially problematic, they had to wear a yellow tunic, but also had to wear a coroza to signify it.
An account of this time was taken by Innocent VIII in 1484. His edict's main purpose was to give authority to the Inquisitors. He wanted them to "remove all impediments" and to "prevent the taint of heretical pravity and other like evils" (Levack 121). He essentially wanted to make it easier for the inquisitors the accuse and convict, with "full and entire liberty," witches of heresy so that they would not be "spreading their infection" (Levack 121). The church wanted to "save souls" and will do anything necessary to realize that idea.
Witchcraft in Italy
The Spanish were feeling a paranoia that their friends across the Mediterranean Sea just were not. The Spanish were being infiltrated by a multitude of different cultures and religions. Italy simply was not. The majority of Italy was comfortably Catholic, due to the presence of the Vatican within their country, and had almost no worry of another religion coming to convert or live among them. This main difference completely change the way that the Italians handled the idea of witchcraft and the heresy that goes along with it. With no animosity of neighbors because of religion, Italy could take a more logical approach to what people were being accused of.
Just like the Spanish, Italy had an inquisition of their own except it was called the Venetian Inquisition. There was not an overwhelming population of Catholics in Italy, but there was still the fear on the fringes of the country. Unlike Spain, this did not lead to mass hysteria and accusations, only mildly. The head of the Inquisition was called the Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition or, more simply, the Holy Offices. Most cases did not get to this level; they were mostly held locally. These local offices were made up of a bishop, an inquisitor (Dominican friar), and a papal nuncio. This inquisition originally was only after Protestants with suspicious people being accused of strange acts such as: having banned books, supporting divorce, ignoring religious fasts, etc. Then comes a transition into people being accused of witchcraft in the years 1547 to 1585 and from 1586 to 1650 twice as many accused witches were accused than protestants. Mainly these people were accused of love magic, divination, casting cords, and maleficio.
Venice in the sixteenth century
The strange aspect of the Inquisition in Italy is that there are no known guilt verdicts regarding witchcraft. Sometimes the accused were charge with a crime, but never witchcraft. There are many reasons as to why this occurred including:
1. The Inquisition was generally cautious and methodical.
2. The problem of jurisdiction and heresy: This point goes along with the previous because there was many instances of grey area within the idea of witchcraft, so people were cautious to convict and try anyone accused. The Holy Office wanted to get rid of heresy, but locals were not sure where witchcraft laid in regards to it. This lead to caution as well as locals wanting to handle the accusations themselves instead of involving the higher court. The trials relied on a book called Directorium Inquisitoroum by Nichlae Eyemic that was written in the 14th century and republished in the 16th. This book explicitly said that a guilty verdict had to include worship of the Devil and abuse of sacrament, which most never did. These acts had to clearly show these things or could not convict. This lead to strict guidelines for conviction.
Directorium Inquisitoroum by Nichlae Eyemic
3. Supernatural Illness (stregheria) or Natural Illness: Doctors or "cunningfolk" had to figure out why a person was sick or had died. They had to decide if it was natural or supernatural. Supernatural deaths had to be proven by the doctor. These people were not likely to decide that it was supernatural because it would take away their business and would basically plead the fifth.
Stregheria: Ancient Italian word for "witchcraft" or supernatural.
4. Evidence: The objects or acts that would be taken as evidence were previously mentioned, but it was warned not to waste time with things that were speculative or part of everyday life. Rumors were not taken as evidence, so witchcraft was seen as a waste of time for people to investigate.
5. Simply not enough judges: Because of this, they used their time for more dire cases besides witchcraft.
These ideals lead to an extreme amount of caution and method regarding the witch trials in Italy as well as some of it being purely circumstantial. As Sir Robert Filmer stated that this caution led "ultimately to the realization that the crime could not be proved" (Levack 155). The lack of hysteria that the many other countries had as well as other reasons lead to a more logical approach to how they approached the idea of witchcraft. It was not worth their time and ultimately they had no reasoning or right to "put such one to death" with no "warrant" (Levack 157).
Witch Hunting Manual
Now that the basic history of witchcraft in Europe has been detailed throughout this blog, it is time to talk about the manner in which they hunted these witches. There was not a written text that detailed what a witch was or how to persecute them. (Unless you count the various excerpts from the Bible and other random places) This all changed when a man, no doubt because of his want to help the society around him, wrote a handbook to solve all the problems of Europe. Malleus Maleficarum was written by Heinrich Kramer in 1486. This book would then go on to be the manual for witch hunting throughout Germany and other countries. It gained popularity mainly because these people had so many witches that they literally did not know what to do with them, not because of any ulterior motive I am sure like politics or religion.
Heinrich Kramer already sounds and looks like a person you really don't want to cross, but especially if you were someone he deemed a witch. He was a Dominican Inquisitor. (Apparently this part of the church handled everything to do with heresy, which seems odd given how big this idea came to be, but okay.) This book was written at a time when the inquisitors were facing resistance in their process of persecuting witches in Germany, convenient right? As soon as people start to follow the lead of logic, the people supporting these ideas have to throw them back into the whirlwind of hysteria. Despite this resistance, Pope Innocent VIII gave them the go ahead to keep persecuting witches throughout Germany. This order was included in the preface of the book so that everyone knew the highest authority validated these claims (Levack 57). This book was reprinted many times to reaffirm the fear and uncertainty that people in this society already felt or probably to line the pockets of the people profiting.
Some excerpts from this book are pretty chilling and manipulative. Part I details how anyone who does not believe in witches is in fact committing heresy themselves. So people had to believe or they were no better than a witch. "The errors held" by these people who do not believe in witchcraft of the power of it are "shown to be plainly heretical" (Levack 58). He goes on to say that he will "prove" that witchcraft is real through ways of "divine law" and "civil law" (Levack 60). He is basically warning all people that do not believe in witchcraft that they better or else. He has religion and the law on his side.
Civil Law:the system of law concerned with private relations between members of a community rather than criminal, military, or religious affairs.
Part II demonstrates how witches "entice and allure the innocent" to "increase that horrid craft and company" (Levack 63). He begins to detail the three ways witches try to convert people. The first way is through "weariness" by "inflicting grievous loses" of their "possessions" (Levack 63). Basically he is saying that when people lose what they cherish in the world and are overcome with grief, they will turn to witchcraft to reverse it. Another way witches convert people is through "seduction" (Levack 64). These witches would bring young women and others to be seduced by the Devil in various forms. The last way he details the conversion to witchcraft is through sadness and poverty, mainly through a scorned lover. Women will want to seek revenge on their lovers by converting to the Devil.
He then goes on to detail how to deal with the very present cases of women copulating with the Devil. Kramer believes this to be true through the "expert testimony of witches themselves" which makes these claims "credible" (Levack 67). He does not however take in to account that most of the confessions about witchcraft were made under extreme torture. Torture makes people say anything to make it stop.
Kramer make very misogynistic claims about women throughout this book. He never really mentions the possibility that men have been part of these acts, but mainly focuses on women. Women are copulating with the Devil and even causing impotence of the men around them. Men cannot handle the existence of these women as more than just dutiful house maids, so they had to come up with reasons to keep them in their place. If not, they were accused of witchcraft and being sexual beings with the Devil himself. Kramer shows that he believes women are inferior in intellect and morality so that they are more willing to be converted to witchcraft. All in all, not a very progressive thinking guy.
Across the Pond
Now that the life and times of a European witch have been detailed previously in this blog, it is time to account for the witchcraft trials that occurred soon after the landing on this foreign soil. The most famous instance of witchcraft in the New World is in no doubt in Salem, Massachusetts. It is the story most often told in history classes from elementary through college. But more often than not, people do not care about why the Salem Witchcraft trials happened, they only care about the trials themselves. By learning about the community's beliefs and way of life, it becomes more and more apparent how this hysteria could have happened.
Before Salem, there were no deaths resulted from the conviction of witchcraft. This is a shocking idea considering they came from Europe where they were slaughtering people like it was for sport. It is true that England was more lax than the surrounding nations of Germany and Spain, but they still had trials and executions. With the colonists coming over to the New World, one would think that these ideas would carry over into a strange land filled with savagery, but due to other circumstances, no one was executed. They believed that the Devil was prominent in this untamed wilderness, but there were not many women, so if they wanted to survive, they had to let them slide.
The ratio of men to women within the Puritan colony of Salem and others was not a problem. These people traveled to America with their families, so the ratio was about even. So the widespread hysteria that engulfs Salem has to come from the society and beliefs themselves. The Puritans had a very different mindset than the rest of the Church of England that they broke away from and these beliefs would carry out the anxieties that they felt about their souls and the people around them
Puritans believed in four ideas that would lead them into the hysteria of accusations.
- They believed that they had to ready themselves for possible salvation.
- Predestination: Salvation for each soul had been decided despite any actions taken on Earth by the person.
- Providentialism: Everything that happens is God's will.
- Moral Stewardship: Everyone was their neighbors moral watchmen and responsibility.
These ideas combined with the uncertainty of their survival and the strictness of their religion lead to the perfect storm of circumstances. Along with this, very prominent and famous religious figures made their stance on witchcraft known to further validate the way that these people were feeling. The most famous by far was that of Cotton Mather. His fire and brimstone style of preaching struck fear into the hearts of the sinners around him to the point where anything he said seemed to be from God himself.
Cotton Mather was born into a renowned family of Puritan ministers which lined the path to his future career. He attended Harvard by the age of 12 and graduated with his M.A. at age 18. Mather wanted to become a minister like his family line, but a terrible stutter prevented it in his early life. He decided to go into medicine until he overcame it. He began preaching and was very successful at it, but not as successful as his father. Mather did however create a name for himself through his written works and his work in science and medicine, especially with smallpox.
Mather in regards to witchcraft, was very concerned with the workings of Satan. In Boston, he investigated a possession of multiple children and wrote his findings in a book. He took the eldest of the children to do a more intense study of her. (Modern findings suggest she was suffering from hysteria) Mather's findings would later come to influence the Salem women as well as grant him favor with the local magistrates and clergy.
Even though Cotton Mather did not proceed or was not directly involved in the trials, he did influence the people surrounding it. It is up for debate how much he intervened with the trials. On one hand, it is said he cautioned the magistrates about use of spectral evidence and that reciting the Lord's Prayer was the only solid way to convict a witch. But some people took the ending of the letter as an okay to continue in the trials. On the other hand, his views seem contradictory. Former Salem minister George Burroughs recited the Lord's Prayer perfectly, but Mather still advocated for his hanging stating that "Devil has often been transformed into Angels of the Light."
The Life of a Puritan
Dressed in black and weird buckled shoes are what comes to most people's minds when they think of a Puritan. The tales of Thanksgiving and movies have long ago impacted the way people think about this group of people. People readily categorize them as people who do not wear color, do not smile, and basically as a stick in the mud. This stigma holds some truth, but most of the ideas about these people comes from the practical rather than the ideal. Before detailing the trials of Salem, it is first important to understand the way of life of these people as well as the ideas mentioned in the previous week.
The lives of these people were hard. They had to build civilization from the ground up with the resources that they could find. The settlers were not well prepared for the new climate and landscape that they would come to encounter which made their lives bleak and hard. This new life made the Puritans very busy with daily tasks for survival as well as for their religion. They started the day at dawn and continued until dusk. The way of life for a Puritan was simple and peaceful.
The homes of the Puritans reflected their outlooks on life. They lived in small one room structures made out of wood. The homes were very small and typically ranged in size from 16x20 feet for a family of around 12, but could be more or less. These homes could grow or even become bigger as time went on, but for the most part they were very small homes. The main room would be a kitchen and living area where daily inside chores would happen. The home may have one bed where the parents slept, but everyone else would sleep on the floor. These tiny homes made privacy nonexistent and overcrowding a daily part of life. Even the layout of the houses were made so that neighbors could keep an eye on the home. This made being watched a part of the society within these communities, whether it be by family or by neighbors.
Inside the home, all furnishings had to serve a purpose. Large dressers and trunks were used for many things. They would store the families clothes, bedding, and other material goods. Often times, the family did not have enough plates and cups for everyone to eat with so children mostly ate with their hands. There would be a couple of chairs, maybe a stool, and a table for eating, making goods, and other household chores. Their homes were furnished simply out of the idea that plainness was humble in the eyes of God and out of functionality for the limited space they had.
There were also many chores to attend to during the day. Everything that a family needed had to be made, harvested, or hunted. Most of these tasks fell to the women. A woman would prepare and make the food for the household, make fire, candles, soap, butter, and anything else necessary to run a household. The bane of these women's existence would had to have been the chore of spinning cotton to make clothing. It would usually happen at night after all her other chores were done and it would take hours to reap a product. This chore was time consuming to say the least. These women worked from sun up to sun down to make their household work while probably taking care of around ten children as well.
The most prominent aspect of the Puritan life was religion. They had moved to this New World to have religious freedom in the first place. The Puritans broke away from the Church of England because they believed that it needed to be "purified" hence the name Puritan. In the previous week, it is detailed the main beliefs that helped fuel the fire of witchcraft accusations, but it is also important to understand how important religion was to these people in regards to living their daily lives.
Puritan: a member of a group of English Protestants of the late 16th and 17th centuries who regarded the Reformation of the Church of England under Elizabeth as incomplete and sought to simplify and regulate forms of worship.
The church was the center of everything in this community. Even the structure of the town was set up to revolve around the church. The richest and most privileged members of the community sat closest to the preacher while the poorest set in the back. Children and teenagers stood in the back as well. So religion not only dictated how they lived their daily lives, but also their place within the society they lived in. They had church twice a week and attendance was mandatory unless they were suffering from a grave illness. Religion consumed their lives and communities to the point where anything that threatened it had to be ended.
All these aspects of their lives were important to what happens later down the road. These communities were set up in a way that any deviation from what the society wanted threatened the community itself. Their whole way of life and even their survival depended on everyone following the ideas they let England for. When Salem begins to have an outbreak of witchcraft accusations, all these factors will play a role into the hysteria becoming too much to control.
These people are wack by today's standards, let's be honest. They would probably be the equivalent of a religious cult that everyone looked the other way at for the sake of sanity. But in those times, this way of life was a means for survival both physically and spiritually. By keeping busy and being under constant surveillance meant that yourself, family, and soul would survive. They believed in the method and information available to them at the time to make a better life for themselves. However, that idea also means anything that threatens their way of life must be immediately dealt with, such as the Salem witch trials.
Humans were accused, tried, and convicted during these times at an alarming rate and many factors contributed to their conviction. But today, I would like to detail the usually unsung role that animals played in these trials as well. Dogs and cats in particular were the source of accusations and some were even accused themselves. The hysteria surrounding the witch trials was so out of control that now animals were the source of their anxieties.
One of the first instances of animals surrounding the trials is a dog. Tituba, a house slave in the village, made a urine cake out of the request of Mary Sibley. The request was made to Tituba out of an attempt to do counter magic to expose who the witch was (Godbeer 64). The idea was that they would make a urine cake from the afflicted girls, feed it to a dog, and the dog would expose the witch. This dog unknowingly played a role in the escalation of the witch craft trials themselves.
Another way in which animals were part of the trials was as familiars or a sort of witch pet that can do her bidding. The idea of familiars was that a witch could embody them or have them do specific tasks for them. This opened the door to an almost indisputable way for people to accuse others of witchcraft. Someone cannot prove that an animal is not possessed, so the accusation cannot be proven true or false and can even be built on by other people.
An example of familiars that comes up within the Salem witch trials is within the accusations of Sarah Goode. Many people accuse her of using a "creature" to help her afflict and torment other people, especially children (Godbeer 69). Others accuse a "beast" or "great white dog" or "large grey cat"coming to torment them in the night no matter how hard they tried to keep the animals out (Godbeer 72-73). Some also accuse her of harming and killing livestock.
Familiars:A familiar (or familiar spirit or familiar animal) is an animal-shaped spirit or minor demon believed to serve a witch or magician as domestic servant, spy and companion, in addition to helping to bewitch enemies or to divine information.
Another prominent person surrounding animals and familiars is Bridget Bishop. She is accused of familiars, but also of harming and killing livestock. One lady says that her pig had piglets and it would not "let her pigs suck" and would knock "her head against the fence" as if she were "blind and deaf" after Bishop had gotten into a disagreement with the family of said pig (Godbeer 109). Another man said that a familiar came to him in the night with the body of a "monkey," a "cock's feet with claws," and a face like a "man's" (Godbeer 112).
Dorcas Hoar's accusation is also surrounded by animals, literally. She is accused of having several black cats that suckle from her breasts (Godbeer 118). This was a common idea that familiars would sustain life from sucking on the "witch's teat" of a witch and the familiar would do the witch's bidding.
As mentioned earlier, the aspect of cattle was very important to these people. In a time and land that was unforgiving and hard to survive, it was ideal to have as many animals to help provide for the home. When these animals, their means of survival, are put into jeopardy by circumstance or in their mind witchcraft, it had to be dealt with immediately or they would perish because of it. Their livelihood suddenly dying was unexplainable to them, so they had to explain it somehow.
And finally, the animal victim of the Salem witchcraft trials, a dog. A dog in Andover, a town over from Salem, was accused of trying to bewitch a girl. The dog is shot the dog immediately. At the same time, a dog in Salem started acting strange, so the afflicted girls of Salem accused John Bradstreet of Andover of using the dog to torment them. Although they saw it as a victim, the people of Salem killed the dog.
Even though animals are not the main focus point of the Salem witch trials, they do play an important role in how they progress. Some animals were their livelihood and putting them in jeopardy required immediate action. Some animals were puppets and the evidence could neither be proven or denied. Some animals were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Dog (mine) acting strange (not actual dog killed from Salem)
The Salem society kills dogs even though they know it is not the dogs fault. That fact alone should tell people that hysteria is a very powerful thing. Now that the grievances against some of the most innocent bystanders have been detailed and expressed, it must now be detailed the only person in Salem that could have been a witch, Bridget Bishop. By the standards and profile expressed in Europe to capture witches, she is the only one with sufficient proof. Those poppets to be exact.
POppet:a small figure of a human being used in sorcery and witchcraft.
First her personal life and background must be detailed. She was born Bridget Playfer sometime between 1632 and 1635. Her first husband was named Samuel Wasselby until he dies in 1664 and then marries her second husband, Thomas Oliver. It is detailed that they had a troublesome relationship with many domestic disputes and abuse. When he died, she inherited his whole estate while the children got next to nothing. This the point where she is accused of witchcraft the first time, but it was speculated her stepson accused her out of greed for an inheritance.
After the death of Oliver, she marries a woodcutter named Edward Bishop. At this point her life becomes very complicated. Many historians have confused her with Sarah Bishop, who married Bridget's stepson, and also was accused of witchcraft. They were both married to an Edward Bishop so it is clear to see where the confusion takes place. What historians do know is that the time of the Salem Witch Trials, Bridget Bishop owned an apple orchard downtown with some chickens and a house near the orchard.
She then becomes one of the first people accused and the first person hung at Salem. Once she is accused by Mercy Lewis, Abigail Williams, Elizabeth Hubbard, and Ann Putnam, Jr. the evidence against her begins flowing in from many people from all time periods. Most of this evidence was speculation, but some of it was physical proof, especially in regards to the profile of a witch.
The evidence against her is shocking to say the least. The first thing to come up was the accusation from her past of witchcraft. It proves to be problematic as well as substantial proof that she had been accused previously, but other things also lead to her conviction. She was accused of being a bad wife, outspoken, attractive (temptress), curses pigs and livestock, making money vanish, damaging property, signing the Devil's book, killing or harming children, and eventually not giving a confession or caring much at all.
As mentioned in the blog before, accusations against livestock were taken very seriously since that was only of the only ways for them to survive in this harsh environment. One accused brings up an account that Bishop cursed their pig. The pig had taken with "strange fits...seemed blind and deaf...[and] foamed at the mouth" (Godbeer 109). This was substantial evidence because it made the survival of that particular family come into play rather than speculative evidence that barely impacted the people around accusation.
Besides her being accused before, her physical appearance was one of the most prevalent things that led to a conviction. She seemed to have been a "physically attractive woman who captured the imagination of some of her male neighbors" (Godbeer 102). Puritans associated a women's "allure" with "Eve's temptation of Adam into sin," so it made her appealing and feared among the people of her community (Godbeer 102).
They accused her of countless other things in association with witchcraft, but the only physical evidence they had was poppets or small dolls. Two workmen claimed they had found them "hidden in her cellar with pins stuck in them" while another detailed how she brought him "pieces of lace" that she wanted dyed that were too small for anything, but poppers(Godbeer 102). This made Bishop fit the profile of a witch more than anything. The court now had physical proof rather than speculation.
The discovery of poppets, her physical attractiveness, and her personality in general made her an easy first conviction for the court. She could not give any explanation for herself or her actions that would satisfy the court nor would she give a confession. Others were accused first, but because of the "evidence" against her, she was the first tried. On June 10th, 1692 she was hung in the Salem Gallows for being a witch.
By the standards of European witch profile, the poppets would have been enough to convict her to hang. What is curious is that people were hung with much smaller evidence than had been brought against her. She was the first hanged and it could be argued the only one with sufficient evidence to do so. Other "witches" were hanged simply by hear say evidence and speculation rather than anything concrete. Bishop was the only one with the characteristics of a witch and the evidence. So the question remains, was she a witch or just the only person the actually had any evidence to justify their actions?