Black Cats And Broomsticks Stereotyping, Myth, Reality

A Warm, Witchy Welcome

Hello Poppets.

A warm, cackling, welcome to you all. Come, sit by the boiling cauldron as I tell you of all sorts of curses and magic. Oh don't worry, I won't hex you. We're here to dispel common myths and beliefs about witches, not encourage them. Posts will be on a weekly basis, as I get to learn along with you and need material to write about (I can't conjure this stuff up overnight you know.) Until then, dearies, keep your pets close and eyes open for updates.

January 13, 2017

Torture, Tests, and Confessions: Germanic Witches

...Okay Then.

A brief warning dear poppets: this isn’t going to be particularly pleasant. Before we can get to the slaughtering of hundreds, some of them children, the general attitude of the church towards witchcraft in general must be covered. Enough babbling, let’s get to the point shall we?

The Ancient world’s depiction of the witch is in itself a field, and at most, shows an early formation of traditional views of the witch and her activities. (Levack 5) What will be receiving a brief, focus here is St. Augustine’s demonization of all witchcraft, magic, and religious practices not fitting within the church’s ideals. This ideal will, although at times waver, will come back full fledge in the late 1500s-1600s in Germany. St. Augustine, during the middle ages, was one of the “greatest of the Church Fathers.” (Levack, 27) This position of power provided his ideals with a greater weight than that of a lower ranking figure. What exactly where these ideals? The practice of magic, all magic, involved demonic invocations and was condemnable. The only element missing here is, calling directly for practitioners of witchcraft to be tortured and burned at the stake (or if you happened to be in England, hanging).

There's a Major Difference People

Where is the trial and torture info you may ask. We’ll get to those dear poppets, but first, we need to take a look into an earlier trial: the Trial of Dame Alice Kyteler. This resembles many of the later trials those accused of witchcraft would have gone through, minus the required torture (we’ll get to that very soon). A good, short summary of what happened to the good Dame can be found here:

Her alleged crimes fit many of the usual charges: attending witches’ Sabbaths, creating powders and potions, and use of sorcery to murder and infatuate her four husbands.(Levack,41) What is of interest here is the addition of Dame Alice’s accomplice and how she was tortured to gain incriminating “evidence” against said Dame. Specifically, she was “six times whipped on the order of the Bishop” until she admitted to her crimes and had provided additional information on Dame Alice. (Levack,41) Levack and the source of this information (The Sorcery Trial of Alice Kyteler as edited by Davidson and Ward) do not specify what exactly is indicated by six times. The text mentions only that this takes place during the same day as Dame Alice’s trial.

What does this exactly have to do with Germanic witches? Both these documents and trial methods are not only held up as proof that witches should be burned, but also taken to extremes when it comes to methods used to drag confessions out of the accused. One such person was Niclas Fiedler, tried during the mass panic in the electorate of Trier, which is located in Germany. Along with Fiedler, Dr. Dietrich Flade (the former vice governor of Trier), was also prosecuted under extreme torture, both physical and psychological. Fiedler having been subjected to half an hour’s worth of what appears to be a modified version of strappado. (Tied up, rope tied to a wall and said rope beaten by the hangman with a stick. Fun.) This was only halted when the mayor, either feeling pity for him or attempting to gain his trust, entered the room and stopped the torture.

It Gets Worse, Have a Laugh Break

Torturers served a dual role that makes the entire process far worse than that of just cold blooded torture. The accused were to not be killed with torture, so the torturer served a healing role as well. This is evident in Johannes Junius' confessions and a letter sent to his daughter. Junius was first told of his accuser's name (who, himself, had been tortured into revealing said name). This process is repeated one more time when Junius refutes the claims and he is then tortured for an unspecified amount of time with thumbscrews, leg-screws, and strappado.(Levack, 199) Only after he confesses and then reaffirms these confessions twice more, is he put to death via burning.

Dislocated Bones and Pain Ahead

The "healing" role is only evident in a letter sent to his daughter. Once this torture is ended, the executioner (who also tortured him), begs of him to confess something, saying:

"Sir, I beg you, for God's sake confess something, whether it be true or not. Invent something, for you cannot endure the torture which you will be put to... one torture will follow after another until you say you are a witch" (Levack,201)

This use of torture was all too common in Germany, with anther prisoner (N.N.) in Eichstatt suffering the strappado until she confessed that she was indeed a witch.(Levack 205)N.N., however, refuted these claims four days later and was once again tortured via stretching over the ladder. After this round of torture, she newly accuses 48 accomplices and is then put to death after reaffirming these accusations.

January 20 2017

Wicked Dances and Sinful Deeds: The Witches' Sabbath

One Hell of a Party...

Instead of continuing along the torture train, so to speak, turning our attention to some of the deeds these women would be accused of is of more importance. We will, however, return to this topic, albeit briefly, due to the unique nature of some the Norwegian locals witch beliefs.

You may be wondering what wicked deeds filled the witch coven’s repertoire. Most of these deeds fell into four main categories: love magic, healing magic, divination, and the undoing of other witch’s spells. I can already here you proclaiming “Healing magic! Undoing potentially harmful magic!! Those sound just dandy, why would someone be burned and tortured for that?” I’m afraid it wasn’t so simple, dear poppets. The church was spreading at this time and their stance was any magic, no matter the intentions, was to be punished as a sin against God. Helping to spread this fear throughout Europe was the spread of demonological treaties which was occurring during the worst time to be accused as a witch in Europe (1570-1700) (Levack, 69)

Included amongst these claims was the idea, which had been long held, that the witch, no matter their gender, would copulate with Incubi and Succubi, often in public or whilst at the Sabbath (or Sabbat, both spellings are legitimate).(Levack, 67) What are exactly are these fell creatures? To put it in a nutshell: sex demons. The goals of said creatures are often stated to be the draining of life energy via the act of copulation. As for what they looked like...

Hello mortals...

Don’t believe everything you see, dear poppets. Very rarely would early artwork depict these creatures as sexy, evil, Goth men or half naked women. While they may have taken on fair forms to seduce the soon to be witch, they would quickly drop it and reveal themselves as an animal or demon...


Not exactly sexy are they? Despite this, rather unpleasant fact, most witch trials and accusations involved admittance of guilt to copulation with such fiends. Most of the doctrine also reinforced the belief that women, who were ‘necessary evils’, were themselves sex fiends. Catholic doctrine in particular would point out that women were found of ‘carnal abominations’ from the very start, being defective in formation.(Levack, 63)Male witches, in later writings, were not exempt from this accusation either, and the devil would take on a female form in those cases.(Levack, 80)

This particular claim, despite so many witches admitting to it (under torture and admonition from the jailer mind you), was somewhat disputed. What most confessions confirmed was that the act was far from pleasant, and most witches only endured it under threat of punishment. The reasons for it being unpleasant: Satan’s ugliness and the chosen form used. (Levack, 81)Often these forms would be those of an animal (which would be further stigmatizing). One particular scholar, Henri Boguet, uses these claims as further proof that other religions are heretical. Because gods/deities getting it on with mortals is apparently utterly horrifying. Enough sex talk, on to the Sabbath and the means by which a witch would get there.

I am a Nerd.

Scholars were much divided on whether witches physically attended the Sabbath, or merely believed that they had. Some authors, like Nicolas Remy, found both sides to be equally valid in their opinions. Using cited examples, he notes cases of suspected witches, watched by their neighbors or family, acting out in a manner that suggests they are participating in Sabbatical acts, all without leaving their house. (Levack 84) Also noted, are cases where witches were said to escape up the chimney after smearing themselves or an object with ointments and flying to the Sabbath. In some cases, witches would summon demons in the form of animals to ride to the Sabbath.

Satanic Taxis at Your Service

As my word limit is fast approaching, I should describe what actually happens at the Sabbath. Pierre De Lancre, a French magistrate, wrote an account of the supposed activities that would take place. The majority of this account comes from Gentle Rivaffeau, a man accused of witchcraft(Levack, 105) The Sabbath would take place at multiple locations, and always at night due to the secretive nature of the witch’s craft. The devil would preside over these festivals and a multitude of incubi and succubi would be present to dance and copulate with attending witches. Feasting and drinking would occur and the devil’s backside would be kissed in reverence. In this particular document, dancing takes on a sexual nature and Spain was also decried within the same paragraph.(Levack, 106) One interesting element here is that the devil would not copulate with unmarried virgins, preferring the sin of adultery.

In Norway, due to the location of the witches Sabbath, flight via broom or other means was actually required to get there. Norway is unique in its categories of magic as well, with shapeshifting, luck magic, and Fylgjur being unique to their system. What is fylgjur? Well, my poppets, it was similar to a familiar and protected the family or the owner. It would also take on a shape fitting the owner’s personality.

Kinda Like a Patronus. Here's Mine.

January 27, 2017

Possession and Witchcraft:Demonic Invitations

*Tubular Bells*

Glancing at the title of this week’s entry may have a few of you scratching your heads. Before you grab my shirt and shriek “Possession? What does that have to do with witchcraft? Or magic?” Calm yourselves dear poppets, have some tea, sit back, and I’ll explain everything (well not everything, even my knowledge is limited.)

While it is true that witchcraft and demonic possession are treated as two separate things, at times they will overlap. This overlap is often caused by accusations that the witch, in an effort to harm an intended victim, will summon a demon and command them to enter that person’s body. Conjure the mental image of a group of drunk and or stoned teens deciding to summon Satan, it actually happening, and the ensuing carnage and you might get a similar picture (minus the drunken teens and the stupidity that entails of course.)

I'll Just Be Going Then..

Demonic possession had been around long before witchcraft, and is still around today, weirdly enough . If you want specific dates for comparison, Levack’s The Witchcraft Sourcebook (I highly recommend this by the way. Some of the stuff in there is extremely fascinating) has you covered. Witch trials started in the 15th century and only lasted on a large and public scale until the 18th century. In comparison, demonic possessions had been recorded for much longer and are still a thing today. (Levack, 231) This fascination with the devil is in itself worthy of a blog post or two, but as this is not the focus of this particular blog, you will have to delve into those dark depths on your own time.

Back to the main focus, possession, much like a disease, was communicable and entire groups would often display such unsightly symptoms as bodily contortions, vomiting of nails or other foreign objects, strength far beyond that of a normal human, and the ability to speak in tongues the person should not know (Latin being a fairly popular one in any exorcism film you may see today.) In some cases, rather than there being only one possessed person, whole groups would be under the sway of evil forces. Often these would be groups of nuns or children (high impressionability could be a key cause of these outbreaks.)(Levack, 231)

One Spark is all it Takes..

With how fervently the church prosecuted and believed in witchcraft, you’d think that they would be just as quick to believe cases of demonic possession. Oddly, enough they take a more skeptical approach in these cases, with the church testing the person’s claims before even considering an exorcism. (Levack, 232) Some of these cases would even be deemed psychological in nature, quite progressive for a group that would take the testimony of children as truth enough in a witchcraft case.

Exorcism, when it was deemed necessary, was more often than not, also used as a propaganda piece to further the church’s goals and make them look like the superior (and only) religion. Both Protestants and Catholics used exorcism, but in vastly different ways. But, my dear poppets, let's get back to the nuns, those crazy, crazy nuns.

Pure Evil, This One.

One case, based around a convent in Wertet, displays many of the traditional possessed nun stories (I can’t believe this is a thing): speaking in tongues, sudden fits of inappropriate behavior, bodily damage caused by unseen forces, etc. The cause of this madness was very much a puzzle, until two nuns revealed they had seen a woman trap a cat in a basket in the nunnery. (Levack, 237) Upon hearing this, the animal was swiftly found and released and the woman who had left it there was branded a witch and placed in jail, along with her accomplices. The cat was not entirely the cause of this group possession, as the Lamia (Witch), had, under the guise of returning borrowed salt, caused small seeds covered in it to appear in the Nun’s dorms. (Levack, 236)This, however, is not the most famous case of mass nun possession. The case of the Loudon Nuns inspired both a book and film.

The Loudon case is unique in the facts that not only were there public exorcisms, but the accused was actually a member of the clergy. Urban Grandier, a parish priest with a rather scandalous reputation (he had impregnated the daughter of one of the town officials and had less than stellar relations with the bishop and king’s counselor), ended up burning at the stake for causing said possessions. (Levack, 252)

Look at the word count! Let’s get to the main points. After physical attempts to heal the nuns failed, an exorcist was brought in. The demons then revealed Urban Grandier had sent them into the nuns, and had committed unholy acts on holy ground (i.e. the church).(Levack, 256) Also found were written pacts with demons, a magical charm, and the devil’s mark. Needless to say, Urban Grandier burned.

Crispy Priest Flesh Anyone?

February 02, 2017 

The Skeptic's Opinion: Witchcraft as Melancholy?

Not Quite the Same Thing, but..

With my previous three posts, you may be thinking that science and skepticism, if they existed at all, were far from accepted opinions and would have been frowned upon. Well, dear poppets, that is not completely true, as documents were created that upheld and attempted to prove that witchcraft was no more than a melancholic person’s ramblings and phantoms created by mental illness. A major proponent of this view was Johann Weyer, a demonologist who may be familiar to those of you who read my previous entry.

The Face of a Man Who is NOT Buying It.

Yes, if you remember my entry about demonic possession and witchcraft, this was the guy who observed and recorded the possessed nuns of Wertet. (Levack, 277) In said writing, he never attributed any powers to witchcraft, instead attributing all of the events to the wickedness and snares of the devil. Witchcraft, as he viewed it, was no more than an illusion and was not to blame for any of the events at Wertet, or at the other convents he had investigated or read about. You may wonder what all of this has to do with melancholy, well; I’ll get to that quite soon.

Weyer viewed witchcraft as little more than the effects of melancholy on weak minded and unfaithful people, particularly women (gender equality? What’s that?) (Levack, 277) This, as a result, meant that any crimes these women (and men) would be accused of were not valid; as there was no way that they could afflict their neighbor by muttering curses at them or their cows. He further dismantles the defense of witchcraft as real by basically saying my view of this scripture is correct and yours isn’t.How exactly does he interpret this? Translations from the Hebrew to Latin are not correct, and there is yet another discrepancy when looking at the Greek translations. (Levack, 278) What the Hebrew text describes is a broad umbrella of activities that could be considered magical, and the witch has less power than say, German writers would ascribe to them.

In Shorter Terms...

So, who is the cause of these actions, if the witch has no power and can’t place a curse upon her neighbors? Why, good old Lucifer himself, of course! Yeah, Weyer got quite a bit of flak for this opinion, particularly from demonologists from the late sixteenth century. (Levack, 277) Lamia (his word for witches) held no special powers and were not needed by the devil to cause mischief. He, instead, was allowed to run amok by God and cause strife. I’m not sure how that arrangement works out, but I can easily see why this would cause an outcry amongst the more religious folk.Combine this idea, with unexplained disasters, and weak willed or faithless humans, and you have the local loon proclaiming they can control the weather causing a stir.

Basically, Its One Never Ending Chess Game

Since the witch has no real power, according to scripture and the like, why then, do so many claim to be witches? This, in part, is due to a lack of faith and mental illnesses, or humors, rather. Melancholia, as defined by Greeks and most scholars of this time, is an overabundance of black bile, leading to an altered mental state. A state that could simply make you more likely to brood, listen to The Cure, and smoke on a rooftop. Whats of more interest are cases of persons prone to odd fits and delusions of, say, being a vase or believing that they were an animal.(Levack, 282) Women, being the weaker sex in both physical and mental state, were believed to be more prone to this.

Pictured: Melancholy, Sexy, Sexy Melancholy.

What is particularly interesting in Weyer’s case is his belief about punishment and witchcraft. Since the people claiming to be witches were simply afflicted with illusions caused by the Devil, any confession they made would be worthless in the eyes of the court. These prisoners should, according to Weyer, not be tried as heretics, as a heretic, by his definition is:

“…warned once or twice and still constantly and stubbornly persists in his fanatical beliefs.”(Levack, 283)

Instead of being burned at the stake for heresy, these women (he refers only to women as witches at this point), should be examined and have biblical teachings more thoroughly applied to them.

VERY Thoroughly Applied

This more lenient belief applied also to their treatment. He argues that as good Christians, the court should resist the urge to torture these women until a satisfying confession tumbles forth from their lips. Combined with the filthy prisons and lack of empathy from their captors and neighbors, these women saw no better escape than “quick” deaths via burning. Rather than face death at the hands of torment, these women would:

“…freely confess to any crime proposed to them, rather than be thrust headlong back into the same dungeons and torture within the stinking prisons.” (Levack, 284)

February 09, 2017 

Puritanical Beliefs and Women: Where's My Xanax?

The Picture Of Lingering Doubt And Paranoia

Before we get into the meat of the Salem Witch Trials, the ideals and religious dogma of the people involved, as well as how this may have influenced the victims, needs to be addressed. The colonies of New England practiced Puritanism, which although similar to the Church of England at the time, had a few key differences. Puritans were displeased with the state of the Church under Henry VIII’s rule but, unlike the pilgrims (who were separationists), they did not want to cut ties entirely with the church. Puritans, instead, were obsessed with, well, purifying their version of the church. Instead of having elaborate ceremonies, like the Catholic Church, they would instead hold a three hour long sermon twice a week. Yes, dear poppets, you read that right, three hours. (Bremer, The Puritan Experiment) Taking a nap wasn’t allowed either, and if you tried to do so, well…

*Poke* Poke* *Jab*

That device, my dear poppets, is the church stick, Officials would walk around during sermons and poke or tickle anyone who spoke out of turn, had their eyes closed, or weren’t paying attention. Church therefore, turned into a trial of patience and will for all involved. “What does this have to do with women in the church?” You may be asking. Let’s get to that shall we?

As a reminder: women in the eye of the Catholic Church are considered “a necessary evil.” (Godbeer, 12) This view doesn’t translate over into the Puritan’s dogma, as the family unit is considered a key to maintaining good Christian values, and having the mother be a living hell spawn, simply is not possible. (The mother is supposed to model good behavior for her children and demonstrate how a proper woman of God is supposed to act.) The Puritanical view, therefore, places Eve on a pedestal as a role model for women. This itself causes problems, as anyone familiar with Christian ideology knows.

Behold The Apple Incident

To combat this little issue, Puritans choose to ignore the apple incident and instead focus on how Eve acted as a companion and helper to Adam. Women were expected to do the same and by most accounts, this is what happened. When any woman dared to break norms, however, any tolerance that Puritanical beliefs gave them would be tossed out the window. These women, instead of being God’s handmaidens would instead be branded servants of the devil, placing them on par with the local Indian tribes, Quakers, and Evangelicals. (Godbeer, 19) The fear of these invading, unwanted forces, combined with the fear of not knowing where they would end up in the afterlife (they also believed in predestination) , resulted in whole communities turning into high strung, nervous, and moody wrecks.

Psychologists Would Have a Field Day...

This attitude, combined with the lot in life that the victims of the Salem Witch trial found themselves in, resulted in a cocktail of resentment, a desire to act out, and a way of getting attention. Before we get into their backstories, however, we need to introduce our victims (if you could call them that). Some of the first known victims in the records are Abigail Williams (age 12) and Betty Parris (age 9). (Godbeer, 51) The daughter and niece of the pastor in Salem Village, both of which would have sudden fits and act as if an unseen entity was violently attacking them. Later, after the baking of a urine cake by Tituba (an Indian maid who worker for Samuel Parris), more young girls and women came forward to claim they too had been attacked.

They Would Have Worn Something Like This

Amongst these women are named Mrs. Pope, Goodwife Bibbard, Mary Walcott, Mercy Lewis, and Elizabeth Hubbard. (Godbeer, 55) Why would these women act out in such a manner? A manner that, although it would have gotten them attention, also put their mortal souls in peril (they had acted out against the social order and blasphemed in church.) Many of them felt they had no other way towards receiving power, as this was a purely patriarchal society, with males making all decisions, and women only having a say in church matters and when their husbands were gone, ill, or had died.

Every Puritan Widow's Nightmare

Several of these women had been recently orphaned by an Indian attack and had come to live with remaining relatives or friends. (Godbeer, 23) Some of these women were reduced to being servants and what property they did have was damaged or destroyed . These women would, as a result, have little to offer as a potential dowry. Upset over this, a few of the girls had tried divination to see who their future husband would be. (Godbeer, 23) This resentment, combined with a lack of power, a religiously devout upbringing, and general mood of anxiety may have led to the girls acting out and blaming it on the devil and witchcraft to sooth their own souls

I Have Nothing To Add Here...

February 23, 2017

Do You Know The Preacher Man:George Burroughs

I Hate You Guys Sooo Much Right Now.

Having covered the accusers last week, it’s time we took a look at those who got dragged into this mess. Tituba and the multiple women who were accused will be covered in a later post, however. What I wish to discuss (well type about) today is the odd man out of the bunch: George Burroughs. Yes, men were accused of witchcraft at this point, as tended to happen in full blown panic attacks. What’s even more surprising about Burroughs, however is the fact that he was a minister, well failed minister if you want to get technical. (Godbeer, 128)

Confusion Never Looked Sexier. (I Like Snape Alright?)

Calm your shrieking dear poppets, have some tea, and please do step down from that window ledge. Better? Good, let’s continue. Yes, even religious figures weren’t immune to being accused of consorting with the devil. This just goes to show that high pressure religious dogma and human resentment outweigh any and all sense. Why resentment? Well, two of the Accused, Betty Parris and Abigail Williams, lived with his replacement: Samuel Parris. (Godbeer, 2) Samuel Parris was the fourth Minister in a line of controversial choices, with each of his predecessors lasting for as little as four years before being run out of town, leaving due to oppression from the villagers, and other reasons that ran along a similar vein. This, one can easily conclude lead to a less than stellar welcoming party for the Parris family.

And There Was Much Rejoicing. *Yay*

At this point I should mention that the minister was provided for by the community, they essentially rented them a house, provided money, and helped out by giving them food, wood, etc. (Turretin, 270-75) Since so many of the villagers were displeased with Parris and the idea of a minister in Salem Village in general, it’s not too surprising to see that material payments (eggs, wood, other supplies) were drying up and barely supporting the family. Parris himself was a unique case, as he had been a merchant before turning to church work after his business had failed. (Godbeer, 20) Many of the locals felt that this detracted from his qualifications as a minister, and his inflammatory sermons, where he raged against not only the devil and sin, but those he felt had gained their wealth through nefarious means, did little to dissuade this idea.

This would have translated to a rather stressful household, and as I mentioned in my previous post, Abigail Williams was not only trying to recover from a brutal indian attack that had left her a homeless orphan, but was also living with the constant stress of living in the minister’s house, doing chores, and having a bible shoved in her hands when she had any free time. Not exactly the best situation for a young, prepubescent girl who had little outlets for frustration or anger. Combine this with the highly likely fact that the previous ministers would have still been a sore subject for everyone, and the start of an unlikely accusation is sown.

Pictured : Burroughs According To Salem Village Citizens

Let’s get back to Burroughs, shall we? George Burroughs was actually not living in Salem Village at the time of the Witch Trials. He was instead, living in Maine. Coincidentally, he had just relocated within Maine before a large Indian group attacked the place he had once lived. (Godbeer, 129) Needless to say many people were raising their brows at this news and concocting the idea of an unsavory connection between Burroughs, the Indians, and by extension, the devil. (As Indians were believed to be emissaries of the devil or demons themselves.)

Also adding to the checklist of witchery, is Burroughs’s reputation, which was far from peachy and lent itself to gossip mongering. Burroughs was alleged to mistreat his wives, and two of his previous wives had died. Not shocking, seeing as how these people didn’t have access to medicine, were under the constant threat of Indian raids, and were subject to food shortages in harsh weather. Toss in the fact that several of the accused claimed to see the specters of his first two wives, covered in their winding sheets (burial cloths), stating he had murdered them, however, and suddenly the torches and pitchforks are being eyeballed. (Godbeer,135)

Paranoia At Work

This mistreatment of his wives, however, was not the only thing that made him more susceptible to accusation of witchcraft. He was also believed to be inhumanly strong and several witnesses reported his lifting of a large (six foot) musket with one hand. (Godbeer, 136) Molasses barrels were also amongst the objects lifted. Needless to say, this was rather unsettling, as a man with that much strength could do who knows what.

Poor, Sweet Loki.

Burroughs, unlike some of the accused did not survive the trials, and was hung on August 19, 1692. A combination of angered and bruised egos, superstition, outside events, and tension between towns ultimately lead to Burroughs demise amongst others.

I Still Hate You Guys .

March 2, 2017

Trial of Shadows: Salem's Lesser Known Cousin

Connecticut to Salem Basically

As much attention as Salem receives, this wasn’t the only with trial going on during 1692, although there was a marked difference. You see, dear poppets, not everyone was constantly glancing at their neighbor and obsessively noting any odd behavior. One example of this, which Godbeer returns to, (you’ll remember him from my previous two posts) occurs in Stamford, Connecticut. Before you start accusing me of lying and stealing your cat, do sit down and pay attention. There’s no meowing coming from the closet behind me, and yes this did happen. The results here, however, are less worthy of a dramatic movie or TV series. Why? You might be wondering. Well, let’s turn to page 394 and find out.

Don't Make Me Pull a Snape On You

This case also begins in 1692, but it begins in September, which was near the end of Salem’s insanity. At this point, in Salem, the general consensus was less everyone is a witch, and becoming more skeptical as deaths increased and the quality and quantity of evidence came into question. This view was even held by ministers from the area, a group who seems more likely to get behind the superstitious devilry as being true. (Godbeer, 143)

Stamford, Connecticut however, was never one to get caught up in a witch hunt. This doesn’t mean they didn’t happen, it does however indicate a differing attitude towards trying cases of witchcraft and devilry. But before I can get into the attitudes toward witchcraft and how they affected this particular case, I should probably introduce you to the key players and events.

Pictured: Kate Branch

This all started when a servant girl, named Katherine “Kate” Branch was struck with strange fits one day. (Godbeer, 15) An orphan girl (much like the accusers in the Salem trials), she too had little dowry to offer and was destined to fade into relative obscurity as little more than a servant girl. I tried to find a photo or drawing of her, and my extensive googling skills failed, so unlike her more famous (or infamous) counterparts, she left no mark on the major records that the general populace of today would pick up on. Her fits lasted for weeks, and the families she served, the Wescots’, were a fairly influential family. They, however, weren’t exactly kind to their servants, as instead of worrying about the girl, Abigail instead chided her for returning empty handed, and did nothing when Kate collapsed on the floor in front of her. (Godbeer, 15)

I Get A Malfoy Vibe From This Woman

Instead of immediately blaming this on witchcraft, they instead went the more sensible route and brought in a local midwife to perform an examination.(Godbeer, 16)“Sense?! Puritans had sense?!” You may be shrieking. Yes, they had some common sense, and weren’t too keen on pinning everything on witchcraft. Also stop screaming in my ear, it’s quite annoying. Kate Branch had a family history of epilepsy (her mother was a known sufferer), so it only seemed logical to bring a doctor in and see what they had to say. (Godbeer, 17) Some feather burning later and her fits had still not ceased. At this point, they still thought her malady was of a natural cause and attempted bleeding (which was in itself a dangerous process). After this did little to soothe her ailments, they then turned to witchcraft? Yes, actually, two ministers who visited the girl to hear her ailments deemed her bewitched. (Godbeer, 22)

Not So Fast Lads..

This however, did not lead to immediate rounding up of any suspected witches and trials, as trials were, and still are, expensive to undertake. What was instead proposed was a common event for Puritans who felt they had sinned: fasting and praying. Reverends Bishop and Hanford, after examining the girl, promised to have a day of both along with Reverend Pierson and implored the Wescots to take good care of the girl, both physically and spiritually. (Godbeer, 22) This did little to comfort the Wescots as they now had to watch the girl day and night to ensure that she did not harm herself. What do you do when you need help in a colonial settlement? You ask your neighbors of course.

Neighbors. Can't Strangle Them, Can't Live Without Them.

Most of the neighbors were eager to do so, however, as they wanted to see these crazy fits for themselves. It’s a Puritan colony; the only fun thing to do was to go watch the cows. Some of these neighbors, including her master, were less than convinced that she was bewitched, and wanted to test her. (Godbeer, 25) Even if she was, these neighbors could then stand as witnesses to who she accused and the events that occurred. Several tests to see if a person was bewitched were performed, and her story, once it developed, was full of inconsistencies. There was so little solid proof for these cases that only two people went to trail (Godbeer, 9)

These Two Should Swap Stories

March 3, 2017

Popular Media and Witches: Why Salem?

Callous Murder and Mayhem Never Looked So Inviting.

As interesting as Connecticut’s lack of a witch craze is, I found it necessary to return to Salem and why it still casts a spell on popular culture. Should you ask anyone outside of historians or witch fanatics (while backing away slowly from the later), very few people could name other locals that had witch trials. Salem remains so prominent an element of our history that as recently as 2014, games were being released based around it. (See the above photo).( For something that occurred over 400 years ago, Salem shows no signs of disappearing any time soon.

At Least We Get Some Great Music Out Of It.

Why, however, is this the case? After all, Salem is nowhere near as bloody or infamous as witchcraft cases outside of the Americas, and torture and misery tend to make for great, if morbid material. Blood hounds and Goths alike should be flocking to these sites and depressing the place up with their clove cigarettes and absinthe. (Or is that just me?) But, alas, for many Americans, that’s not the case, and both Salem Town and Salem Village (Now called Danvers) is flocked to by enthusiasts and those with witchy leanings alike.

There's Profit To Be Made From The Long Since Deceased.

Here, I believe, the sheer scale of what happened, as well as how well recorded it is, plus the leech that is tourism keeps the blood pumping in a corpse that should have long since fallen apart. Yes, tourism, that horrid thing that brings crowds of stamping, careless masses of people to take photos, litter, and leave as soon as they came. First things first, however, let’s compare Salem and the other colonies.

Were the colonies dealings with witches to be compared to party guests, Salem would be drunkenly dancing on a table in a flamboyant sequin suit, slurring out accusation after accusation of witchcraft, insisting that no they haven’t had enough booze yet and yes, their neighbor is a witch. In comparison, Stamford would be hiding in a corner, wondering why they came and generally being rather clinical and boring. Is that description a bit much? Quite possibly, but dear poppets, I feel it encapsulates things quite nicely.

Salem's Drunk Again. Typical

Many varied accounts of accusations, trial results, and thoughts on the entire process were being written and recorded during the trial process, and the scribes would be nursing some pretty sore hands after everything was said and done. The issue here, is many of these documents would simply disappear, never to be found again by even the most devoted historian. Salem, due to sheer numbers of people involved, produced more records. 150 people in total were convicted of witchcraft in Salem (The Salem Witch Hunt, Godbeer, 1). In comparison, only two women were placed on trial in Stamford, one was acquitted and the other found guilty. (Escaping Salem, Godbeer, 119-20)

The Only Thing Keeping Them Going

In comparison to the doorstopper of a book that the Salem manuscripts would have been, The Stamford documents would have been much slimmer, and therefore, less likely to survive. That we have what we do from this period is amazing in itself. “Wasn’t tourism involved in this at some point?” Yes, it was. I’m about to get to that. I’m sure most of you have heard of those ghost shows at one point or another. You know the ones: a team goes in, hears what could best be described as static, and then proceeds to proclaim the place haunted. What do most of these shows and the places they go to have in common? They’re mostly famous “haunt spots”, with millions of revenue coming from tourists hoping to see specters and ghost teams looking to prove the paranormal is real. Two of the more famous teams have been to Salem. Purveyors of the Travel and Scifi (or Syfy as its now called) channel will know them quite well: Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters.

"So, Do You Come Here Often?"

Call them silly. Call them stupid, but shows like this, with their vague proof and air of mystery attract millions of viewers. Both shows feature episodes that cover Salem, and both have lasted far longer than they have any right to. With eleven seasons of Ghost Hunters (before its end) and fourteen of Ghost Adventures, there’s clearly a market out there for some spooky goings on. ( On top of these paranormal shows, which target the innate human desire and interest in the unknown and supernatural (science has done little to dampen this interest), shows like Salem and AHS: Coven place a darkly attractive shawl over the true horror that was the Salem Witch trials. It’s kind of difficult to remember that people were killed over silly superstitions when you have the likes of Sarah Paulson sashaying about being a badass witch, or an extremely gothy and attractive Mary Sibley sacrificing her child to Satan so she can gain powers and take revenge on those she feels have ruined her life. (

Accuracy Is Not This Shows Strong Suit.

March 16, 2017 

Spring Sabbatical :No Post This Week

Sun. Sand. And Beach. Lovely

Greetings dear poppets! Don't expect any long tangents on witchery this week, as I'm on Spring Break. Not that that means I'll be sunning it up anytime soon. I quite like my vampire pale complexion. For those of you who are into a bit of vitamin D, do try to avoid waking up with a sunburn and hangover. Until next week dearies, stay safe and don't get too wild...

March 23, 2017 

Rotten Rye And Psychological Trauma: Salem's Troubles

Seems Legit....

As much as I wanted to get into the practices of the Court of Oyer and Terminer this week that will have to be put off until a class related event is finished. Yes, dear poppets, some of you reading this will have an idea of what I’m talking about, but for those of you who stumbled upon this and are now slightly confused, do sit down and I’ll explain. As my history of witchcraft class is having a mock trial revolving around the Salem events, I would rather not give the opposing side any ammunition to strengthen their case. Sorry lads, you’ll have to remain in the dark.

I Do Wish You Luck.

So, instead, I’ll be covering something just as interesting: the multiple and sometimes bizarre reasons people come up with for the Salem events, in particular why the girls would start having these fits in such a large number. Now, as the title of this post suggests, some of these get pretty out there, as in history channel alien guy out there (hence his crazy mug being the first photo.) These are far more fun to look at, simply due to how odd they are, but we’ll be taking a look at the more plausible causes first, so that there’s a solid platform to judge these things on. What are some of these more solid ideas: psychological trauma and the desire of these girls to actually matter in some way.

Basically This, But With Less Pointy Teeth.

As has been mentioned in a previous post, many of these girls were servants and orphaned during the Indian wars that occurred not long before Salem. (Godbeer, 23) Needless to say, there weren’t psychologists or medication for psychological trauma around during this time period. Combine this with the lack of the ability to act out, and you have emotionally repressed girls bottling their emotions until they erupt. Another thing these girls would be concerned with is their low desirability as potential marriage partners, as none of them would have much land or money to offer as a dowry.

Not An Option. Also Every Puritan Woman's Nightmare.

With little money or land, these women would have had little hope for a future beyond being a servant for the rest of their lives, as its highly unlikely the family they were working for would help to prepare a dowry for them. Some of these girls were so desperate to know their future, that they turned to divining via “an egg and glass” to see what trade their husband would be in. (Godbeer,54) The mere thought of turning to folk magic to determine the future would have been frowned upon as well, so there would have been a sense of dread associated even with this act.

We Shouldn't Be Doing This!! We're DOOMED!!

I personally believe that the evidence, what we have anyways, points to a bunch of emotionally bottled up girls lashing out in an effort to gain some social status, and not realizing how out of control the entire thing would become. Not helping this would be the general atmosphere of a Puritan town, as everyone would have been privy to the goings on of their neighbors, both the good and bad. Salem itself was not very large, but it was larger than some towns and spread out more than was the norm. This combined with the idea that everyone had to watch everyone else lest sin occur, would create high levels of tension, especially towards those deemed unruly or mistrustful. (Godbeer, 14-15)

Do I Smell A Sinner?

“What about those crazy theories you mentioned?” Let’s get to one of them. One example that tends to come up every so often is Ergot poisoning. Ergot is a fungus that grows on rye and can cause hallucinations, spasms, and gangrene should it become severe. ( When looking back at the records, this does seem to fit with some of the symptoms, but there are obvious issues, which authors such as Nicholas Spanos, Jack Gottlieb, and Alan Woolf have published papers on.

Spanos in particular points out that there are issues with Caporeal’s evidence and the symptoms simply don’t fit. (Ergotism and the Salem Village Witch Trials, Spanos, 1390) Carporeal in particular argues that infected rye and a lack of vitamin A (found in dairy and fish) would result in convulsive ergotism. As Salem Village was a farming community, dairy would be common, and Salem Town was located at a port, which means fish aplenty.

Pictured: Caporeal Writing Her Paper

Besides this, convulsive ergotism would not cherry pick certain individuals of the families to effect. Not only would the girls have suffered, but their families would have as well. (Spanos, 1391) This, combined with a general lack of symptoms associated with ergotism simply makes this an unlikely source for the girls fits. Woolf’s article, published in 2010, showcases how the search for the simplest answer often takes precedence over the most accurate one.( Witchcraft or Mycotoxin? The Salem Witch Trials, Woolf)

As much as Occam’s razor is favored, sometimes the simplest option isn’t the correct one. There's more here than meets the eye.

Have I Mentioned I'm A Nerd Yet?

March 30, 2017

Three Sovereigns For Sarah: A Retrospective

Oh Film, You Try At Least

I may not have mentioned it, but I have a second blog that involves movie reviews, yes dear poppets, I don’t just write about witches and the history surrounding them, I also watch horror movies and review them. “What does this have to do with this blog?" You may be wondering, well sit down and I’ll tell you. This week I ended up watching Three Sovereigns for Sarah, a PBS special that covers, what else, Salem. In this case, it takes the view point of scholars (Noyer and Nissembaum) and gives them a mouth piece view Sarah Cloyce, who was one of the accused.

Behold The Map. Worship The Map. Map.

Considering the time frame of this film (this was a 1985 production), there really weren’t many more leading authorities around on Salem, and since this is PBS, well, you take what you can get. Today, their theory of a town (or village rather) divided is far from the only acceptable one (we’ll just ignore the more out there theories.) But before we get into the film itself, I suppose I should actually explain what Boyer and Nissembaum were going on about. These two historians felt that Salem’s craziness was not caused by , say Rye poisoning (oh, Caporeal, I really don’t get you), but was a result of tensions between two opposing sides of the village that was allowed to over boil.

We Meet Again Reverend Parris..

What or who rather, was a major cause of this tension breaking free? Samuel Parris. Yeah, I’m not exactly shocked at this revelation, as I’ve mentioned before how I don’t particularly care for the guy. Neither did a large portion of the Salem Villagers either, as Parris’ presence was one more sign that those who had financial ties to Salem Town were losing power. Salem Village, as I may have mentioned at an earlier point, had financial ties to Salem Town, providing a large portion of food to it. (Godbeer, 19) Those who wanted to maintain their financial ties were strongly against the idea of becoming a separate entity with their own church, which was in stark comparison to the other side (which consisted of farmers and those who didn’t want to pay taxes to Salem Town ).

Needless to say, those who wanted Parris there would have been on the later side rather than the former, and his demands to even become minister there would have hardly helped (he wanted the land deed to the parishioners house of all things.)(

This Film Doesn't Help His Case AT ALL.

This film doesn’t do anything to dissuade the idea, although it does add in another accomplice to the whole mess, with the girls being nothing more than tools. Who might this be? Why none other than Ann Putnam Sr., the odd one out of the accused (she was married and had a child .) (Three Sovereigns for Sarah) She’s also oddly pushy when it comes to having the girls perform divination in this film. She’s been given an inflammatory role , which is evident in the court trial scenes. I highly recommend watching this if only for those by the way, the theatrics the girls put on both serve the film’s purpose quite well and got a bemused chuckle out of me on occasion.

This Is More Silly Than Anything

“What of Sarah Cloyce?” You ask. Don’t worry; I’m getting to her next. Sarah Cloyce acts nothing like a puritan woman would have acted during this time period, and as mentioned earlier, serves as a mouth piece for Boyer and Nissembaum’s theory. She acts far too modern and dismisses the entire thing as superstitious poppycock, which mind you, would have been a plausible reaction to the girls fits, but how they do it here is just wrong. Wrong in a way that makes me tilt my head in confusion. During her trial, I was shaking my head the entire time wondering what was going on.

*Sigh* No, Just Don't Talk.

While this may have some bias, it’s certainly leagues above some of the takes on this particular event. I highly doubt everyone involved in this mess was as attractive as Salem the show would have you believe. (But I don’t have time for that particular rant.) I haven’t even watched a single episode and I figure it’s nothing but pretty people being angsty and summoning the devil. The jail scenes in this film are a particularly good example of this, as it shows how the accused are being maltreated and Sarah Cloyce’s actress actually looks like she went through a year of being in a chicken coop (*shudder*) They also include the heart string pulling little girl just to make you feel even worse.

She's Also Mute BTW.

This film also plays with the pretty people equals good thing, as Parris and Putnam Sr. aren’t exactly lookers, and the other minister looks like Riff Raffs brother. At least this guy is cute though… (and the only one who makes any sense.)

And Lo Much Fan Fiction Was Written

April 14, 2017

Wicca, Neo-Paganism, Music: Inkubus Sukkubus

Behold The Horror of NeoPaganism?

Even though next week is when my class gets into Wicca and Modern witchcraft, I felt like jumping the gun today and talking about something some people might not connect with modern witchcraft: Pagan rock bands. “What does Paganism have to do with witchcraft?” you may be asking. Before we get into the meat of this, which will be me praising Inkubus Sukkubus to no end (fair warning), I suppose I should provide a bit of background on this whole Neo-Paganism and Wicca Thing.

Every Horror Film Depiction of Paganism Ever.

Wicca and its practitioners worship nature and may practice witchcraft. ( Picture people wearing flower crowns, dancing around, chanting, and maybe running around naked (for some reason...). Not exactly a threatening image is it? What about Neo-Paganism? Neo-Paganism serves as an umbrella term for a wide variety of modern polytheistic practices that focus on nature and may or may not involve magic rituals. ( Note that nowhere does it state that these groups are actively evil, which is something the modern media tends to tack on to these particular groups , that or extreme stupidity ala Blair Witch 2 (not that that film made anyone look good…)

Pretentious Goth, Meet Pretentious Wiccan. Audience, Meet Boredom.

Onto the music, yes amongst the many sub genres of rock (there are far too many to list, yet alone count), up pops Pagan Rock and Metal (I have very little experience with Pagan Metal, so that particular genre will not be covered here.) Inkubus Sukkubus in particular include references to Wicca, Neo-Paganism, and witchcraft. Even if they do get a few references wrong here and there, they’re still fairly accurate and enjoyable to listen to. Even the names of their albums reflect this connection to Pagan/Witchy beliefs (Belladonna and Aconite). The first song of this album makes reference to common ingredients that would have been used to create a flying ointment, the titular Belladonna and Aconite. (

I Want This. Immediately.

On this album alone, references are made to Beltaine (the Gaelic May Day), Samhain, and the concept of the triple goddess. “What is the triple goddess?” You ask? She serves as a primary deity for some Neo-Pagans, representing the concept of the mother, maid and crone. She can also be paired with her male equivalent, the horned god in duo theistic practices. ( Along with this deity, Pan is also referenced in several songs, and instead of taking the horns plus cloven hooves equals evil approach, they praise him as a nature god.

Unlike Some Shows I Could Mention...

They also have a bone to pick with Christianity, and have a few songs that reveal the darker underbelly of its practices and how innocent women and children are affected, including a tale of a less than saintly priest. Mind you this isn’t too surprising, considering the rather tense divide between the groups, which still exists today (just look to any conservative news outlet or the moral panic of the 80s over Satanism). One of these that stand out in particular is called Hammer of the Witches (yes really). A five minute song can’t exactly cover the torture and horror associated with the witch panic of Europe, but it’s certainly catchy, as most of their work is. (I do highly recommend at least giving them a listen.) (Link because I can't embed video for some reason.)

Don't Mind Me, Just Brewing Up a Spell For Good Album Sales.

Besides songs about persecution of witches, they also make some really great witchy anthems, I personally suggest Wytches and Belladonna and Aconite, both would be great theme songs for a TV show about witches forming some sort of team to take on a monster of the week (I think I may have just described Charmed, but with less soap opera elements. So a better version of Charmed.) Look them up on Pandora or Spotify and give them a shot.

And Now For Something Completely Different.

These guys have been around since the late 80s, and recently releases an album last year, which I have yet to listen to, so they have a long discography to pick and choose from. If you want something that’s less violin and folksy sounding, I would recommend their 2008 album called Viva la Muerte. This takes on more of a fiesta sound, and has an overarching theme of love being stronger than death. Decaying Beauty is wonderfully haunting, but every song on here is well worth a listen, if only for how well they incorporate new elements into a style they don’t normally use.

Even if this group doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, or you fancy yourself to be more of a metal head, there are plenty of other options available, though I myself have no experience in the metal genre beyond symphonic. What can I say, screaming and guttural growling were never a thing I cared for. If you happen to know of a pagan metal band with symphonic metal leanings, then I’m all ears, but until then, I think I’ll stick to my vanilla Pagan Rock.

Hauntingly Beautiful Pagan Rock...

April 21, 2017

Created By
Rachel Avery


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