January 20, 2017
Testing For A Witch
This post will be putting a focus on the different ways of testing for witches that were executed across Europe and in the English colonies. These different tests will then be compared with those that were executed specifically in Germany during its period of witch hunting in the 16th and 17th centuries. The hopes of looking at the different forms of testing for a witch both in a general sense and then at a specific country is so that it becomes apparent that, while there may be some similarities between the two, an individual countries history with witches does not always conjoin with the generalities.
Of the vast number of tests implemented by witch hunters, some were more widespread than others, and may have even been used in multiple countries. One of the more infamous of tests was the Drowning Stool. In this test, an accused witch would be tied down and submerged under water (whether by rocks or some lever-like device). If this poor person was to somehow float under such circumstances, they would then be tagged as a witch and put to death. If they did not float then they were not a witch, but the problem with this is that many people during this time were not practiced swimmers and would wind up drowning while submerged having been entirely innocent. In a numerous amount of cases, a person would not even be submerged on a stool, but instead simply tossed into the nearest body of water while tied and weighed down. Another rather harmful test was to have an accused witch pick up a hot iron, and if they were somehow not burnt then they were a witch. One test that does not make much sense to us now is known as “pricking” or “scratching.” An accused witch would be stabbed a multitude of times by tiny needles in the effort to find their “witch mark.” It was believed that a witch’s “witch mark” does not feel pain, and this was why an accused witch was pricked or scratched so that their mark would eventually be discovered. Many tests that were executed wound up bringing great harm to a large amount of the innocent.
Not all tests were quite as harmful or life-threatening for an accused witch. One such test involved the accused witch reciting the Lord’s Prayer perfectly. Any foul-up and that was an instant proof of one’s involvement in black magic. Another test, the touch test, involves an accused witch physically touching a supposed victim while this victim was in a fit. If the victim made no reaction to this touch, then the accused was proven innocent, but if the victim were to come out of their fit when touched then it was proof the accused had placed the victim under a spell. One test that can be considered rather disturbing is a bit of counter magic known as the witch cake. Witch hunters would take samples of urine, blood or hair of a suspected victim of a witch, mix it with rye-meal and ashes, and then bake it into a cake. This would then be fed to a suspected witch’s familiar with the belief that the familiar would fall under the spell and reveal the name of the witch. While these tests were not near as harmful to the accused, they can all still be considered as ridiculous as those that were harmful.
In Germany, hunting for witches did not require the testing of the accused. Instead, it was legally acceptable for an accused witch to be arrested and brought into a witch questioning facility, like the Hexenhaus, where they would be tortured until they confessed. The torture law in Germany during the 16th and 17th century stated that an accused witch could be tortured a maximum of three times, and if they did not reveal any new information by the end of the third then they were to no longer be tortured. However, this rule was often broken by officials regularly, and even if an accused person were to release new (most likely false) information they would not be released from torture unless they gave up their accomplices. With the unfathomable amount of pain that these accused people went through, it is no wonder that so many innocent people wound up being accused in the German witch hunts.
There have been many recorded ways for testing for witches that have been noted in the years since witch hunts occurred. Some of these tests may be considered simply outlandish or so obviously flawed that it was no wonder so many innocent people of the times were wrongly accused and killed for being witches. But for the contemporary population, these tests made since as being acceptable ways for hunting for witches and were widely used across Europe and the British colonies. Why Germany alone was looked at for the way in witches were identified is because in Germany tests were not the popular way of identifying witches. Instead, torture was more commonly practiced than tests as torture laws in Germany made it legal to do so. One could argue that the Germans are a people that enjoy causing physical harm to those they perceive as different or heretical, but the explanation for their preferred use of torture can more likely relate to the fact that torture was a culturally accepted way of trying to obtain an accused persons confession.
The Spanish Inquistion
In class on Tuesday January 24, 2017, the topic of the Spanish Inquisition and its role with Spanish witchcraft was discussed. While some background was provided about the Spanish Inquisition, this post will provide an even more thorough explanation of the Inquisition, and will then examine how witch craft became associated with the Inquisition. The starting point of the Spanish Inquisition came with Pope Sixtus IV issuing a bull in 1478 authorizing the Catholic Monarchs to name inquisitors who would confront the problem of Jews who had converted to Christianity but had continued to practice Judaism (Marranos). For centuries prior to Sixtus’ issued bull, Spain had been a territory broken up into separate kingdoms full of not only Christians, but a large population of both Jews (at the time Spain had the largest Jewish population in Europe) and Muslims. As Christian Kings came to power in Northern Spain, and their kingdom’s powers increased and Christianity gained more strength in Spain, confrontations between the three groups increased as well. Soon Spanish Kings had been able to unite and began taking steps to remove or convert the non-Christians of Spain. It can be argued that when this move towards turning Spain into a strictly Christian kingdom occurred the Spanish Inquisition took its first breathe.
Jews faced forced conversion or death as early as 1390 during the reign of Henry III of Castille and Leon. This increased pressure upon the Jewish community saw a great many of them forced to convert to Christianity, and many killed for not making this conversion. Even those Spanish Jews who did convert (known in Spanish as conversos) faced increased prejudice and suspicion. The Marranos, or those who faked conversion to Christianity but continued their practice of Judaism, were perceived by the Spanish society to be a greater social threat, and this is what led to Sixtus’ bull in 1478. While Sixtus was the one who officially began the Inquisition, the first Inquisitors in Seville proved to be so severe that Sixtus attempted to intervene but had lost control of the Inquisition to the Spanish Crown and its officials. Thanks to the efforts of Tomas de Torquemada, the first Grand Inquisitor, who pushed King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to issue an edict giving Jews the choice of conversion or exile from Spain, more than 160,000 Jews were removed from Spain.
While Muslims faced persecution from the beginning of the Inquisition because they were considered heretics for practicing their religion, the pressure forced on them increased substantially after 1502. This is due to Cardinal Jimenez de Cisneros, who promoted the suppression and/or removal of Muslims with as much ferocity as Torquemada did with the Jews. Jimenez issued a proscription of Islam in Granada, which was the last Spanish kingdom under Muslim control during the Reconquista. When Jimenez was named Grand Inquisitor in 1507, the persecution of Muslims increased even further. Many Muslims faced forced conversion, and in 1526 the practice of Islam was banned in Spain. Much like with the Jews under Torquemada, a special focus was put on those Muslims who had converted, but continued to practice certain aspects of the religion. These people were known as Morriscos, and in 1566 Phillip II forbade the expressing of Morrisco culture, which led to open warfare between the Spanish Crown and the Spanish Morrisco population. By 1614, some 300,000 Muslims had been removed from Spain entirely.
During the Inquisition, Spanish officials were not focused strictly on Jews and Muslims, but on all that were considered heretical to the Christian faith. By this definition, those that practiced forms of witchcraft in Spain were also heretics who deserved to be tried by Inquisitors and potentially executed. While officials were focused mainly on the removal of Jews and Muslims, this did not keep countless innocent people from being accused of forms of witchcraft. Those commonly accused of witchcraft in Spain were men and women with the power to cure illnesses, men searching for enchanted treasure left behind by the Moors (Spanish Muslims), men who used “masculine magic,” and women who used “love magic.” Anyone suspected of committing acts of witchcraft would have been considered guilty until proven innocent, and, once accused, a person was to always face some form of punishment. While the Spanish interrogations were much less violent towards practitioners of witchcraft than in Germany, the two shared similar torturing techniques, like the rack and the pulley. Despite the Inquisition not being solely focused on those who committed acts of witchcraft, those accused faced conditions that were similar (if somewhat less severe) to those in Germany.
What is so unique about Spanish witch hunts when compared with other European nations is that they took place alongside the Inquisition of all heretics of the Christian faith in Spain. This means that accused practitioners of witchcraft were not the sole focus of the Inquisition, but were simply a specific group of people that fell into the broad definition of what the Inquisition was trying to remove from Spanish society. Even though those that practiced witch craft were predominantly Christian, and not a part of the Jewish or Muslim faiths, they still faced the same dangers. This can be directly connected to the fact that the Spanish Inquisition was not focused solely on the persecution of witches, but on all people considered heretical to the Christian faith.
The Auto da Fe was where those who were found guilty during the Spanish Inquisition were publicly executed
Information on the Spanish Inquisition was found on, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Spanish-Inquisition.
February 3, 2017
For many of the people of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries in Europe, the proper response for panics of witchcraft was to hunt down any who were believed to partake in magical activities, torture them until they confessed, and then have them killed. This technique was present in Germany and Spain, where large numbers of people are killed for supposedly practicing witchcraft. Because the art of witchcraft was heretical to the Christian Church, any who practiced it were heretics and by canon law deserved the death penalty. However, in Russia and Italy, cases of witchcraft received a rather different response from these two countries judicial systems. While the art of witchcraft was still considered illegal in these two countries, they handled witchcraft cases significantly different from their European neighbors.
Up until the early 13th century, the nomokanon law stated that the punishment for witchcraft in Russia was death. However, this law was changed by Laroslav the Wise, and the punishment was from then forth just a fine. The changing of this law did not mean that occasionally a person accused of witchcraft did not die from torture or being sentenced to death, but it did keep there from being such large numbers of accused people from being wrongly killed in Russia like in Germany or Spain. The punishment for charges of witchcraft implemented by Laroslav would not be changed for the centuries of witch hunts that would come in Russia, that is until the rise of Catherine II.
Laroslav the Wise, responsible for changing the penalty for breaking the nomokanon law in Russia from death to a fine.
When Catherine II came to the throne in the 18th century, there was once again came a change in the handling of witchcraft cases. Unlike many European leaders before her, Catherine’s plan for witchcraft cases was to take a more enlightened and official approach. She believed many accused of practicing witchcraft to be simply practicing fraud, and so she had all the courts of Russia to, from then on, handle any cases of witchcraft as cases of fraud. Then in 1775, Catherine formed the sovestnye sudy (or courts of conscience) to handle cases of popular superstition, juvenile offenders and the criminally insane. It was in this court that any future cases of witchcraft were to be handled. From its early response and up until its last period of cases of witchcraft, Russia handled witchcraft cases with less violence and more rational thinking than that of Germany or Spain.
Catherine II (the Great) of Russia
When it came to cases of witchcraft accusations in Italy, it’s judicial system took an even more careful and rational approach than that of Russia. For being the country where the heart of Christianity was, Italy had significantly lower numbers of accused practitioners of witchcraft being found guilty than that of Germany, Spain, any of the Scandinavian countries, or even Russia. There are several explanations as for why Italy had such lower numbers of guilty verdicts than other European nations. The first explanation is that Venetian (or Roman) Inquisitors were generally cautious and methodical when it came to cases of witchcraft. They had recognized the numbers of people being falsely accused of, and killed for, witchcraft and had decided to take a more diligent approach at home. Another explanation is that in very few cases were there instances of accused renouncing their faith being used as evidence, and because the Italians followed the Directorium inquisitorium by Nicolau Eymeric (which stated that the only way a person could be found guilty for maleficio was worshipping the devil) if one did not renounce their faith and worship the devil then they were not considered guilty of practicing witchcraft. A final explanation as for why Italy had lower numbers of guilty verdicts is that its local tribunals urged the use of caution in regards to evidence and cases in general. Tribunals would often bring in family members of accused and ask them if the accused had certain suspicious objects in the house (like seeds, or feathers, or knotted cords). These tribunals were told; however, to take caution and not come to quick judgement if some of these items were said to be found within an accused’s abode, and instead question the accused as to what such items were used for. What these examples show of the handling of witchcraft cases in Italy is that they were handled with such caution and carefulness unobservable in other European nations at the time.
The Directorium Inquisitorium by Nicolau Eymeric which was the official witchcraft manual for Italy.
It is this sense of caution that is more prevalent in both Russia or Italy than the likes of Germany, Spain, or even some of the Scandinavian countries during the 16th, 17th, or 18th centuries. The judicial systems of these two nations handled such cases not with the heartless killing of any simply accused of having dabbled in the arts of witchcraft, but with the proper process any such case should deserve. In these two countries, proper evidence was required for a guilty verdict to be found, and not just a confession or accusation that were obtained under torture. Judges handled cases not with the goal of eventually killing the accused, but with the goal of having them to proven legally of being innocent or guilty. In these two countries, there was not so much a witch craze, but more of a witch scare.
The crazed reaction of witchcraft in Europe during the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, while partly a result of the harshness inflicted by Christianity, was a result of the witchcraft manuals that were written during these time periods. One of the most famous and widely used was the Malleus Maleficarum, which condemned and punished witches or any acts of witchcraft. Another popular manual was the Directorium inquisitorium, which stated that the only way a person could be found guilty for maleficio (witchcraft) was by worshipping the devil and it called for a cautious approach to any accusations of witchcraft. The difference in how these two manuals explained how to deal with witchcraft caused for there to be significantly different responses to witchcraft across Europe. To better understand how such responses came about in these different countries more light needs to be shined on the teachings of these books.
The Malleus Maleficarum, published by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger
The Malleus Maleficarum was published in 1486 by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger, both Dominican Inquisitors. Levack mentions on page 57 that this manual was written when these two inquisitors were “encountering resistance in their efforts to prosecute witches.” After securing the bull from Pope Innocent III in 1484, this manual was to be the basis for how inquisitors were to try those accused of witchcraft. The Malleus Maleficarum, because it was written by two Dominicans, constantly makes references to the Holy Scripture for how witchcraft should be handled. It even says that “the divine law in many places commands that witches are not only to be avoided, but also that they are to be put to death” because of the pact that they make with devil. Kramer and Sprenger build the defense for their manuals response to witchcraft from the fact that those who partake in such acts have renounced the one true God and instead made a pact with the devil instead. To commit such an act is seen by the Church as one of the biggest forms of heresy, and the churches proper response to all forms of heresy is to have the accused proven guilty and burned.
Heinrich Kramer, famous Dominican Inquisitor
To prove an accused’s guilt, torture was quite often an accepted form of ascertaining confessions. In fact, the Malleus Maleficarum even “offers recommendations for the successful prosecution of witches,” and Kramer approved just about any practice that would “succeed in the convicting of witches.” (Levack 123) Kramer expected witches to face torture to obtain confessions as he believed it to be the one true way of gaining truthful knowledge from the accused, knowledge that may even include the accusations of others as accomplices. He believed witches to be so helped by the devil that he had made them immune to pain, and so, by torturing them, once they show pain it was believed that the devil had left and they would then be ready to confess their crimes. The main goal of Kramer and Spranger’s Malleus Maleficarum was to obtain confessions, whether they were sincere or obtained through immense pain, and the contents of the manual provided a perfect explanation of how to do so.
The Directoruim Inquisitorium, published by Nicholas Eymeric
A manual that is of stark comparison to the Malleus Maleficarum is Nicholas Eymeric’s Directorium inquisitorium. The Directoruim was first published in the 14th century, but was republished in the 16th century as well. It was used primarily in Italy and the surrounding regions, and it is the combination of the use of this manual and the Italian belief in stregheria that caused the Roman/Venetian Inquisition to be a lot less violent than its German or Spanish counterparts. Stregheria is a belief in Italy of supernatural illnesses, which are different than those of natural illnesses, and are most often associated with witchcraft. However, a doctor was necessary to prove whether a case did involve stregheria or not, and, because if a case did then someone was likely to get executed and the doctor would end up losing potential clients, doctors often disproved any association of stregheria with the cases they were involved in. With the combinations of the belief in the use of stregheria and the teachings of the Directorium, Italy’s approach to witchcraft became rather unique.
Eymeric’s manual was one that did not label all those accused of witchcraft as witches. Eymeric believed that there were some forms of magic that were non-maleficient, and were therefore not heretical. He states that only when magicians summon demons and make sacrifices were they to be tagged as witches and to face the prosecution of the Inquisition. In his manual, he makes sure to make establish a concrete definition for both diviners and magicians, so that such people would not be associated with heretics. Only when these diviners and magicians began to, or were suspected of having begun to, take part in heretical actions where they to be then noted as heretics. By establishing such definitions for diviners and magicians, Eymeric is attempting to distinguish between practitioners of good and bad magic. Another such example of this is when he states that one of the key ways someone can be marked as a heretic is when they make a pact with the devil and renounce their pact with God, for this was seen as believing the devil to be higher than God, which is heresy. By establishing this, Eymeric is trying to point out that not all diviners and magicians renounce God and make a pact with the devil, and they should therefore not be labeled as heretics. Through his manual, the Directorium inquisitorium, Nicholas Eymeric was trying to establish a boundary between good and bad magic, and did so to keep periods of major witch crazes from occurring throughout Italy.
The Malleus Maleficarum and the Directorium inquisitorium, while both being manuals for how to handle witchcraft, took two different approaches to the problem of witchcraft. The Maleficarum saw all forms of witchcraft as heretical, and the only way to handle accusations of witchcraft was through the obtainment of confession, usually with the help of torture to make sure the confession was valid. The inquisitorium distinguished both good and bad magic, and saw only acts of magic performed by making pacts with the devil as heretical. It also did not advocate for torture to be used to gain a quick confession, but instead pushed for caution to be used so that the innocent were not wrongly convicted. The differences in the teachings of these manuals are quite precedent when one acknowledges the number of convicted and killed in the Germany or Spain (where the Maleficarum was primarily used) with those numbers in Italy (where the inquisitorium was primarily used).
Witchcraft in the North American Colonies: Why was Virginia so different from Massachusetts?
North America was not exempt from its own period of witch craze during the 17th century. Just like in Europe, different regions of North America had different responses to cases of witchcraft. It may not be surprising to most that the Puritans of Massachusetts took a rather more familiar approach to that seen in Europe (one driven by their religious beliefs), while it may be surprising to learn that colonial Virginia was more like Italy than let us say Germany or Spain. During its colonial period, Virginia had only 10 cases make it to trial, the first being in 1626 and the last in 1730, and none of the accused were put to death. That is a time gap of over a hundred years in which only 10 total cases made it to trial. For Virginia’s history with witchcraft to be so scarce, and quite unlike that of the Massachusetts’ Puritans, there has to be some form of explanation.
There is not one single answer as for why Virginia took such a different path from Massachusetts in the way it handled cases of witchcraft. Instead there is a multitude of reasons that compiled together to make it so:
1.) Probably the biggest reason that Virginia had no large-scale panics like that of Salem is because the colony had very few clergymen, and, of those clergymen there, many were Anglican and had little worry for witches. This is entirely opposite of how Massachusetts was, where there were large numbers of clergymen and the laws and rules of the Church dominated society. This fact arguably had the biggest effect on why there were no large-scale panics, because the Church was not pushing for witchcraft to be completely and totally eradicated because of its heretical tendencies, as was prevalent in not only Massachusetts but some European countries previously mentioned. Instead, Virginia took a very strong judicial approach in regards to potential witchcraft cases, and that leads us to the second reason as for why Virginia took a different path than that of Massachusetts.
2.) This second reason is the 1655 Court Order issued by the General Court in Jamestown. This Court Order stated that any person who used scandalous speech to accuse another woman of witchcraft had to have proof with oath and witnesses to their allegations or else they would be fined 1,000 pounds’ worth of tobacco. The funny thing about this Court Order is that a following Order was made in 1662 stating that husbands were not responsible for paying their wives fines and if a husband did refuse to pay than the wife would be dunked in water for every 500 pounds of tobacco owed. This follow up law was a result of husbands complaining of having to pay the fines for the slandering that their wives were doing about other women of the community. This Court Order put a fine on the accusing of fellow community members of witchcraft, and this worked so well for Virginia that no large-scale panics occurred their likely because of the people of the time not wanting to wind up broke or dunked.
3.) The third reason that Virginia did not experience any large-scale panics while Massachusetts did has to do with the sex ratio of the two colonies. It is important to note that Massachusetts, during its colonial period, was made up of mostly Puritans families. Because of this, it’s sex ratio for men and women was split near equally in half. However, in Virginia, this was not the case, and, in fact, Virginia several times nearly failed as a colony because of the unproportionate sex ratio that it had. Since there were so few women in Virginia and that made them a hot commodity, it would have been foolish and unwise for the Virginians to start accusing them of such heretical acts.
4.) The fourth reason for Virginia’s unique response relates to the stability of colonial Virginia itself. As previously mentioned, Virginia, in its early years, was very unstable, and quite nearly failed on multiple occasions. People were not so worried about cases of witchcraft, as they had to more pressing concerns like potential attacks by Native Americans, what their next meal would be, whether their crops would have a good harvest. Witchcraft was low on their worry totem pole. That was just a fact of colonial Virginian life.
Massachusetts and Virginia were both colonies founded for different reasons. Massachusetts was an attempt by the Puritans to escape the teachings of the English Church, meanwhile Virginia was established as more of a trading outpost by the London Trading Company. It is the historical background of these two unique colonies that provides the explanation for why these the two had such different approaches and responses to witchcraft. Massachusetts was a colony based off religious freedom, and, thus, religion was the main driving force for how to deal with cases of witchcraft. Virginia, on the other, hand was based on making a profit, so surviving for as long as possible was a must in order to make as much profit as possible. Witchcraft panics would have endangered the survival of colonial Virginia as women were a precious commodity that if lost would have made its survival even more difficult. So, witchcraft accusations needed witnesses for any allegations, which made panics difficult to occur as caution was used. Recognizing the initial reason of establishment for these two colonies helps to explain why they took the approaches to cases of witchcraft that they did.
The factors that led to the Salem Witch Hunt in 1692
Prior to the witch hunt in Essex County in 1692, Massachusetts had already had its fair share of witchcraft accusations and cases (more than 60 per Godbeer (pg. 5)). Throughout the 17th century, there were 243 New England Colonists accused of witchcraft and 36 executed, yet there was no other witch hunt during this period quite like what occurred at Salem (where 20 people were executed in the first half of 1692 alone). For the Salem witch hunt to have taken place in a region of the New World that was accustomed to cases of witchcraft but not witch hunts, one may be able to find an explanation as to why such an event occurred. By looking at the events that transpired in the New England region, it soon becomes apparent that the Salem witch hunt of 1692 came on the curtails of a series of unfortunate events for the region.
Metacomet, or King Philip, was responsible for one of the worst series of Indian attacks in colonial Massachusetts history
In the decades leading up to the 1692 witch hunt, New England experienced several major crises that helped play a role in how crazed the hunt at Salem became. The first of these events was Metacomet or King Philip’s War of 1675. This war was a result of three of Metacomet’s Wamponoag tribesmen being killed by Puritans because the three Indians had killed a Praying Town Indian. The warfare that followed brought New England “to the brink of destruction,” and left many colonists constantly worried of the next Indian attack (Godbeer 16). Because Indians were seen by Puritans as servants of the Devil and practitioners of witchcraft, these attacks caused an association between Indians and the Salem trials to form. These attacks left such an impression on the people of New England that it took very little afterwards for a panic to occur.
Edmund Andros, an Anglican that was appointed by James II to govern the newly formed Dominion of New England
The second major crises that effected New England took place in 1685 when King James II of England took away the English Charters for the New England colonies and put them all into one new entity, known as the Dominion of New England. James appointed Edmund Andros to be the new governor for this Dominion, and this is where the big problem arises. Andros was an Anglican, which was a form of Catholicism and was absolutely detested by any good Puritan. Andros attempted to make peace with the surrounding Indian tribes to bring reprieve from their attacks, but some Puritans believed that Andros secretly wanted to have the Indians join with him to overthrow their Puritan society in New England. This, along with the fact that Andros was a heretical Anglican caused there to be little trust between Andros and the Puritans, and, once James II was removed from the throne, Andros was as well and sent back home to England. What the bringing in of Andros by James II does is causes the Puritans to become suspicious of any outsiders as they are afraid that these outsiders will want to do away with their Godly way of life.
The third major crises that occurs is the war between England and France from 1688-1691. This war spills over into the New World where both countries had colonies. France was able to gain the trust of the Indian tribes surrounding the English colonies, and had the assistance of these tribe’s warriors in battle. The use of these Indians by the French brought back flashes of King Phillip’s war from just the decade before for the New Englanders. The cooperation between the French and surrounding Indians “created widespread anxiety” as people wondered where they would attack next (Godbeer 17).
The Puritans were afraid that the Quakers would eventually ruin the "godly society" that they had established, but how could you not trust a face like that?
The fourth and last major crises that had lasting effects on the Puritan’s society was the migration of the Quakers into the New England area. Puritans regarded Quakers as heretics, just like the Anglicans, and, with the combination of these incoming Quakers and the Anglican Andros, the Puritans believed their way of life was under attack. Puritans saw certain aspects of the Quakers faith, like their receiving of revelations from God and the convulsions that they had when receiving these revelations, as being diabolical, and, thus, they believed the Quakers were trying to align themselves with “the prince of disorder and sin” (Godbeer 18).
These crises combined to make the Puritans feel as if their “godly society” was under attack. Puritan’s saw a “more diverse population and a more worldly way of life” as the Devil’s work. It should come as no surprise then that a people who believed the Devil was attempting to overthrow their “godly society” had a major hunt for followers of the Devil. The witch hunt that took place in Salem did not occur out of thin air. It was an unfortunate event that had been slowly approaching on the curtails of these four crises for the right moment to occur.
Salem Village: The Months of the 1692 Witch Panic
This post will be looking at the months of the witch panic in 1692 individually and chronologically with the hope of portraying how the said panic in Essex County occurred rapidly and within just a few months. Because the where so many accused in this short period of time, this post will be focusing mainly on those that were accused, convicted, and successfully executed during this panic.
• January 1692
- Betty Parris and Abigail Williams (Samuel Parris’ niece) begin having fits
-The fits do not stay confined to the Parris household, and women throughout Essex County begin having fits
-Parris brings in Dr. William Griggs, who searches the girls and states their fits were caused by an evil hand
• February 1692
– Mary Sibley, Aunt of the afflicted girl, Mary Walcott, asks Tituba (one of Samuel Parris’ house servants) to bake a urine cake
-Parris brings Sibley in front of the entire congregation and reprimands her for the use of countermagic
- Parris assembles the afflicted girls into his house and interrogates them for the names of those who tormented them. Finally, the girls give up three names: Tituba, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne
• March 1692
- Betty Parris was sent to another and town and she got well, while Abigail Williams stayed in Salem Village and continued to be afflicted
- Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and Tituba were taken to Boston to be held
- Martha Corey arrested on March 12th
- Rebecca Nurse was arrested on March 19th
- Elizabeth Proctor was arrested
• April 1692
- Sarah Cloyce and Giles Corey (Martha’s husband) were arrested
- Dorcas Good, the four-year-old daughter of Sarah Good, was arrested
- Bridget Bishop was arrested
- Mary Easty was arrested for the 1st time
- Ann Pudeator, Wilmot Redd, and John Willard were arrested
- George Burroughs was accused by Abigail Williams and was called the “Black Minister” by her
• May 1692
- Sarah Churchwell was arrested
- Sarah Osborne dies in jail
- Mary Easty was released from prison, there was public outrage at this, and she was arrested a 2nd time
- The new governor of New England, Phips, arrives, and by the end of May he establishes the Court of Oyer & Terminer to handle cases of witchcraft
• June 1692
- Bridget Bishop was tried on June 2 during the first session of Oyer & Terminer, and was found guilty and hanged on the 10th
- The Court of Oyer & Terminer heard the cases of Sarah good, Elizabeth Howe, Sarah Wilds, Susannah Martin, and Rebecca Nurse, all of whom were found guilty
- 12 ministers from Essex County who attended trials in June wrote a letter together to the Court of Oyer & Terminer in which they stated that spectral evidence should not be used against the accused
• July 1692
- Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, and Sarah Wilds are all executed following their guilty verdicts
- The Proctors that were in jail wrote a letter trying to get their trials moved out of Salem Village
• August 1692
- the Court of Oyer & Terminer tried George Burroughs, John Proctor Sr., Elizabeth Proctor, George Jacobs Sr., John Willard and Martha Carrier. They were all found guilty and executed on the 19th, except for Elizabeth Proctor who was granted guilty reprieve because she was pregnant at the time.
• September 1692
- Martha Corey, Alice Parker, Mary Parker, Mary Easty, Dorcas Hoar, and Mary Bradbury were tried and found guilty. Martha Corey, Alice Parker, Mary Parker, and Mary Easty were executed. Dorcas Hoar was granted guilty reprieve because of her confession and so her execution was delayed. Mary Bradbury was the only person that was accused and convicted who was able to successfully escape imprisonment.
- Giles Corey was crushed to death during one of his interrogations.
- After the exectuions in September, people began to confess and provide names of other supposed witches, which kept them from being executed.
• October 1692
- Reverend Increase Mather visits the Salem jail, and, while he is doing so, many of those who confessed recanted their confessions, which made these confessions invalid and unusable by the Court of Oyer & Terminer.
- On October 29th, Governor Phips dissolves the Court of Oyer and Terminer, likely a result of his wife being accused of witchcraft that month. It is because Phips dissolves the Court that Dorcas Hoar was able to survive since her execution date had been postponed.
What I hope this post does is show how long it took for someone to be arrested, examined, tried, and convicted during this panic. It was not uncommon for an accused to sit in jail for weeks or months before finally being tried, and conditions were so awful where these people were being held that several died while in jail. Thankfully Phips had the Court of Oyer and Terminer dissolved before any more innocently accused were put to death simply because of a poorly supported accusation by someone who most likely had a score to settle with whom they had accused.
Key Historians on Salem
As interesting as the witch hunts at Salem Village were themselves, another rather interesting aspect of these events is historian’s thoughts on what may have caused them to occur. Since the same year as those events, 1692, works have been published that have attempted to explain what was the cause of the witch outbreak.
The first work was that of Cotton Mather’s, in which he put the blame of the events on none other than Satan himself (a real shocker there). Robert Calef followed Mr Mathers in 1697 in his own work in which he said that the trials were evil and Mather was complicitous in letting them go on. In 1697, John Hale also made a work that included some actual sane headway into how future cases of witch craft should be handled. Hale tried to focus on what could be learnt from the events. The two most important things he said that could be taken away from Salem were that cases would need better evidence and witch craft should not be a capital offense. It is a little comforting to see that in only five years the colonists of New England were already learning from the mistakes that they had made. It would be nearly 200 years before another major work regarding the Salem witch hunts was made.
Charles Upham broke the mold in his work of 1867 when he accused the girls of lying and being guided by adults seeking revenge. The only problem for historians regarding Upham’s explanation is that there was no evidence to back him up. Over one hundred years later, in 1968, Chadwick Hansen even published a book in which she argued that there really were witches in Salem Village practicing malevolent magic. One of the more fascinating historical works that focus on the events at Salem Village is that of Paul Boyer and Stephen Nisenbaum.
In 1974, Boyer and Nisenbaum published Salem Possessed, which focuses on the economic, political, and social aspects of Salem. They start by backtracking and noting that Salem Village was a community divided before 1692. This division was caused by the tensions and growing pains as the village grew through the generations. Boyer and Nisenbaum then switch focus to the Putnam’s of the west and the Porter’s of the east and how these factions took sides on being pro- or anti-Parris whenever Samuel Parris became the minister. The two authors also acknowledge that New England had no charter, and discussed how this would have affected the community. Boyer and Nisenbaum’s work was on a level of its own in regards to explanations for the events of Salem as it tries and applies an in depth historical analysis of the town some time prior to the events taking place.
Boyer and Nisenbaum were followed by John Demos whose 1982 book, Entertaining Satan, focused on the sociology and psychology of Salem Village. Demos analyzed the inner world of the accusers, who were menopausal women and men in their 20’s. He explained that the menopausal women were trying to find a new role in their society, and the men were ready to start their own households but were still with their parents and were taking their anguish out on the accused. Demos looked to anthropology and argued that witch craft accusations helped to preserve the village’s order instead of undermining it. Much like Boyer and Nisenbaum, Demos attempted to use fields of thought to try and explain why the events at Salem occurred. The big critique against Demos’ work is that it was not primarily focused on Salem itself.
Demos’ work is followed by that of Carol Karlsen in 1987. In The Devil in the Shape of a Women, Karlsen became the first historian to put the blame of the accusations on gender. She spent a lot of the book looking at the accusers, and she says that the girls were the lowest rung of Puritan society and were therefore most likely looking for attention, especially from male suitors. Karlsen also provided a witchcraft lens into Puritans views of women. An example of this is that wealthy women were accused of being witches because Puritan society would not allow them to utilize their inheritance from their deceased husbands and not have to be subservient to the males of the community. Karlsen’s work is key not only for being the first to use gender as an explanation for Salem, but also because of what it can teach about how different society was for women back then compared to now.
In 1992, Richard Godbeer published The Devil’s Dominion which focused on the religion of Salem. In a sense, Godbeer pitted folk magic, astrology and witch craft versus Puritanism, and the common folk versus the elite. He took note of the huge tension that had grown between the clergy and the lay people, and he argues that Salem was a crisis of religion as clergy and magistrates sought to purify. Ten years later, Mary Beth Norton, in her work In the Devil’s Snare, linked Salem with the Indians Wars. She argued that witch craft accusations were really about anger towards the Indians. Norton’s work is noteworthy because it puts some focus on individuals and families and their connections. This focus helped to fill in the chronology of these families and the events of Salem.
Ever since the year that the events at Salem took place, people have been trying to explain why they transpired as they did. Historians explanations for these events have come a long way since Cotton Mather’s initial blaming of Satan. It is interesting to notice how some explanations have analyzed the people of Salem themselves, and meanwhile other explanations have put a focus on the history of the area prior to the events. If there is something that can be learnt from this, it is that Salem was not the result of any single factor but most likely a multitude of this reasons and maybe some that have not been suggested.
Boyer and Nissenbaums influence in “Three Sovereigns for Sarah”
The movie “Three Sovereigns for Sarah” was released in 1985, just a mere ten years after the historians Boyer and Nissenbaum released their combined work, Salem Possessed. It should come as no surprise to historians of Colonial America witchcraft, and historians of Salem itself, that Boyer and Nissenbaum played an influential role in the historical background included in “Three Sovereigns for Sarah.” This movie takes place near Boston in1703, just eleven years after the events of Salem, and portrays one Sarah Cloyce’s explanation of what caused the events of Salem to take place. In the movie, Mrs. Cloyce tells her side of the events of Salem to three magistrates with the hopes of clearing her two sisters’ (who were both convicted and hung during the outbreak) names of all charges put against them.
Mrs. Cloyce begins her account of the events by going all the way to their beginnings, when Reverend Parris’ slave Tituba first began to introduce forms of magic to the young Betty Parris and Abigail Williams (Rev. Parris’ daughter and niece). Cloyce argues that it was with this new-found knowledge of the Satanic arts that these young girls discovered a talent that they previously had little involvement with. This new talent was the ability to have the adults of the community put all their attention onto these young girls, when they had previously received very little because of their location on Colonial Puritan New England’s social totem pole. It is this new-found talent, Mrs. Cloyce argues, that causes the cases of afflicted girls to flourish from beyond Parris’ household to several within Salem Villages limits, as these “afflicted” girls were receiving previously unprecedented levels of attention from influential members of their community. Mrs. Cloyce’s makes the argument that these girls were acting out like they were because they were being influenced by one Ann Putnam Sr., whose own daughter showed signs of affliction prior to her own fits, and it was Putnam Sr. who was influencing the girls to act and accuse as they did to influence her own agenda.
It is with this sense of accusation against Putnam Sr. that the historical influence of Boyer and Nissenbaum comes to light. It is Boyer and Nissenbaum’s belief and theory that Salem Village was a community divided prior to 1692, and it was this division that caused the witch hunts to take place. In their work, Salem Possessed, Boyer and Nissenbaum focus on the economic, political, and social aspects of Salem, and it is from this focus that they determine the division of the town was a result of its inability to decide who the new minister should have been in 1689. Obviously, Reverend Parris was who was chosen as the new minister, and from this decision there grew two factions, those who were pro-Parris (which was led by the Putnam family) and anti-Parris (which was led by the Porter family). Boyer and Nissenbaum argue that it was this division of the town over their minister which allowed for the witch outbreak to occur, an argument that is reinforced by their accusation of Putnam Sr. influencing the girls fits and accusations.
In “Three Sovereigns for Sarah,” Boyer and Nissenbaum support their argument by pointing out that many of the afflicted were either Putnam’s themselves or from families who were in support of Parris as the village minister, and; meanwhile, many of those accused were from the faction that was against Parris. By using Sarah Cloyce’s personal story, which included the loss of two of her sisters, Boyer and Nissenbaum are trying to establish the idea that those accused and convicted were all innocent of any association with witchcraft, and were only accused because of their stand on Parris or their affiliation with those who were against Parris being the minister. It was their goal to use the movie “Three Sovereigns for Sarah” as support for their theory that it was the division of Salem over who should be the future minister that caused the division in the community between God-loving/fearing people and those who were suspected of having made covenants with Satan. It really should not come as a surprise that Boyer and Nissenbaum were trying to establish their theory as the dominate explanation for the events at Salem, they did after all create the Map that provided evidence for the division among the members of the community during these events.
Modern Witchcraft Incidents
When the topic of witchcraft is brought up for discussion, one would most often think of, and refer to, cases of witchcraft from the past. The 16th, 17th, and 18th, centuries were filled with thousands upon thousands of cases of witchcraft, a decent portion of which have received various forms of scholarly attention. One rarely points to incidents of modern witchcraft when discussing the topic, but this is not from a lack of incidents to talk about, more like a lack of recognition among the modern world (despite how well connected it has become since the days of European Inquisition). This blog post will cover incidents of witchcraft that have occurred in various sectors of the world within the past five to ten years.
India, within the past decade or two, has experienced arguably more incidents of witchcraft than any modern nation in the same period. Since 2,000, there have been anywhere from 2,000-2,500 native Indians killed for acts of sorcery. Those accused and killed are most often women who are poor and a part of the lower caste of Indian society. These women are being accused for any bad harvests, illnesses in the community, for disputes with their neighbors, to settle scores, family rivalries, or because a powerful man wanted to punish her. They are often even accused so that they could be branded a witch and thrown out of the village so that their land could be taken. Those accused are commonly tortured by large groups of accusers from their community, and then executed. Unfortunately for these poor women, India has been experiencing of late similar incidents of witchcraft reactions to that of Europe centuries ago.
Modern incidents in Africa are being put together simply because the number of reported cases and incidents throughout the continent are miniscule to what India has experienced in these past two decades. In Kenya, elderly members of communities are being blamed for any droughts that may be affecting the area, and are being executed because of the fact. 104 people were killed in 2014 throughout Kenya for accusations of witchcraft, and, in 2015, 22 people were killed in one region of the country in one month. In Tanzania, 80 albinos have gone missing and been killed since 2000. This is due to a cultural belief of native Tanzanian’s that albinos have special powers, as do their body parts. Unfortunately for these albinos, they are being hunted and killed so that their magical body parts can be sold by witchdoctors in Tanzania, and these doctors are willing to pay up to $75,000 for a complete body. In Nigeria, children who are sick with very infectious diseases are being accused of witchcraft. Those in their community are accusing these children of being witches if they cause anyone else in the community to become sick. In Egypt, two men were beheaded for practicing divination and polytheism (and a similar incident has appeared in Saudi Arabia). While the nations of Africa are not experiencing modern incidents of witchcraft on a scale like that of India, the continent is not at a lack of its own incidents. There have been reported incidents from all over Africa, and, if there are this many cases reported, there must be even more incidents that go unreported.
Even the United States has not gone without its own modern incidents of witchcraft. One of the most recent incidents came after Trump’s becoming the president elect earlier this year, and even includes the famous artist Lana Del Rey. Lana Del Rey went onto social media, and attempted to use a spell that would keep Trump from taking office, and the spell was that the user was to repeat “you’re fired” until they felt the spell had been performed adequately. What can be learnt from this incident is that people were so opposed to Trump that they even stooped to using magical techniques to stop him from taking office. Across the country, spells are even being shared through the internet and social media. Countless groups have formed together to create communities of modern day witches who can communicate thanks to the world-wide web. While the United States is not experiencing incidents of witchcraft like those that occurred in its colonial days, witchcraft is still a relevant topic that has not lost its appeal in across the country.
Our ancestors from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries could have never predicted how connected and driven by modern technologies our planet has become. Our world has developed far past what anyone from that period could have ever dreamed. Yet, despite this miraculous modernization and advancement, we still experience one certain aspect of our ancestor’s time that is somewhat surprising/astounding. Our planet still deals with incidents of witchcraft, and not just in rare, unexpected occurrences. Across the planet, there have been reported cases of witchcraft or sorcery, and the number of accused and killed resembles that of the witch hunts of 16th, 17th, and 18th century Europe.
Information for some of these incidents can be found at: