The Wicked Witchcraft Blog of the West An Account of Witchcraft In Europe and the Americas too

January 20, 2017

The Early Church and its Non-Magical Rituals

An Analysis of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas on Magic

How did the Catholic Church reconcile that all magic was evil, when Church ritual is so similar to magic ritual?

Within his Summa Contra Gentiles (, Aquinas says, “magic arts derive their efficacy from another intelligent being, to whom the magician’s words are addressed.”

When one thinks of how this applies to witchcraft, spells directed to a supernatural being immediately come to mind. However, one may not immediately think of the Catholic ritual of transubstantiation in the same terms.

Efficacy is the ability to produce a result. In transubstantiation, the desired result is for bread and wine to become the body and blood of Christ. The priest derives the result by saying specific words from Church ritual asking Christ to change the bread and wine. For more information on transubstantiation one can follow this link to learn more about the Catholic Church's teachings:

The above woodcarving depicts two witches throwing animals in to a pot to create a potion. In other words, these witches are starting with simple natural items (such as bread and wine). Then they are most likely saying a spell and are expecting a supernatural potion as a result (like the body and blood of Christ).

St. Augustine’s stance on magic/witchcraft wavered between two views. At one point, St. Augustine believed that demons and witches could not exist in a world overseen by God. However, Catholics and Protestants in the 15th-17th centuries look back to the words of St. Augustine in City of God and The Divination of Demons to justify burning witches at the state.

In these works, St. Augustine condemned all magic. He believed that all magic was the work of the Devil, and any person that acted with the Devil was a pagan or heretic. Therefore, witches were pagans and heretics and deserved to get a taste of Hell by burning at the stake. More information on the history of witchcraft persecution can be found here:

Later in the 13th century, St. Thomas Aquinas built upon the anti-magic work of St. Augustine. Aquinas believed that all magic was bad, and he used rational logic to come to this conclusion.

First, Aquinas established that no man can perform magic and concoct potions through spells on their own. He stated, “if there be any men that are able by their own power to transform things by words…they belong to another species.” Therefore, witches must evoke the Devil to help preform magic, be it for good or bad.

He went on to explain how good effects must come from good means, or else no virtue exists. Following this logic, Aquinas argued that good magic is without virtue because a witch still has to evoke the Devil to preform it.

It has been established that these two previously mentioned images are similar. They both depict a person starting with simple objects and with the help of a supernatural being turning those items into supernatural concoctions. Yet one is the ultimate good (the gift of Christ) and the other is an evil worthy death (witchcraft/magic). Why is that?

The apparent answer is that God is involved with transubstantiation, which gives the Church virtuous ends with virtuous causes through God. However, magic uses the Devil to create good or bad effects, but the process is always unvirtuous. This would be St. Thomas Aquinas's answer.

But why could God not have been the interceder in good/white magic? If God was the interceder, then some witches would have been using good means to a virtuous end. Therefore, under these circumstances, there would be no reason to persecute white witches.

January 27, 2017

Guilty Until Proven Guilty: Witch-hunts and Torture

How was witchcraft discovered and punished throughout Europe?

One answer does not exist for the whole of Europe. Spain and Germany had two separate ideas of torture, while they also punished witches completely different as well. For more on witchcraft tests, torture, and primary sources follow these three links:

Pope Innocent VIII opened the conversation of trying and punishing witches with a papal bull in 1484. Within his decree, Pope Innocent called “to remove all impediments by which…inquisitors are hindered in the exercise of their office…to prevent the taint of heretical pravity…from spreading their infection to the ruin of others who are innocent.” Pope Innocent also gave his inquisitors the sole authority in “correcting, imprisoning, punishing, and chastising” those guilty of witchcraft/heresy.


Germany had a particularly cruel rule to discover witches; unlimited torture was allowed to gain the confession of a witch. In fact, a confession was not legitimate unless the accused confessed after torture. The belief was that one could not truly be penitent unless they suffered first; therefore, witches were tortured because it was crucial for the soul.

The first day of torture consisted of the accused touring the prison after being stripped naked. The torturers would then explain how the various torture devices functioned, and the day would end with the accused witch being whipped.

Torture began the following day. In Germany, the two main methods of torture were strappado, pictured below, and squassation, which was strappado with weights attached to one’s ankles and the pulley system constantly being yanked up and down. During periods of respite, accused witches were fed salty foods and pickled water, so they would remain thirsty, and the accused were sleep deprived. In other words, accused witches were always uncomfortable and were in conditions to confess to anything (even crimes they did not commit). One interesting fact of German torture was that if blood was shed, then torture ceased.

In 1486, Heinrich Kramer wrote the Malleus Maleficarum, which served as a guide book to trying and punishing witches in Germany. The reason that torture and confession were so important in Germany was as Kramer wrote, “For common justice demands that a witch should not be condemned to death unless she is convicted by her own confession.” Kramer also wrote that once a witch confessed under torture, they must be taken to confess again sans the stress of torture.


Spanish witch-hunts centered around the Inquisition. The Inquisition began in 1478 under Pope Sixtus IV; however, it did not reach its peak until Pope Innocent VIII embraced the witch-hunts with the papal bull mentioned above. The face of the Spanish Inquisition was Tomas de Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, who is famous for his cruelty through torture.

In Spain, accused witches were guilty until proven innocent. Just like in Germany, torture was used to force the accused to confess; however, the main torturer devices in Spain were the pulley, rack, and fire. Also, once a witch confessed they had to verify their confession outside of torture, similar to Germany. For more on torture techniques see

Once a witch confessed they were sentenced to execution. Executions were performed at the Auto da Fe. Everyone in the city was expected to attend the parade and executions of the Auto da Fe. The accused were processed to their stake in a yellow tunic called a san benito, and the event ended with the burning of the heretical witches.

Differing Opinion

In 1631, the Jesuit priest Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld attacked the practice of torture in his Cautio Criminalis. He glossed over the events that occur to begin a witch-hunt. Once the witch is accused, according to Spee, she is condemned because an inquisitor gained compensation for every witch he burned. He stated, “men with their mean-spirited interpretation can easily twist and turn [any evidence] into proof of magic.”

Spee also described that no matter how an accused which reacted at a trial, she was guilty. “If she shows fear, then this is evidence because they say that her conscience is accusing her. If she does not show fear, then this is also evidence because they say it is quite peculiar to witches to boast that they are innocent and hold their heads high.”

The rest of the Cautio Criminalis is full of these situations where one is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The most striking sentence of Spee’s work is “To let her go once she has been arrested would disgrace the inquisitor.” Therefore, according to Spee, torture was pointless in witch trials, in fact a trial was pointless, because a witch was doomed as soon as he/she was accused.

February 3, 2017

I Don't Think We're in Europe Anymore...But We Are: Scandinavian and Venetian Witchcraft

How Did Witchcraft Practices and Trials Deviate from Traditional Thought?

In order to talk about the deviations, the norms must first be established. The traditional categories of witchcraft practices in Europe were:

  1. Divination: magic that allows one to see into the future or find lost objects
  2. Healing: using spells or charms to heal
  3. Destroying: using sorcery to harm (think of poppet/voodoo dolls)
  4. Counter-magic: the use of bodily liquids/hair of the victim to undo the other forms of magic

Another common feature of witchcraft in the majority of Europe was the pact between the Devil and witches, which allowed for magic to exist. For more information about traditional witchcraft practices and trials follow these links:

As one has read in this blog, the traditional belief about trials evolved overtime. By 1500 witchcraft was viewed as crimen exceptum, which was the center of why witches were guilty before being proven guilty above. The belief that all magic was bad and the status of crimen exceptum allowed for the wide acceptance of torture to lead to a myriad of unfound confessions and deaths throughout Europe.

Different Practices

The belief of flygjur and shapeshifting into animals, such as wolves, bears, and eagles, sets Scandinavian witchcraft apart from the whole of Europe

Scandinavia has a different list of magical practices:

  1. Luck- can be good or bad and it is used to explain why something happens
  2. Love Magic- both to arouse or stifle the love interest of others
  3. Divination- same as above but one must tap into the spirit of the dead to do so without penalty
  4. Fylgjur- the belief that guardian spirits connected to individuals reflect the inner qualities of a person in the form of an animal. (bear=strength, eagle= social position, wolf= evil mind)
  5. Shapeshifting- people can separate their soul from their body and have their soul take the shape of an animal away from their body.

When one compares the two lists they will find that only one similarity exists, divination. However, even the practice of divination is different in Scandinavia. Instead of creating a pseudo-kaleidoscope with a cracked egg and water, Scandinavians tap into the knowledge of the dead to learn about the future or find lost items.

Another difference in Scandinavia is that men were accused more so than women of Trolldómr, the Scandinavian word for magic. Trolldómr was used through the spoken word mostly in Scandinavia, and men held the positions of power where one would speak in public.

Not the best images, but they get the point across

The Donna di Fuora, or “ladies from outside,” was a common cult practice for poor women in Italy. Essentially, Italy had the same word for witch and fairy; therefore, no true distinction between the two existed. When the Catholic Church arrived to accuse people of evil witchcraft, the locals did not understand. They could not comprehend maleficio, evil magic. Instead they viewed magic through the perspective of fairies, who are a part of nature. These ladies from outside were simply intermediaries between nature and human in their community rather than Devil worshippers.

Different Ideas for Trials

Roman precursor to the Scandinavian Ping

Before the Church arrived in Scandinavia, all witchcraft trials were settled by the Ping, a tribal-like judicial board led by high-ranking men in the community. For a witchcraft case to reach the Ping, the accused had to kill somebody. Even then, the Ping would typically either fine or exile those found guilty. Also, Scandinavians practiced double jeopardy; if the Ping acquitted a witch, he/she could not be tried for the same crime again. However, once the Church arrived, Scandinavian trials look similar to the rest of Europe

The Venetian Inquisition began in the mid-16th century under the jurisdiction of the Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition (also known as the Holy Office). Their main duty was to act as a court of appeals to local tribunals. Within these tribunals, bishops, inquisitors, and the papal nuncio heard local witchcraft cases.

Local tribunals followed the instruction of the Directorium Inquisitorum by Nicolau Eymeric for witchcraft cases. Eymeric wrote the guidebook in the late-14th century, a full century before Kramer’s Malleus Maleficarum. The Directorium Inquisitorum was much less harsh than the latter manual, and its use in Venice led to ZERO witchcraft convictions between 1550-1650.

To find the Directorium Inquisitorum follow: Also, for more information on witchcraft manuals from Notre Dame:

Eymeric’s guidebook required two criteria for a judge to convict a witch of heretical maleficio: worship of the devil and the abuse of the sacraments. The necessity of both coupled with the fact that Venice distinguished between Stregheria (supernatural illness) and natural illness made a conviction nearly impossible. Furthermore, a doctor had to provide evidence that stregheria was the cause of death rather than natural illness. This evidence was highly unlikely because doctors wanted people to come to them when they were sick because they claimed to heal natural illnesses.

One final difference between Venetian tribunals and the Spanish Inquisition is the motives of the inquisitors. As previously mentioned in this blog, Friedrich Spee pointed out that Spanish inquisitors were paid for how many witches they burned; therefore, they had incentive to burn witches. However, this practice did not exist in Venice, and the results speak for themselves: ZERO convictions between 1550-1650. But would you expect anything else from such a peaceful place...

Information taken from lectures of Dr. Wendy Lucas

February 10, 2017

The Evil Stepmother and Stepsisters of Europe: Witchcraft in England, Scotland, and Ireland

How did witchcraft on the British Isles compare to mainland Europe?

Witchcraft in the British Isles possesses many similarities to the European mainland. Just as the mainland has the extreme witch-hunters (Germany and Spain), the middle of the road chasers (Scandinavia), and the rational-minded tame witch-hunters (Italy) so does the British Isles. Wait and see who is who in the British Isles…But you won't have to wait until the clock strikes midnight. Just read on.


The first similarity is the proportion of executions for witchcraft  between Scotland and Spain/Germany. Spain and Germany were the two hotspots for burning witches on the mainland of Europe. Of the 5000 trials in the British Isles, Scotland held 2000 of these, and Scotland killed 3x more witches than England even though their population was a fourth of England.

A reasonable assumption is that Scotland is similar to these two countries because Mary Queen of Scots was influenced by the notions of witchcraft from her husband, the dauphin of France (a Catholic country on the mainland). She enacted the first witchcraft laws in Scotland in 1563. These laws punished witches as heretics; therefore, just like Spain and Germany, Scotland burned their witches.

As the reader has read earlier in this blog, Friedrich Spee condemned the German practice of paying inquisitors a bounty for every witch he burned (Levack, 147). Scotland also gave commissions to local magistrates to try witches with no overseers.

The other similarity with Spain is the closeness of the Catholic Church regarding witchcraft confessions. Both Spanish and Scottish clergy urged, or even led, the prosecution of witches. The clergyman would also play a part in listening to and gaining confessions (supposedly to help the souls of these heretics).

For more information about witchcraft in Scotland visit:


I had no idea how similar the English flag was to all the flags in Scandinavia

England and Scandinavia have the largest stretch for similarities of these three examples. The main similarity is that these two regions experienced a late surge in the prosecution of witches as a result of outsiders bringing in their ideas.

Scandinavia was very liberal toward witches while the local Ping was in charge of witchcraft cases. However, once the Church (both Catholic and Protestant) entered the picture, the trials and executions of witches skyrocketed. For example, Sweden did not enact a witchcraft law until 1593, and the largest Swedish witchcraft scare was not until 1668-1676. Finland also did not witness their anti-witchcraft peak until 1675-1676.

England had three major witchcraft statutes in 1542, 1563, and 1604. These first two statutes were not particularly harsh towards witches. The 1563 statute carried a one year imprisonment and four appearances in the pillory for the first offense of maleficia and death for the second offense (still two chances though). This statue punished other magic even less harsh; only life imprisonment and life in prison for repeat offenders.

Then the outsider James VI of Scotland became King James I of England in 1603 brought his harsh punishments of witches seen in Daemonologie. His statute in 1604 punished malefica with death for the first offense, and it also stated that even the intention of trying to cause harm through witchcraft would result in death. These ideas led to the height of English witchcraft prosecution in 1640.

To read James I's Daemonologie and learn more about English witchcraft follow this link:


And no. The similarities are not just flags.

Two strong similarities exist between Ireland and Italy:

  1. Very Few Trials/Executions
  2. Strong Fairy Culture

The first similarity is true in Italy because the local courts did not want the Holy Office to enforce their rule over their jurisdiction, and Italy wanted to focus on cases they could rationally prove (which witchcraft was not). Ireland had few trials because they did not want the English law to be inflicted upon them. Therefore, both Ireland and Italy did not want a stronger power to enforce their ideals upon them.

For the second similarity, the reader can find in “I Don’t Think We’re in Europe Anymore…” earlier in this blog. Italians believed in Donna di Fuora, or “ladies from outside.” Essentially these women were intermediaries between nature and humans void of the Devil. They did not have two distinct words for witch and fairy. Similarly, Ireland had a strong fairy culture. These fairies would just perform little mischievous acts that were also void of the Devil and did not merit conviction for witchcraft.

For more information follow this link to a review on Witchcraft and Magic in Ireland:


As the reader can see Scotland is the stepsister to Germany and Spain as a result of the proportion of witches tried and executed, trying witches as heretics, paying inquisitors like Germany, and their Catholic ties to Spain.

England is the evil stepmother (because they are the largest in Britain) to Scandinavia because they both experienced late surges in the persecution of witchcraft as a result of outsiders (James I and The Church).

Ireland is the stepsister to Italy because they both have few witchcraft trials to check the power of the man (England and the Holy See) and their strong fairy cultures.

February 24, 2016

The American Dull Story: The Lack of Witchcraft in Early Virginia

Witchcraft (or the lack of) in Early America

King James VI stated in his Daemonologie that the devil is present when barbary is present and wild parts of the world. Therefore, many people thought the Americas were full of the devil. In fact, the Puritan minister William Crashaw said that the devil was more visible and palpable in Virginia more than any other known place in the world. Looking back (which is the wrong way to view history) one would think early America would be full of witchcraft charges and executions. However, they would be wrong since Virginia had ZERO executions for witchcraft.

Why Early Virginia Lacked Witchcraft Executions

Women were a limited resource in Virginia because they were always few in number. When the English first settled Jamestown, they came as a group of men without women. Until 1660 the closest ratio men to women in Virginia was 6:1. Even after 1660, the ratio remained 3:1 for a time.

Virginia was settled by the London Virginia Company. A joint-stock company was a group of investors that financed projects that were too large or an individual or a simple partnership. Since they were investors, their principle concern was return on their investment rather than religion. Therefore, few clergy went to Virginia, which resulted in few people caring about witchcraft in the colony.

Jamestown was more focused on surviving rather than chasing witchcraft. Jamestown had a long tradition of trying to stabilize and find balance within the colony. In fact, early Jamestown went through a winter in 1609-1610 called the Starving Times when three-fourths of their population died. When the majority of your population are dying of starvation, witch-hunting is not high on one’s priorities.

If you are more interested in learning about the founding and beginning years of Jamestown visit:

How Early Virginia Tried Witchcraft

Cases would begin in a county court, which would determine whether or not to send a case to the General Council in Jamestown. Rather than witchcraft many of these cases were defamation of character charges. Women would gossip and tell other women that someone was a witch. That someone would then sue the gossiping woman for defamation.

These cases relied on circumstantial evidence. If a man could not kill livestock for some reason, livestock were acting weird, someone guessed that another would die soon and was right, among other strange circumstances.

As a result, Virginia passed the 1655 Order. This order stated “any person who with scandalous speeches termed women to be witches had to prove with oath and witnesses their allegations or would be fined one thousand pounds of tobacco.

In all the General Council saw ten maleficia witchcraft cases between 1626 and 1730. Of these ten cases, two times men were the accused. The case of Joan Wright was the first in 1626. Her neighbors accused Wright of killing a newborn, crops, and livestock and predicting the death of several colonists. Even though Wright confessed to knowing witchcraft and how it worked, the General Council acquitted her without torturing or any other inquiry.

Grace Sherwood

The most famous of these ten cases was that of Grace Sherwood. Sherwood first appeared in court in 1698 when she tried to sue her neighbors for defamation of character. Multiple neighbors had accused Sherwood of bewitching their pig and cotton and turning into a black cat. Sherwood would lose both these cases.

In 1705 Sherwood brought the same neighbors to court again, and she won. A year later those neighbors accused Sherwood of bewitching the wife and caused a miscarriage. These charges would lead to Sherwood’s appearance in front of the General Council on counts of maleficia.

The court would order the searching of Sherwood’s person for witch’s marks, and they found two. However, the Council was still not ready to call her a witch. The court then sentenced her to a dunking test. Sherwood floated (failed the test). Upon her failure, Sherwood was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment.

From this point, further punishment is lost. What historians know is that Sherwood gained her land rights back by 1714 and was able to pay all her back taxes from imprisonment. Both the cases of Wright and Sherwood demonstrate that Virginians did not want to exhaust the valuable resource of women in the colonies. If these women would have been in England with these same charges, they would most likely have been...

For more information about witchcraft in Virginia visit these sites:

Information taken from lectures of Dr. Wendy Lucas

March 3, 2017

John and Cotton Went Up the Hill: The Puritans and Their Road to America

How did the Puritans Start in England?

Throughout the late sixteenth-century and the early seventeenth-century, England was under religious tension between Protestantism and Catholicism. Between 1553 and 1558, Mary Tudor ruled England under the influence of the Catholic Church, and many Protestant supporters fled. In 1558 Elizabeth took the English throne and ruled for nearly fifty years. Elizabeth was a Protestant ruler; however, she tended to support Catholic ideals that support monarchial rule.

The Puritans find their roots in English Protestants that fled during Bloody Mary’s reign. Their main objective was to purify the Church of England from Catholic traditions and ornateness. They had two main goals in England. One was to create a Church independent of the state so that monarchial ideals did not exist within the Church of England. The second was for the Anglican Church to rely on Presbyters, or elders, elected by the congregation rather than episcopacy (the rule of bishops over a diocese), which is a Catholic tradition.

For more information on Puritans in England visit:

Puritans in America and Their Beliefs

The New World was the perfect opportunity for the Puritans. Two hundred Puritan families led by John Winthrop settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. In a sermon titled “A Model of Christian Charity,” Winthrop declared that God gave the Puritans to create a “city upon a hill.” Winthrop meant that the Puritans were supposed to create a community that would be a model of Christian ideals for the world.

Since Puritans did not have to deal with episcopacy and monarchial Catholic ideals in America, they could focus on their four major beliefs to create their city upon a hill:

  1. Predestination- a person’s salvation is already predetermined or damned instead of being determined by good works.
  2. Puritans lived their lives readying themselves for possible salvation. Since they did not know if they were saved or damned, they had to ready their seed for salvation just in case.
  3. Providentialism- the belief that everything that happens is God’s will. If bad things happen, then the immediate response should be to fast and pray.
  4. Moral Stewardship- it was the responsibility of Puritans to ensure that their neighbors were acting morally.

Creating a City Upon a Hill

Puritans centered their society around three institutions: family, church, and government. The family was the center of Puritan society, and they called it the little commonwealth. Puritans believed that if the family ran right then the city would run according to their ideals. Life in Massachusetts Bay would have been miserable. One’s will would be crushed at age two to live up to Puritan standards and enter apprenticeships at age eight. Once one grew up, they would do the same to their twelve children in their own tiny house.

Within Massachusetts Bay, attendance at Church services were mandatory, and these services were long: three hours long and twice a week. Full church members made the major decisions in a community, such as who would be the minister (which would cause problems later in Salem Village). Full membership was especially important to women because it was an opportunity for them to have a voice in important matters.

The last section of Puritan society was the government. This section was not as important because the government followed the success of families and was subordinate to Church matters. Government functioned through town meetings where every free, white adult could vote on matters such as voting on and recalling officers (like governor).

Introduction of Cotton Mather

The trials at Salem Village will be discussed later in this blog, and Cotton Mather is a major source for these events. Cotton Mather was a Puritan minister who helped initiate the witch-hunts in Salem and helped uphold the city upon a hill notion. He was the son of Increase Mather, another Puritan minister within Massachusetts. Cotton is a major source of information for the Salem witch trials through Wonders of the Invisible World and will be discussed further later in this blog.

March 10, 2017

To Accuse or to be Accused: Who Was Being Accused At Salem and Why


The citizens of Salem Village that were accused of witchcraft varied over gender, occupation, and social status. By just looking at these people, one would not be able to make a list of unifying qualities that connected the victims. Why then were these specific people accused of witchcraft in Salem Village? The primary sources of Richard Godbeer’s The Salem Witch Hunt help to show some of these “hidden” qualities.

Sarah Good

Sarah Good was one of the first three women accused during the Salem witch scare. Two main deaths caused Sarah to be destitute at the time of the accusations. Her father died without giving Sarah an inheritance/dowry. Her first husband was an indentured servant that died leaving Sarah with debts. These debts caused Sarah and her second husband to be beggars. (Godbeer 68)

The fact that Sarah was a beggar was most likely the major factor that led to her witchcraft accusations. In Puritan society, people had the obligation to help the poor and downtrodden. Therefore, the only way to get rid of Sarah as a beggar was to accuse her of witchcraft. Citizens of Salem Village also feared the fact that Sarah would “[hold] grudges and [mutter] curses” when people did not help her. Another sign she might be a witch. (Godbeer 68)


Tituba was a slave in the house of Samuel Parris, the preacher at Salem Village. Not only was Tituba a slave, she was also an Indian slave. Furthermore, she was from Barbados, an area known for believing in supernatural knowledge. (Godbeer 81)

The fact that Tituba was an Indian was most likely the reason she was accused as a witch. Many Puritan women had been prisoners inside Indian camps during King Philip’s War and subsequent Indian attacks on Puritan villages. Therefore, many young Puritan women feared the site of any Indian. The hatred that Puritans had for Indians as a result of these harsh relations led many citizens in Salem to associate Indians with Devil-worshipping. (Goodbeer 82)

John Proctor

Men were also accused of witchcraft in Salem Village. One of the most famous men accused was John Proctor (however he was much different than his depiction in The Crucible). John Proctor was a farmer and tavern owner in Salem Village. There were two main reasons that Proctor was accused of witchcraft.

First, Proctor was sympathetic to Salem Town rather than Salem Village. In fact, he attended church services at Salem town not the village. Since Proctor was a successful colonist and he favored the town over the village, citizens sympathetic to Salem Village like the Putnams may have feared Proctor. (Godbeer 92)

Secondly, Proctor opposed the trials. One of the “afflicted girls” that was accusing people of witchcraft lived in Proctor’s household. He voiced “skepticism about her alleged fits.” Proctor’s arrest shows that it was dangerous to oppose the trials or one of the accusers because they were not against just accusing people to silence suspicions. (Godbeer 92)

Bridget Bishop

Bridget Bishop was a resident of Salem Town that had previously been accused of witchcraft. She was accused the first time when she recently became a widow after the death of her second husband. Widows did not fit well into Puritan society because they did not coincide with the little commonwealth. Furthermore, Bishop was “self-confident and sometimes argumentative,” which strays away from the Puritan model of a woman being a model of religious piety. (Godbeer 102-3)

Bishop was also an attractive woman. Her looks may have gotten extra attention from some of the men of Salem Village. This characteristic allowed Puritans to associate Bishop as the personification of Eve’s temptation, which is a one-way ticket to being accused of witchcraft. Additionally, “two workmen claimed that they had found ‘poppets’ (small dolls) hidden in her cellar.” Another ticket to witchcraft accusations. (Godbeer 103)

George Burroughs

George Burroughs was a former minister of Salem Village and allegedly was the leader of the witch conspiracy all the way from Maine. After Burroughs left Salem Village he survived an Indian attack on the village he had just had just joined. Since he had survived an Indian attack earlier in his life, people in Salem seemed to be suspicious of his link to Indians. (Godbeer 128-9)

Another possible reason that Burroughs was accused of witchcraft is that he owed the Putnams money. While he was minister of Salem Village, he became a widower three times; however, he could not afford the funerals. The Putnams helped the minister, but Burroughs was never able to repay them. This inability to provide for his family is another example of disturbing the little commonwealth that was important to Puritans, especially from a minister.

March 17, 2017

Judging a Book by Its Cover: How Salem is Portrayed Outside Academia

Before you start reading this post it would benefit you to visit the following Wikipedia page to see the various films, shows, and literature that discuss Salem to a popular media.

I have not seen any of the movies or read any of the books/poems from the list of modern cultural depictions of the Salem witch trials. However, it is apparent that many people are fascinated by the events that occurred in Salem Village in 1692. A certain aroma has surrounded these actions from the beginning with Cotton Mather writing The Wonders of the Invisible World in 1693 and continues all the way into 2016 with the movie The Autopsy of Jane Doe

In my opinion people are fascinated with the events surrounding Salem Village because of the mystery and how that mystery and the historical ignorance of the actual events by most people allows Salem to apply to many different media.

Modern Day Illusion

The pin is on Danvers (Salem Village) and Salem Town is in the bottom right corner

The reason that Salem Village seems to apply to so many different situations is because not many people study the events in depth. Most people simply know Salem as a city in Massachusetts that held witchcraft trials. I did not even know that modern day Salem, Massachusetts was not the location of Salem Village until this year; instead Danvers, Massachusetts, which is twenty minutes away, was the historical correct location.

People simply thinking that the name Salem means that was where the witchcraft trials was allows the city of Salem, Massachusetts to play the role of a tourist trap and have television shows like Bewitched shoot several episodes in their town.

Why Use Salem in Movies

The unknown surrounding Salem Village and people not understanding why the events started allows producers and writers to conjure up their rendition. Also, the mystery of Salem Village is an added plot mystery that adds intrigue and a notion of semblance to horror movies or any movie/television show that involves witches. For example, although Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is not historically accurate and is more about the dangers of communism, the fact that it is based on Salem gives it an extra plot layer and an extended audience to people interested in witchcraft.

The events of Salem Village also spill over into the Disney movie Hocus Pocus. The movie is made for kids, but since the movie follows three witches from Salem that come to haunt the modern time, it might try to pull-in an adult audience with its association to Salem, as Disney does with many historical events.


  1. People are fascinated with the events surrounding Salem Village
  2. They are fascinated in the mystery that surrounds Salem Village
  3. Not many people study the events in depth
  4. Salem Village is not modern day Salem. It is modern day Danvers, Massachusetts.
  5. Since the reasons why the Salem outbreak occurred are contested, writers and producers like to conjure up their own renditions of the events.
  6. The mystery of Salem Village is an added plot mystery that adds intrigue and an extended audience.

April 5, 2017

Reading the Pages: How Salem is Portrayed In Academia

Ever since the events at Salem occurred, people have tried to explain what happened. From the beginning, there has been controversy concerning what caused the alleged outbreak of witchcraft and the trials that ensued.

In 1693, Cotton Mather wrote Wonders of the Invisible World, which blamed Satan for the events in Salem Village. Four years later both Robert Calef and John Hale had a different opinion. They both condemned the guilty verdicts of the trials, and Hale encouraged people to learn from the mistakes of Salem (accepting spectral evidence and punishing as a capital crime).

There is still controversy in the historiography today. While John Demos blames sociological and psychological factors, Carol Karlsen blames the different gender roles. Additionally, several other historians blame other factors. The purpose of this post is to introduce the reader to these opinions.

Suggested Reviews: Catherine A. Brekus in William and Mary Quarterly, found Sean Purdy's extensive review found

Salem Possessed

In 1974 Boyer and Nissenbaum opened the modern discussion trying to explain what caused the alleged outbreak of witchcraft in Salem. Their main focus was the social aspect in Salem. They assert that Salem Village was a battleground between the rural interests of Salem Village and the citizens still loyal to the maritime-centered Salem Town. They divided Salem Village between geographically between the Putnams and company in the east and the Porters with their supporters in the west.

Entertaining Satan

In 1982, John Putnam Demos answered with his own explanation. Demos takes a psychological approach to the question. He argues that the accusers’ symptoms are medical explained through modern psychological theories. Furthermore, he examines the relationship between the accusers and the accused. He finds that the majority of accusers are female teens while many accused are older females. Therefore, Demos explains the Salem witchcraft outbreak as a generational struggle.

The Devil In the Shape of a Woman

Carol Karlsen made her mark in the conversation in 1987 by placing the events in Salem through the lens of gender roles of Puritan women. Karlsen noticed that many of the women executed in Salem Village were above the age of forty and only one woman under forty was hanged. She argues this was a result of women over forty being passed their childbearing years, and the primary function of women in a Puritan society were to rear children. She also found that these older women that were executed stood to inherit property without a male in charge of them.

Karlsen also looks at the gender roles of the accusers. She points out that these young girls were the bottom of Puritan society, and their only hope to climb socially was marriage. They might have used these fits and accusations as an avenue for attention, in hopes of attracting the attention of a man to marry.

In the Devil's Snare

Mary Beth Norton entered the conversation in 2002. She placed the witchcraft events in Salem Village in the context of the seventeenth-century Indian Wars. Norton states that many of the accusers had lost loved ones to natives in these wars. She claims that the afflicted girls were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from various Indian raids. In Norton’s eyes, their fits were caused by PTSD, and the response of the village was too blame witchcraft.

A Storm of Witchcraft

Emerson Baker synthesized the historiography of the Salem witchcraft outbreak in his 2014 book. Baker does not blame one single event as the cause in Salem. Instead he describes the culmination of causes as “a perfect storm.” The causes that Baker describes are religious, social, and psychological from the perspectives of the accused, accusers, and judges.

Satan and Salem

The last book we will summarize here is Benjamin Ray’s 2015 book. He agrees with Baker that the outbreak was caused by multiple conditions that created a perfect storm. His book takes the same approach as Baker as well in studying the accused, afflicted, and magistrates. Where the books differ is Ray focuses on Samuel Parris’s role and dividing the village religiously rather than socially like Boyer and Nissenbaum. He divides the town between those that liked Parris and those who did not.


So as one can see the historiography behind the causes of the witchcraft outbreak in Salem Village is vast and differing. The ideas of Baker and Ray are probably the most suitable since they take into account parts of all the other arguments. The outbreak was a perfect storm of social, religious, psychological, and the contemporary events in Salem Village.

April 14, 2017

Reacting to the Past: Salem On Trial

An analysis of my recent experience during a game about the Salem Trials

What is Reacting to the Past

Reacting to the Past is a style of pedagogy rising in popularity. Barnard’s website describes it as “elaborate games, set in the past, in which students are assigned roles informed by classic texts in the history of ideas.” The games give students the ability to be immersed in the past, which gives students the ability to appreciate historical events through a unique perspective.

Published games include the “Constitutional Convention,” “Henry VIII and the Reformation Parliament,” and “The Trial of Anne Hutcinson: Liberty, Law, and Intolerance in Puritan New England.” Additionally, Barnard leads several conferences and workshops across the country to promote Reacting to the Past. These workshops inspire professors to create and test their own games.

For more information about Reacting to the Past visit:

Logistics of Salem on Trial

The game my professor made is titled “Salem on Trial.” The game is based on a counterfactual scenario: What if the accusers at Salem Village were put on trial themselves. The players are Governor Phips as the judge, a group of magistrates, a group of jurors, and the accusers (Samuel Parris, Abigail Williams, Tituba, Anne Putnam Sr., Anne Putnam Jr., Core of Afflicted Girls, and William Griggs).

For each trial, the defendant gives a three minute opening statement explaining their role in the witchcraft events. While giving their statement, they are trying to convince the jury they are innocent of two separate charges: Disturbing the Queen’s Peace and Criminally Responsibility for the Death of Her Majesty’s Subjects.

Once the defendant gives their statement, the jury and the magistrates are allowed to ask three questions per group. Each player as personal and factional objectives which they try to accomplish throughout the game. One of the goals for each person is to have the defendants be guilty or not guilty (with a surprise in the end). After the defendants answer the questions, the jury deliberates and then they individually vote in a secret ballot.

Guilty or Not Guilty

It is solely the job of the jury to decide guilt. If the jury believes the defendant is not guilty, they are saying one of two things. Either “witches were to blame for the colony’s troubles,” or the defendant did not play a significant role in the matter.

The two guilty verdicts are stated above: Disturbing the Queen’s Peace and Criminal Responsibility for Death of Her Majesty’s Subjects. The former means that the defendant is guilty of “actively helping create events that led to nineteen deaths of innocent subjects of the Queen.” The latter means “the defendant was NECESSARY to have caused a person or people to be hanged.”

My Experience

I was Juror John Peabody (I won’t say what faction I am just in case you ever play). The jurors and magistrates loosely worked together to ensure that questions were not repeated, but we did not work together in any other way. It was hard for me to think of questions at first because I was not sure if the defendants would have known enough about their background. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find the defendants beyond adequately prepared.

Example questions we asked were as follows.

  1. As recorded by Jonathan Corwin on March 1, 1692, you accused both Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne of witchcraft. Do you recall why you accused these two women? (Godbeer 82-87)
  2. To Junior: On February 25, 1692, you accused Tituba of “pricking and pinching” you. Why do you believe that she has stopped these actions if she were a witch? Does this not discredit your accusations against Sarah Good for the same reasons: pinching and pricking? (Godbeer 71 and 91).
  3. Dr. Griggs you performed a diagnosis without proper reasoning or an outside opinion. Your diagnosis of bewitchment of little Betty & Abigail created hysteria and mayhem. Why should this jury not convict you of causing the executions of innocent people in Salem village?

In the end, we only convicted three people. We convicted both Anne Putnam Sr. and Samuel Parris of Disturbing the Queen’s Peace. The jury only convicted William Griggs of Criminal Responsibility for the Death of Her Majesty’s Subjects. It appears that the jury held a higher standard for the adults in the village.

My Analysis

My main complaint to the other jury members and magistrates is that more questions needed to be asked establishing whether the witches were real or fake. Since we never proved that the witchcraft that occurred Salem Village was not real, I was forced to vote not guilty in each case.

My main complaint to myself is that I did not push the jury and magistrates to ask more detailed questions after the first trial. It was apparent at this point that the defendants were prepared to answer detailed questions by reading primary sources earlier in the class. In my opinion the experience relies on proper questions, and what was needed in my experience were better questions.

Information from handouts written by Dr. Wendy Lucas

April 21, 2017

So What...That Would Never Happen Today...Or Would It: Accusations of Witchcraft and Effects in the Modern World

Many people today think that witchcraft is a medieval practice that would never happen today. Not only was witchcraft practiced in the early modern period as seen various times on this page, it is also a relevant topic today, as you will see below.


Various estimates approximate that 2000-2500 people have died in India as a result of witchcraft over the past fifteen years. However, most cases go unreported so the numbers may be even higher. Rakesh Singh, a member of the Indian Social Institute, stated, “Witch-hunting is essentially a legacy against women in our society.” Many of these women are low caste. Others accuse these women after a bad harvest, illness, or a result of family rivalries (Sound familiar?). Some brothers will also accuse their sister of witchcraft when inheritance and property are under dispute.

Recently, these women have found their activist, Birubala Rabha (pictured above). Rabha speaks out for these women and she has found plenty of success. She began to speak out against witchcraft after she was accused when her husband died of cancer. As of last year, she was successful in getting a law passed that punishes false witchcraft accusers with three to ten years in jail. Rabha has received several awards for her efforts, but she only asks for more support against the vigilante accusers.

For more information visit:


According to a recent Gallup poll survey 55 percent of Africans believe in witchcraft (and 95 percent of people in the Ivory Coast). Witchcraft is a cultural belief across Africa that influences law enforcement, politics, and daily life. In 2008, a mob killed eight people they suspected of casting spells that “lowered the intelligence of the village’s children.” Furthermore, albinos are practically hunted for their body parts to use in magical rituals.

African soccer leagues felt forced to take action after a Rwandan Premier League match was tainted by witchcraft. Moussa Camara performed a ritual and placed a small object against the goal post. A few minutes later Camara scored a goal and tied the game 1-1. Soon after the game, witchcraft was banned from African soccer games.

For more information visit:

United States

Witchcraft exists in a multitude of variations within the United States.

One instance is the actions trying to “bind Donald Trump” and expel him from the presidency. These witches have called for others to join them every crescent moon at midnight in their rituals. They have gathered the support of several celebrities, including Lana Del Rey. The singer posted a picture on twitter with the caption, “At the stroke of midnight Feb 24, March 26, April 24, May 23. Ingredients can b found online.” The ingredients were a photo of rump, a small bowl of water, a nail, an orange candle, and a Tower tarot card.

Another instance occurred in April 2016. New Orleans officials arrested Devon Marie Machuca (aka Darling) stealing human remains. Darling wrote a Facebook post that read, “whether anyone would be interested in buying superfluous remains.” This post tipped the police off, and they searched her residence. The police found an altar housing other fragments of bones. Darling tried to evade the charges by saying she was not selling bones but was instead having the buyers pay for the shipping and handling. The report said that “the witch had been obtaining bones from a graveyard” for several months.

For more information visit: , , , ,


Witchcraft is seen across the globe even today. Thousands of young, poor women in India have been killed by vigilantes accusing these women of witchcraft. However, activists like Rubha are making headway to protect these women and punish those who harm their reputation. Africa sees hundreds of witchcraft accusations as well. Many elderly are blamed for droughts or illness and are killed after witchcraft accusations. Mexico embraces a witchcraft culture through the practice of Santa Muerte by many. Finally, the United States is home to thousands of Wiccans and several witchcraft accusations outside the Wiccan name.

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