Monday, May 16, 2005

Shake on the ground and point the finger


In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692

I have just begun this book, and I am finding it to be quite interesting.

I have always been interested in the witchcraft trials in Salem and in other locations around the world. It just sickens me. So many innocent people were massacred due to arrogance, ignorance, and fear of the unknown. (Not to mention land disputes, petty jealousies, cries for attention from repressed/ignored people, for being ill-tempered or for just being different than the rest of the flock.) Even more sickening is that this was all done in the guise of Religious Morality.

I intended to comment more on this subject, but I get too worked up when it comes to issues of religious intolerance and zealotry. I have strong opinions regarding the subject, but I really don't want this blog to be a soap box.

I'll just say this: religious zealotry really burns me up.

About the book from Publishers Weekly
In her splendid re-creation of the notorious events of 1692, Cornell historian Norton (her Founding Mothers and Fathers was a Pulitzer finalist) offers fresh and provocative insights into the much-studied Salem witchcraft trials. Using newly available materials from the trial records, letters and diaries, she argues that a complex of political, military and religious factors led to the outbreak of hysterical fits and other behavior that ended in the infamous trials. As Norton ably demonstrates, the settlers saw the First and Second Indian Wars and their resulting loss of prosperity as God's punishment for their sins. In April 1692, as these losses mounted, several teenage girls began having fits that they attributed to the devil, to witches and to Indians. The colonists thus found themselves, says Norton, being punished both by visible spirits (Indians) and invisible ones (the devil). In an unusual turn of events that Norton explores, the magistrates of the village took the testimony of these women who normally were not given any political or judicial authority at face value and began the trials. Moreover, as Norton shows, some judges used this opportunity of blaming witches to assuage their own guilt over their responsibility for political, economic and military mismanagement. Part of the originality of this study lies in Norton's refusal to read events through the lens of contemporary psychology, offering instead a lively account of the ways 17th-century men and women would have thought about them. Very simply, Norton's book is a first-rate narrative history of one of America's more sordid yet ever-fascinating tales.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

"The Trial of George Jacobs, August 5, 1692." By T. H. Matteson, 1855.
Courtesy of the Peabody and Essex Museum

"Examination of a Witch, by T.H. Matteson, 1853
Courtesy of the Peabody and Essex Museum

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