Sunday, July 24, 2011

A black cat crossed my path, and I stopped to dance around it widdershins

Witches. Old wrinkled ladies with warts on their noses, flying on broomsticks, with pointy hats and stripy socks. Everyone has seen old melty face herself, The Wicked Witch of the West, zipping around trying to steal red shoes. That's what witches are like right? Not really. But Witches and Witchcraft have fascinated and terrified people for decades, no time more so then during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692.

Salem, Massachusetts was a simple, staunch Puritan community where life was governed by the Church. Music, dancing, celebrations of Christmas and Easter were forbidden because they were believed to have Pagan roots. (Christmas and Easter do in fact have a strong connection with the Pagan religion, but that's a different blog) Toys and dolls were forbidden as well because they were seen as a waste of time. Sounds like a really happening place doesn't it? 

Enter Cotton Mather. Mather was a  minister of Boston's North Church (Not the same church we talked about in the Adventures of Paul Revere. What can I say? We didn't name stuff with much originality back in the day. Probably because of the lack of singing.) Mather was a firm believer in that witchcraft was alive and well and abound in the New World. He felt it was his duty to put an end to all witches. 

In 1692 Betty Parris, age 9, and Abigail Williams, age 11, began to have "fits".The girls threw things, screamed liked wicked little banshees, and contorted themselves into strange positions while crawling under furniture. (Sounds like a frat party I went to in my college years) A doctor could find no signs of disease, because you know little girls can't have fun or demand attention, so they must be sick or possessed. These little demons, pun intended, led the charge to one of the darkest hours in American History. 

The first three people accused were Sarah Osborne, a woman who rarely went to church meetings, Sarah Good, a homeless beggar which means of course she's a witch, and Tituba, an African slave would belonged to the Williams family.  Remember midwives and any single woman who practiced herbal healing was considered a witch as well. So for some of them the activities that caused them to be accused of witchcraft were actually meant to help the community. For many it became a death sentence. 

There were 'tests' the accused had to go through to prove their guilt or innocence. (I can't say women because Giles Corey was also accused, convicted, and crushed to death as a witch.) The dunking is the most famous of all the test. An accused was dunked in water while strapped to a chair. If you floated, you were a witch. If you didn't, you were innocence. Of course if you didn't float, you drown. So that was the down side. Not guilty but dead as a door nail. A grand total of 20 people died in the trials, all because of the paranoia of men like Cotton Mather and the whims of a few attention starved young girls. 

Were these people 'witches' ? Probably not in the sense we know the word to mean now. They did not practice Wicca or Paganism as modern witches do. However, some may have been workers of herbal medicine. Most worshiped the Puritan religions,with most likely Tituba being the exception. 

Salem has began to embrace it's history as America's Witch Trial spot and has become the home to a large Wiccan Community, including Laurie Cabot one of the religion's superstars. Halloween is a huge affair there with an annual Psychic fair and other haunted magical events. What a great way to take a bad history and make something magical out of it. 

Blessed be my blog readers. 

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