“Not for the first time, it fell to a fiction to restore the history.”
October 28, 2015 8:43 AM   Subscribe

First, Kill the Witches. Then, Celebrate Them. by Stacy Schiff [The New York Times]
Among the oldest settlements in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and for years among the wealthiest cities in America, Salem had many claims to fame. It preferred not to count the witchcraft delusion among them; no one cared to record even where the town had hanged 19 innocents. It addressed the unpleasantness the New England way: silently. When George Washington passed through Salem in October 1789, he witnessed neither any trace of a witch panic nor of Halloween. Sometimes it seems as if the trauma of an event can be measured by how long it takes us to commemorate it, and by how thoroughly we mangle it in the process.
posted by Fizz (50 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
<):^/
posted by Fizz at 8:48 AM on October 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


Just an FYI for historic reasons: The Salem Witch Trials happened in what is now known as the town of Danvers.
posted by I-baLL at 8:59 AM on October 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


[the town now known as Danvers was previously known as Salem Village, just in case anyone thinks New Englanders are just gratuitously messing with you]
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 9:16 AM on October 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


Of course, Danvers was known as Salem Village then, so, really, the event should be called "The Salem (but not the one you're thinking of) Witchcraft Trials (for some value of "trial")." That should please everyone.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:16 AM on October 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


I'd say "Jinx," but I'm a bit afeared that Judge Hathorne would take it amiss.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:18 AM on October 28, 2015 [10 favorites]


I SAW GOODY GENJIANDPROUST CONSORTING WITH THE DEVIL
posted by Kitteh at 9:20 AM on October 28, 2015 [35 favorites]


Rev. Mather, would you please tell Goody Kitteh to knock it off with the Spectral Evidence?
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:26 AM on October 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


UGH this is my least favorite thing about living in MA.

"Haha spooky stuff witches and etc!"

Witches are not spooky. They are not evil. They are not even innocent. THEY WERE NOT WITCHES. THERE WAS NO WITCHES. THERE ARE STILL NO WITCHES.

it'd be like random dungeons in Spain celebrating "Horned Jews Day" instead of just shamefully acknowledging the Inquisition.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:26 AM on October 28, 2015 [30 favorites]


Giles Corey just cries out, "More... tourists." [he collapse over]
posted by drezdn at 9:28 AM on October 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


I'd say "Jinx"…

Jinx!
posted by TedW at 9:30 AM on October 28, 2015


Witches are not spooky. They are not evil. They are not even innocent. THEY WERE NOT WITCHES. THERE WAS NO WITCHES. THERE ARE STILL NO WITCHES.

My Wiccan friends would like to respectively disagree with you there.
posted by pie ninja at 9:36 AM on October 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


THERE ARE STILL NO WITCHES.

Wellllll...
posted by brennen at 9:37 AM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


No comment on what Salem did for the holiday or what the holiday did for Salem, but the graphics in that article seriously put the 'creepy' back into Halloween for me. *shiver*
posted by mudpuppie at 9:38 AM on October 28, 2015


What about Laurie Cabot?!
posted by gentian at 9:40 AM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


There are witches. I'm a witch. I believe that the universe is full of energy I can tap into with my mind, for my own intents.

The is a ton more to it than that. I can't remember where I heard it from, but I did hear a discussion about how specific folk practices were targets of those against all things witchcraft. But, that could be more new age historical rewrite (sigh) than fact.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:45 AM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


My Wiccan friends would like to respectively disagree with you there.

Wicca has no resemblance to the sort of "witchcraft" people in Salem were tried for and did not appear in an open and public way until after WW2. At best, you can trace its historical antecedents to nineteenth century British occultism like the Order Of The Golden Dawn.

Wiccans who believe that the religion they practice is the same thing that people in witch panics were tried for do not know their history.
posted by Sara C. at 9:58 AM on October 28, 2015 [34 favorites]


Y'all know what I'm saying though right, there were no spooky Halloween witches with pointy hats and magic powers any more than there were Jews with horns or minotaurs or what have you.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:00 AM on October 28, 2015 [13 favorites]


JINX SARA hahahaha
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:04 AM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Heck yeah there were and are witches/sorcerers/magicians. In one of my more unique experiences, during the brief period I dated a mountain-biking Provençal, on one of our outings, my back wheel slipped on a rock and tossed me over a cliff (relatively short one, but still). I managed to get out of it with nothing more than a badly-sprained ankle and plenty of scrapes.

When we returned to his parents' place, in the deep countryside – they had family who still lived in a stone sheep house, sheep on the ground floor, humans on the floor above – they promptly hied me to the local witch. She looked over my swollen ankle, then performed incantations and hand movements around it. She was not Wiccan (it's not very well-known in France at all). Said her craft had been passed down in the village for centuries, and in that part of the country, it was highly likely to be true. They kept her a secret from most people not part of the village; in my case I'd been judged safe because I knew stuff about farming and stock animals, and was learning Provençal (the language) from my boyfriend and his family.

My ankle didn't feel any better, but I'll always remember it.
posted by fraula at 10:05 AM on October 28, 2015 [15 favorites]


Wise women and cunning men are probably the nearest basis for the idea of witches consorting with dark forces. If their actions were benevolent or useful (curing sicknesses, treating aches and pains, providing abortifacients), they were often tolerated or left alone. It sure didn't take much for the community to turn on you, though.
posted by Kitteh at 10:14 AM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


What the town or area has done about its past is not unique but very American. After all, first we accepted slavery...now building museum in DC; then we had anti-semitism and now Holocaust museum in DC; then slaughtered Indians and now have museum to commemorate them (DC) etc.
Compare the number of "witches" slaughtered in Am with those throughout Europe, or any nation in Europe.

Dare I say that the many statues and memorials and flags etc honoring the Confederacy is also honoring those places, those states, those people who fought and wanted to maintain slavery?
posted by Postroad at 10:16 AM on October 28, 2015


A SLICE OF LIFE IN SALEM IN OCTOBER:

I live in Salem. The church I attend is the oldest one in the city, incorporated in 1629; two of its members were excommunicated and executed during the witch trials (Giles Cory and Rebecca Nurse). I live on the main street from the highway into downtown, so traffic is awful on October weekends. We had a Halloween parade on October 1st, just like we do on the first Thursday of every October. My kids have gone trick-or-treating about five times already, wearing a different costume each time.

Roads are closed at random of the safety of visiting pedestrians. The city government mechanism for announcing these traffic pattern changes is a Twitter account called @GetThruOctober.

A Salem witch is taking a well-known warlock to court for harassment.

Nosferatu argues with a street preacher.
posted by mkb at 10:17 AM on October 28, 2015 [14 favorites]


Witches are not spooky. They are not evil. They are not even innocent. THEY WERE NOT WITCHES. THERE WAS NO WITCHES. THERE ARE STILL NO WITCHES.

OK, but... in a very real sense, in the 17th C there were. You would have been hard-pressed to find people who didn't believe in at least the possibility of witches. There were all sorts of "anti-witchcraft" folk magic (which could be considered witchcraft itself) practiced in New England during the time period. I'm not defending the witchcraft trials or the judicial murder of hundreds and thousands of people through the ages, but witches "existed" in a very real sense.

If you are interested in the topic, a fairly readable academic sociological study is Carol Karlsen's The Devil in the Shape of a Woman : Witchcraft in Colonial New England which looks at the pressures that led to witchcraft accusations, the general form of the accusations, and what led Salem to be pretty much the end of it. If you'd rather get the Cliff's Notes version, the blog An Historian Goes to the Movies addresses a bunchof the issues while tackling the TV show Salem. (Spoiler: the historian doesn't think much of the series, but he has a lot to say about Salem and Salem Village. In the interests of full disclosure, I know the Historian in question.)
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:18 AM on October 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


My ankle didn't feel any better, but I'll always remember it.

She must not have been much good at Headology.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:18 AM on October 28, 2015 [11 favorites]


I was born in Salem, and won the Official Halloween Contest for my age group when I was nearly two because my mother dressed me as a flapper. Our landlady owned a psychic studio, and our house (and my grandparents' house, down the street) were supposed to be haunted.

---
Ghosts, sorcery, magic, and witches are very close to the surface in Cote d'Ivoire. Everyone has a story about magic interfering with their life in some way. Sorcerers are responsible for any number of things, but especially disease and strings of bad luck. For a few of the guys I worked with, evangelical Christianity was a really powerful weapon against sorcery - to the extent that they would spend all day in church praying when the rest of the village is participating in masque festivals (when initiated men are possessed by the masque spirits and dance). When I was in the capital, I watched a talk show about youth issues which was literally about converting to Christianity from animist religions and Islam in order to protect yourself from the effects of sorcery.

A few years back, I celebrated Halloween in Cote d'Ivoire with the guys I worked with. Everyone had to tell a scary story, and I bought a few liters of palm wine and liquor, and saved a few (melty) chocolate bars for sustenance. I freaked everyone out by recounting the plots to Pet Semetary and The Shining, and telling the one about the escaped ax murderer and the fingernail scratching on the roof of the car. My favorite story I heard in return was about a spirit who manifests in forests as someone you know and love and trust, who tells you to follow them, and then leads you deep into the middle of the forest until you are lost, and then disappears. The trick, apparently, is that this spirit always limps. So if you ever run into anyone you know in the forest, before you follow them make absolutely sure that they are walking normally...
posted by ChuraChura at 10:23 AM on October 28, 2015 [13 favorites]


I've not read Stacy Schiff's new book: 'The Witches: Salem, 1692.'. I did pick up The Penguin Book of Witches edited by Katharine Howe and cannot wait to dig int. Here is an interview with K. Howe from tor.com.
The Penguin Book of Witches is an annotated collection of treaties, newspaper articles, trial transcripts, diary entries, and more that sheds light upon the mindsets of early modern English and colonial America and how witchcraft preyed upon those societies’ greatest fears and realities. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to Howe about the histories she highlights, and what that says about past—and present—social attitudes toward gender, class, politics, and the unknown.
posted by Fizz at 10:25 AM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's worth noting that faith healing and "hedge witch" practices aren't what the Salem accused were being tried for.

I'm not sure whether these types of "good" witches would get turned on and tried for "dark arts" type witchcraft, or whether that's just a modern conflation of different types of things we tend to think of under the rubric of witchcraft.

From what I know about actual witch trials, any real practices people were actually engaging in seems to have nothing much to do with it. Certainly in Salem, it's really hard to match up anyone who might have been engaging in something like faith healing with anything that went on there. Much more about rumor, innuendo, and paranoia than "I went to the local wise woman and her potion didn't work".
posted by Sara C. at 11:04 AM on October 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm not defending the witchcraft trials or the judicial murder of hundreds and thousands of people through the ages, but witches "existed" in a very real sense.

The fear of witches existed. It's needlessly confusing to elide the distinction between a fear and an object of a fear.

If you are interested in the topic, a fairly readable academic sociological study is Carol Karlsen's The Devil in the Shape of a Woman : Witchcraft in Colonial New England which looks at the pressures that led to witchcraft accusations

Also John Putnam Demos' Entertaining Satan. I haven't read Karlsen, but I read Demos ages ago in a history of witchcraft course.

THERE ARE STILL NO WITCHES.

Lest we forget America's most famous "not-a-witch."
posted by octobersurprise at 11:43 AM on October 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


FYI, Jane Kamensky reviewed Schiff's THE WITCHES for the NY Times Book Review, and she found it "schlocky." It does sound pretty schlocky honestly. (Love the review though.)
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 1:15 PM on October 28, 2015


I'm descended from a woman who was tried for witchcraft in Pennsylvania, but got off! I am sorely disappointed that the legend that she got off because it wasn't actually illegal to ride a broomstick seems to be fictional, though.
posted by julen at 1:20 PM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


And speaking of schlock. I remember, back in 1998, I was reading this ridiculous Karen Robards historical romance called "This Side of Heaven, " set in 1680s New England, where the villainess practices evil witchcraft of the Malleus Maleficarum variety. But get this: she calls this black magic practice "Wicca." It's both anachronistic AND offensive!

So, Sara C, I was breaking this down for a friend of my dad's while I was waiting in the ER. A) Wicca isn't black magic. Portraying it thusly is really offensive. B) Why is "Wicca" even mentioned in the 1680s when it's actually fairly recent (as you pointed out in this comment)? C) AAAARGH AND THERE WERE ACTUALLY NO WITCHES

Well, this random girl interrupts me and goes on about how Wicca is really incredibly ancient and thousands of years old, blah blah blah. I was so pissed off that I glared at her and said, "I'm not talking to you."

So yeah. The more you know...
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 1:28 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's worth remembering that Old England was no stranger to witch fever. James I (1565-1625) was seriously into the subject (he calmed down a bit over time), never mind what was going on on the continent. The events of Louis XIV's court in 1677 involved practices that had parallels in Salem.

My own family helped found Medfield, MA, where "Witches were scarce; and we only whipped Quakers when they were sent through the town from Boston en route for the Wilderness, by order of the court".

(One can't be too careful. "Rev. Mr. Baxter went to reprove Goody Lincoln for the sin of practising witchcraft, and felt a strange pain in his leg on his return, which was attributed to her ill influence." In later years, town boosters did just point out that they never tried or executed anyone as happened in Salem. So they had that going for them.)
posted by BWA at 2:30 PM on October 28, 2015


Huh. I'm confused what people are proposing here. One is the perfectly reasonable assumption there were no witches involved in this particular scenario.

However I don't agree there were never any practitioners of folk magic or healing... Woden's nine herb charm and other documents of wortcunning and leechcraft from the ango-saxons appearing to show a shift in Christ and saints taking the place of other deities/spirits.

The fact that Christianity NEARLY wiped out every single trace of pagan practices doesn't mean it was all wiped out...one simply had to fear death for daring to know the old knowledge and live the old ways and ...if you're one to think there is a Yahweh, one could wonder if the others aren't still about, the old magic still around.

The Slavic countries had stronger holdouts against the Christian domination and some have said to have Old Believers up to the present time, which could be true in other areas of Europe as well.

If there was magic and spirits of old, they had ways to meet these beings... but I'm an agnostic... and I can agree these things are silly and unlikely..... or... are they?
posted by xarnop at 2:38 PM on October 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes they are.

*answering rhetorical questions since 2004*
posted by Justinian at 2:56 PM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


My mom is from Danvers. She had no interest in witch trial stuff herself, having left before the 70's. But my dad moved to Boston when I was in 2nd grade, and I went to the Salem Witch Museum practically every time I went to visit. I remember it vividly. I think it is the reason I am as obsessed as I am with (the fictional, romanticized vision of) witches and witchcraft today*.

I'm currently taking a class on, basically, how places become heritage places, and this makes for a really great, fascinating case study. There are places like Salem all around the country, in the form of "pioneer" villages and "old towns" and so on (Fort Worth "rebuilt" an area in the style of the 1870's, even though it only dates back to the 1920's). The past becomes a destination; not something we have any real connection to, but a place so far removed from us that there's nothing real about it - it's functionally as real as a story about Paul Bunyan.

Salem is interesting because that aspect of their heritage is rooted in a tragedy. But what you end up seeing is this kind of lurid version of it. I remember seeing a "museum" display of someone being crushed by rocks in a torture chamber. There might have been speakers playing groaning sounds. It wasn't rooted in history any more than a sign that says "dungeon this way" at a haunted house. We were supposed to go in, gawk at how sadistic people used to be, then leave and buy a keychain on the way out. It was supposed to be fun.

And I mean, I had fun going there as a kid, and I still love that totally fictionalized version of witches*. But it's not real. It's all about women named "Goody," and men with black hats and angry expressions; all our images of it are these dramatic, picturesque scenes in churches and open fields. And it sort of takes the place of history, swallowing up any truly deep message we could have gotten from it - "tragedy to farce without history in between."

It must be really frustrating to be involved in the local historical society.

*Also see my forthcoming post on witch movies, which I'll probably do after Halloween - but whatever, Season of the Witch is timeless.
posted by teponaztli at 5:17 PM on October 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


However I don't agree there were never any practitioners of folk magic or healing...

Again, no aspect of the European witch panic in general or the Salem Witch Trials in general had ANYTHING to do with folk magic.

In the case of Salem, where we have meticulously researched documents of who was accused, what the testimony was, whether they were convicted or not, how punishments were carried out, etc. AFAIK from pretty extensive reading about it there was no connection to folk magic, or any actual magical practices or pre-Christian European* paganism at all.

I'd buy that other witch trials in Europe are a little hazier, and we don't always have good records of why a given person was suspected, what exactly people thought was going on in specific cases, etc. But even there, it is pretty obvious that there is other stuff going on and it's not really about a straightforward "let's reverse the polarity and start persecuting the local wise-woman".

Also, even if you can point to an example where local folk healers were tried for witchcraft, none of those practices have any connection to paganism, let alone the Magicum Malificarum stuff these people were actually being accused of. Most of the European folk magic practices I'm familiar with are actually rooted in Christian belief (someone saying a prayer over a wound, take this potion and say ten hail marys, etc), anyway.

*The Salem panic did originate with some sketchy connections to a slave called Tituba, so I suppose there might be connections to indigenous non-European religions, though even there, that's clearly not what the trials themselves were about.
posted by Sara C. at 5:42 PM on October 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


Sure, but my point was the healing texts of the Anglo Saxons looked like charms/spells that were originally pagan but had Christianity enmeshed or superimposed into the practices. Given that Woden gets a mention in a number of these texts, I am unconvinced that that "none of those practices had anything to do with paganism" as what you seem to be familiar with and what I seem to be familiar with seem to be different.

So perhaps we have read different aspects of the history or interpreted them differently. I agree that what people were accused of with regard to witchcraft had very little to do with what may have been actually practiced as folk magic but that's different than saying there never were people who considered themselves to be witches in history as we have seen such roles with various titles in a lot of ancient and current shamanistic religions.

I imagine the larger portion of these accusation were completely made up with absolutely no relation to any actual deeds, from the reading I have done, however this is not the same thing as saying there never were people from whom the word "witch" originated in the old german, whether or not they actually were capable of magic or not.
posted by xarnop at 6:04 PM on October 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


My gentrifying neighborhood used to be the location for the city's slaughterhouses and a major textile mill; once diverse low-income, it was primarily African-American until recently. It is called "Salemtown," and when the developers first started in, they asked us to change it to something more upscale; the long-time residents were adamantly opposed. When asked about the name, one person said it had been named after the witch trials; most did not want to discuss it. But eventually someone pointed out that the nearby river was where lynchings had been carried out, and the name was a bitter reminder of those hangings.
posted by mmiddle at 6:31 PM on October 28, 2015


my point was the healing texts of the Anglo Saxons looked like charms/spells that were originally pagan but had Christianity enmeshed or superimposed into the practices

Sure, but that has about as much to do with witch trials as the relationship between Christmas and Saturnalia.
posted by Sara C. at 6:50 PM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think we're talking over each other. I was just responding to "there never were any witches" which is simply a different statement to me than referring to how little they had to do with the witch trials.
posted by xarnop at 7:03 PM on October 28, 2015


I agree that we're talking over each other.

The actual facts of how European witch panics worked is NOT that local folk healers were persecuted for practicing pre-Christian pagan rituals.

What actually happened is that ordinary people were accused of worshiping the devil, holding "black masses" which were supposed to be perversions of Christian church services, and working black magic in concert with demons, generally for personal gain or simply to wreak havoc in the community.

Nobody was put on trial for mixing up folk remedies, let alone anything with even the remotest relation to paganism.

(The witch trial panic took place between the 16th and 18th centuries, after the Reformation and during the early modern era, many centuries after the end of paganism in Europe.)
posted by Sara C. at 7:32 PM on October 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


It seems a problem with equivocating between definitions of "witch," yes? There was never any such thing as witches as 16th - 18th century people defined the word: devil-worshipping, broom-riding, crop-blighting, illness-inducing inversions of normative village life, a definition we know in minute detail because of the careful records kept of the accusations and trial proceedings. There were (and are) such things as witches as contemporary neopagans redefine the word: any european practitioner of religiosity or folk magic not explicitly endorsed by christian churches.

Book recommendation: Witches and Neighbors: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft by Robin Briggs. It does what it says on the tin, and quite well. However, Briggs argues (briefly) that what happened in Salem Village/Danvers is a different animal from earlier European witch panics, which are his particular subject.
posted by Krawczak at 9:17 PM on October 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


What actually happened is that ordinary people were accused of worshiping the devil, holding "black masses" which were supposed to be perversions of Christian church services, and working black magic in concert with demons, generally for personal gain or simply to wreak havoc in the community.

Well, yes. It struck me while reading about Colonial witchcraft trials (and it's not an original thought) that a witch was not really something you did, it was something you were. We have an idea of witches "casting spells" or "cursing people," and sometimes it seems the Colonial Americans did, too --that a witch would do some sort of ritual to hurt others, but at least as often, it seems like the witch's intent was enough to do evil. Perhaps it depended on whether the accused witch was in the habit of doing something "ritual-like" or not.

Anyway, Karlsen looked at most (if not all) of the Colonial cases, and drew out some pretty clear patterns. Witchcraft became and issue as land became more scarce. By this point, the New England colonists had already driven most of the Native Americans off the best land and further expansion was difficult, if not impossible. This created a growing economic divide as well as social anxiety, and most of the accused witches were women in awkward social positions (a widowed woman with no male children in possession of land, or a rival claimant for land crops up a lot). In some cases, the instigators of the accusations were people in precarious economic situations (one case had a young woman from a fairly good family who were driven off their land in Maine (by Native Americans, who might have disputed that claim, but never mind) who had ended up as a menial servant in a relative's house in MA or CT). The pressures of lacking opportunities to marry (a disaster for many women) or any hope of land (a disaster for men), created a superficially subdued but volcanic environment waiting for an incident where the community could purge itself of some of the pressures by turning on a (usually) limnal member of the community.

Part of why the Salem trials were more or less the end of it was that the girls driving the accusations went "off script," and started accusing people who were a) well-placed and b) did not adhere to the characteristics that made people liable to witchcraft accusations.

While some of the accusations have a component of folk magic (ie people who had a reputation for doing charms of one sort or another), most of them were people who had a reputation for being unpleasant and having an "ill will," which, as I pointed out above, could be enough for a witch to work mischief.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:30 AM on October 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


fraula: "Heck yeah there were and are witches/sorcerers/magicians. In one of my more unique experiences, during the brief period I dated a mountain-biking Provençal, on one of our outings, my back wheel slipped on a rock and tossed me over a cliff (relatively short one, but still). I managed to get out of it with nothing more than a badly-sprained ankle and plenty of scrapes.

When we returned to his parents' place, in the deep countryside – they had family who still lived in a stone sheep house, sheep on the ground floor, humans on the floor above – they promptly hied me to the local witch. She looked over my swollen ankle, then performed incantations and hand movements around it. She was not Wiccan (it's not very well-known in France at all). Said her craft had been passed down in the village for centuries, and in that part of the country, it was highly likely to be true. They kept her a secret from most people not part of the village; in my case I'd been judged safe because I knew stuff about farming and stock animals, and was learning Provençal (the language) from my boyfriend and his family.

My ankle didn't feel any better, but I'll always remember it.
"


My mum has a secret, and she's regularly on the phone to cure people suffering from fire-induced wounds, be it a cook in a nearby restaurant, or a person whose cancer treatment includes radiation therapy. She used to be the person the local volley ball team called when a player had a sprained ankle. Her secret is composed of incantations and movements too. I'm always bemused when, a few days after I saw her muttering under her breath (pleonasm ?), eyes closed, with her phone in hand, I spot a splendid bouquet on her dinner table, sent by the person she was attending to. But it's mostly because, when I see her practising that witchcraft, I can't believe that that old lady can compete with those sometimes terrible diseases. She is so f* intent when she tries to ease someone's pain, though. Anyway, it's not uncommon to be sent to a guérisseur by a Gp, in France (at least, in the south - I've heard tons of stories like that).
posted by nicolin at 6:21 AM on October 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


When people say Wicca is thousands of years old, they are misconstrued because Wiica was created in the 50s and keeps morphing and changing as religions do.

But, there are reconstruction pagans who work to revive old practices (see Hellinic Polytheism). And Wicca does tap into folk practices and superstition that can't quite be dated. It relies on historical guesses and constriction of many different practices and creating a modern version. So in that since Wicca in terms of spells, chants and rituals is very very old.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:18 AM on October 29, 2015


(The witch trial panic took place between the 16th and 18th centuries, after the Reformation and during the early modern era, many centuries after the end of paganism in Europe.)

"They burned witches in the Middle Ages" is one of those beliefs that is pretty hard to dislodge, unfortunately.
posted by thelonius at 7:46 AM on October 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I live in Salem, too.

What I tell people is there is the Witch Stuff and the Maritime Stuff. I personally find the Maritime Stuff way more interesting -- like, guys, Salem was the largest port in the area for over a century! What? There's a replica of a three mast ship you can go on for free, and the Custom House across the street from it (yes, the one Hawthorne worked at) is full of some super cool items. So I always suggest that people divide out these two things into two different visits, and to add a third just for the Peabody Essex Museum.

That obligatory insider info stuff said, there's another tragedy that happened in the neighboring town of Peabody a century ago that is barely known locally yet alone nationally or internationally. All the same, it's worth remembering this time of year too, because it sparked a wave of reforms in building construction and safety.
posted by zizzle at 8:55 AM on October 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


"They burned witches in the Middle Ages" is one of those beliefs that is pretty hard to dislodge, unfortunately.

To be fair, they burned heretics and Jews during the Middle Ages, so we can still find something to be appalled at.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:41 AM on October 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Anyway, Karlsen looked at most (if not all) of the Colonial cases, and drew out some pretty clear patterns. Witchcraft became and issue as land became more scarce.

My high school US history teacher also liked to talk about how the colonial cases were happening in a context where market capitalism was new (as opposed to a simpler "you sell me your butter and I sell you my eggs" type economy). So you might have one family who was more prosperous than others, who seemed to be doing better and better through mysterious means nobody in the community really understood, and often at the expense of others. Witchcraft might seem like the logical conclusion, especially if you were already angry at rich widow Goody Whoever who already didn't fit in for other reasons, AND she wouldn't sell you that land you wanted.
posted by Sara C. at 10:46 AM on October 29, 2015


Wikipedia: Satanic ritual abuse ... was a moral panic that originated in the United States in the 1980s, spreading throughout the country and eventually to many parts of the world, before mostly diminishing in the late 1990s.

This happened within my lifetime back in the late 20th Century. Lots of people freaked out back then. No one was burned at stake, but the lives of many completely innocent people were totally devastated by false accusations, with virtually no apologies afterwards.

Moral panics can always happen. Thankfully, we now have the internets, so everyone always has easy access to acurate infomations...
posted by ovvl at 6:41 PM on October 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


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