Old South Meeting House; WGBH Forum Network; The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
I'm pleased to have you here today for a very special lecture. While old South Meeting House is most known for its role in the American Revolution, our past is also connected to the 1692 Salem witchcraft hysteria. In fact, it was in this space the judge Samuel Sewell recanted for his roles in the witchcraft trials. And today we'll be exploring that particular time period even further. I'm happy to have with us Katherine Howe, author of "Physick book of Deliverance Dane." And while scholars have researched the various causes of witchcraft crisis, in her first novel Ms. Howe dares to ask what if that magic was real. Catherine Howe is completing her Ph.D. in American Studies at Boston University and has taught a research course on New England witchcraft. I should also mention that not only is she a scholar on the matter, but Ms. Howe is also a descendant of two women who suffered through the trials themselves. Please help me welcome Ms. Katherine Howe. Hello. Thank you all so much for coming out this afternoon especially on such a gorgeous day. The fact that you're inside with me, I'm very touched to be here. I'm going to be talking a little bit today for about 30 minutes about the history of
magic in American culture. I'm going to talk a little bit about the Salem panic and then I'm going to read just a tiny bit from the Physick book just to give us a sense of context. And then there's going to be about 10 minutes at the end for questions. However, because there's such a strong tradition here at Old South of noted authors and poets speaking, Louisa May Alcott, um, Louis Wheatley, I'm a little intimidated. And so I'd like to know ahead of time how my talk is going to go. So if you'll give me just a moment, I brought a divination tool. I'm just gonna get it out. [Audience laughter] How is my talk going to go: "Check back later." [Laughter] The reason that I like to start my talk with the Magic 8 Ball is because it's only the most familiar and perhaps novelty form of a practice that's actually pretty widespread in our culture. When I say that it's a divination tool, I'm tying this
Magic 8 Ball, which I picked up at Target--there are many different kinds, by the way, I got the classic--um, it ties in with a way of thinking that we actually still have in our culture today. When we think about magic, we think that we are rational twenty-first century people. And magic belongs to the past. Or perhaps it belongs to fairy tales. It doesn't have anything to do with our modern day life, does it. So when I'm nervous and speaking in front of a group of people who I haven't met before, and to make myself feel better I wear my grandmother's wedding band. That's not magic, is it. That's an heirloom, that's something different, it's special, it's, it's an object. I have a different word for it. It's an object in which I invest special significance because it belonged to someone that I know who's no longer with me. That isn't magical thinking, surely! And when my husband wears a special pair of socks to ensure that the Red Sox seek
victory, that's just good luck. That's not magical thinking either, is it. In 2005 my husband and I moved to Marblehead, Massachusetts which is on the North Shore of Boston. I don't know if any of you guys have been up there to visit. It's a very special town. It's only one town over from Salem. The more infamous neighbor to the west. Marblehead is special because it has one of the most complete assortments of 18th century architecture in the entire country. We are in a wonderful example of 18th century architecture right now. So looking around you can have a sense of what some of the spaces in Old Town Marblehead feel like. I had never lived in a space quite so old. I visited them, surely, in historical societies or on house tours but I'd never spent every day in a space this old. We moved into the second floor of an old fisherman's house from 1705, and the floorboards
in this house were this wide and the ceiling in our little bedroom, tucked behind the rear stair, and when I say stair I'm being generous-- it was really much more of a ladder--the ceiling was so low that if I went to take my sweater off over my head I would hit my knuckles against the ceiling. Now what did I find when we first moved into this tiny little bedroom tucked behind the back stair but, over the doorway to the rear stair was a tiny horseshoe charm. It was covered over in paint, and when I mentioned it to our landlords I said, "How long has this horseshoe been here? Have you ever noticed it?" And they hadn't even known that it was there. Now horseshoes are actually pretty well built into our popular culture and into our folk culture. I'll give you an obvious example. Horseshoes are such a symbol of good luck that you can actually consume them in Lucky Charms cereal. There are horseshoes in there. Um, so, finding a horseshoe and knowing that it was a good luck charm wasn't really the surprise, but I found myself wondering for the first
time, why a horseshoe? I don't know if any of you guys have ever given that much thought. Perhaps you've come into the idea, or you know the idea, that you should have the horseshoe facing upwards in a U-shape to keep the good luck inside. I'd heard that one too, although someone was recently telling me at another talk that I was giving, that Abigail Adams felt that she had enough good fortune in her life that she nailed her horseshoe upside down so that good luck would rain down on the head of anyone who came through her door, which I think is a kind of a wonderful gesture. I had run into the idea that the horseshoe should be in a U-shape but I'd never figured out, why a horseshoe. After all there are plenty of different other bits of flotsam and jetsam of a primarily agrarian society that we might have set upon to have symbolic value. Maybe a nail or any other kind of item from the household. And so I went and looked up a story which I will now share with you. Once upon a time,
St. Dunstan was bopping down the road on his way to the grocery store to get some water crackers. When ho should he run into but Satan, as one is liable to do, especially in New England and that goes double for Essex County where Marblehead is. Well, Satan was in a fix. Satan's horse had thrown a shoe and so Satan took up St. Dunstan by the scruff of his neck and shook him and said,"You'd better re-shoe my horse or I'll make it the worse for you." And St. Dunstan stroked his chin for a moment and said, "All right, I'll re-shoe your horse. Give me that horseshoe and that hammer." And he took them up and then he nailed the horseshoe into Satan's own hoof and Satan said, "Ow, ow, ow! That's not what I told you to do. You'd better take it off or I'll make it the worse for you!" And St. Dunstan said, "I'm not going to take it off. Not until you promise never to molest anyone who has a horseshoe over their door." And Satan said, "Fine, fine, fine, take it off, take it off!" And Saint Dunstan took it off and that's why horseshoes over a doorway are lucky. Now what I love about this story--there are a
number of things I love about the story. But what I especially love about this story is it provides us a perfect example of the intersection between folk magical belief and mainstream religious belief. When we think about magic and we think about religion, especially when we're talking about the early modern period or about the colonial period, we tend to think of them as opposed. As one or the other, whereas in fact both today and in the colonial period, it's much more a case of both/and than it is a case of either/or. And I'll give you an example. We all know the general outlines of the Salem panic but I'll just give us a quick refresher because maybe we haven't read about it since we read "The Crucible" in high school. If you're me that was some time ago. So a refresher is in order. In January of 1692 a young girl named Betty Parris, aged about nine years old, fell into fits. Now, we don't really know what the fits looked
like. Historians are not clear as to whether these fits looked like a physical problem, like an ailment or an illness, or whether they looked like a religious state or a spiritual state or psychological state like fainting, speaking in tongues, fits of religious ecstasy. We don't really know. Most historians seem to think that it was the latter, that it was a psychological state. But the most important thing about it is less the cause, although when we talk about the Salem panic, I think we like to focus on the cause of the behavior of the little girls rather than the effect. What's important is what happened next. Now Betty was the daughter of Samuel Parris who was the minister in Salem Village. Salem Village, and why do I say Salem Village instead of Salem Town? Modern day Salem is Salem Town. It was a city. It was on the same order as Boston--it was large, it was bustling. There were new waves of immigration happening every single year. Now if you've spent time on the North Shore you know that it's a
bit rocky up there, it's a little uneven, and so very quickly it became difficult to have enough agriculture in the surrounding area so that everyone had enough to eat. And so Salem had established an outlying farms region which had come to be called Salem Village. In fact we see this sort of parallel structure in other North Shore towns too. There's a Beverly and Beverly Farms and that's why. So Salem Village had been established as an agrarian region and already, a couple of generations into this differentiating settlement, the cultures of the two spaces were starting to be very different. Salem Town was more urban and Salem Village was more rural. Salem Village incidentally in 1752 became the town of Danvers today. So if you guys are ever curious and going on a Salem Village witch hunt I would suggest that you start there, rather than in modern day Salem. So Samuel Parris was the third minister that Salem Village had had in a pretty short period of time. He didn't start out in the church. He was a failed businessman in Barbados. First
he went to Barbados and he tried to start a good business and it didn't work and so he joined the church instead. And Samuel Parris had made himself relatively unpopular with the townsfolk. They were already a little bit prickly and demanding anyway. And Samuel Parris just didn't manage to ingratiate himself with them. He made outrageous demands, such as he thought the town should supply his firewood. The nerve of him! Where does he get off. He also wanted the town to give him the deed to his parsonage. The house where he and his family were living was owned by the town, by the village, excuse me. But he wanted to have ownership of it himself and they thought that that was completely irrational. So already Samuel Parris was a bit of an unpopular guy and then his daughter fell into fits. Now the interesting thing to me as a historian is that we sometimes have a tendency to expect a lot from people in the past. We want them to be able to see the world the way we see the world. And
yet I have no idea what the world will look like in 2300. I haven't the foggiest. I don't know what belief I hold today that will be regarded as insane by 2300 standards. But I'm sure I have some. Samuel Parris and his ilk were very educated and thoughtful people. They just happened to live in a different period of time. And so if we assume that they're going to behave rationally, suddenly the Salem panic begins to look a little bit different. In fact, when Betty fell into fits they didn't think that it was witchcraft at first. The first thing they did was they called a doctor. They're reasonable people. Dr. William Griggs came along. He couldn't find anything physically wrong with Betty. Next Samuel Parris decided it must be a spiritual problem and it was probably the villagers' fault because they were being so annoying and so he said that what we needed to do as a village was come together and pray and fast, and hope that God would deliver us
from this scourge that had fallen on his household. And it was only after a period of prayer and fasting failed to work and the panic had begun to spread, first to Abigail Williams who was Samuel Parris's niece and working as a servant in the Parris household. This is not unusual for that time period. Abigail Williams was 11 and she had been bound out to service because her family couldn't support her. It spread first to her and then quickly to other members of his household and to their circle of friends. Now a villager named Mary Sibley thought she had a great idea to nip this thing in the bud. Mary Sibley, if you've read Physick book, shows up in Physick book because I think that she is so interesting for our purposes when we're talking about the relationship between mainstream religion and magic, folk magical belief. Mary Sibley decides that we need to bake a witch cake. Now, how do you bake a witch cake? I will tell you--you might need to know, so take
notes. First, obtain rye meal. If you live in Salem Village you probably already have some. If you're us today, go to Whole Foods. You can get it in the bulk foods aisle. It's not very expensive. Next, collect urine from the people you think are bewitched. You can use any receptacle. Tupperware is fine. Blend the urine and the rye meal together into a paste, form it into a cake shape and bake it. Convection oven, 375, just a couple minutes. Once you have the biscuit that you've made of this witch cake you feed it to a dog. Dogs are, of course, known for their relationship with the underworld. You probably thought it was cats, but it's not. In Colonial America dogs are known to be particularly devilish. And I think any of us who shared our lives with a dog know that this is true. Cats are very upfront about being interested in themselves
whereas dogs pretend that they're part of it, part of the scene, you know. They're behaving themselves--"I didn't eat the cheese! What, me? Oh!" So you feed it to a dog. Now Mary Sibley actually did this. She had a witch cake made. She made Tituba who was a slave in the Parris household and whom you probably recognize from "The Crucible." She had Tituba and her husband John bake this witch cake and then feed it to a dog. Now there were two modes of thinking as to why Mary Sibley and the other villagers thought that this would work. One was that by taking a small portion of the body, the urine from the girls, that that would cause the bewitchment to pass out of their body and into the body of the dog. That was one mode of thinking as to how it might work, where a small part of the body can be made to stand in for the whole. This is a what, a mode of thinking that's probably not that unusual when you start thinking about it. Voodoo dolls work on the same principle. You put a little fingernail shaving or a little bit of hair. It works in the same way. The other mode of thinking is that by causing pain to this bewitched
object by having it be eaten it would then reflect back on the body of whoever was responsible for the bewitching, that it would cause physical suffering to the witch, a sense of correspondence of intention, on the one side and on the other. And Mary Sibley is knowledge base. This is actually English folk magical belief. In the early modern period, especially in the region of what is now the UK, East Anglia, which is the same region that settled Essex County US, um, that region had a longstanding tradition of cunning folk. I don't know if you guys have encountered this phrase before, but every small village had a cunning man or a cunning woman. This was a person to whom you would go if you had occult needs. Say you needed to know where to dig a water well. This person might be able to dowse for water. Say you had an object that had gone missing. Now, most of us today in the 21st century I think are drowning in objects, and maybe we could
even do with having a few more of them go missing. But in the early modern period this was a time of scarcity. Even very wealthy people would eat two to a porringer. So if one of your porringers went missing, that was a hefty percentage of your overall household, and of your wealth. And perhaps if you lived in a small community ? or already ? had an idea where that porringer might have gone, The cunning person probably had an idea too. And it's not like you could just phone up the cops and say, "Hey, So-and-so stole my porringer." Social pressure had to be brought to bear and cunning folk could help by conjuring to find lost objects. Now the most infamous thing that you would rely on a cunning person for was unbewitchment. Now this is a time just before the insides of the scientific revolution had really made its way into common knowledge. So some historians have used the phrase a world of wonders and marvels to describe the way the Puritans and the early settlers of the United States viewed the
world. The relationship between correlation and causation was very difficult to un-entangle and that was doubly true in cases of sickness. People would fall ill very suddenly. Sometimes butter that normally churned with no problem at all just wouldn't come together. And so bewitchment was a sort of catch-all category for why some of these negative everyday occurrences might have taken place. So the cunning person could help you by giving you a charm to unbewitch whatever is having the problem--your cow that's not giving milk, your butter churn that simply isn't making the butter come together. Now a cunning person occupies a funny moral center, funny moral gray area, if you will, for a couple of reasons. One, they didn't do this out of the goodness of their hearts. They did this for money. This was a job. If you wanted your butter churn unbewitched, you paid for it. And two, anyone who has the skill necessary to unbewitch something, I think, could safely be assumed to
have the skill to bewitch it too. So when Mary Sibley resorts to baking her witch cake she is resorting to a very old way of thinking about folk magic, folk magical belief, even though Mary Sibley was herself a Christian woman. Now one thing that's interesting to me when we talk about Salem, the word that we like to resort to, I feel the most often, is hysteria, right? This is the word that comes up the most. It's a very 20th century word. It's a very Freudian word. And the reason that we go to it is because we want to explain how a group of young girls could have behaved so crazily and with such fatal effect. But what's interesting to me is to think instead about a world that required witch trials to exist. And I'll just belabor this point for one moment. Salem is not the only instance of a witch trial
in Colonial America. It was just the most fatal. And witchcraft was against the law. Now that sounds like a very obvious point--of course it was against the law. How else can you have a trial about it? How else can you put people to death if it's not against the law? But when you think about it it's actually a very profound point. For instance, Marblehead, Massachusetts, we have town meeting. I don't know if you guys have towns that are run on a direct democracy system. We have selectman and we have a town meeting and that means that every year we all file into the middle school auditorium with our newspaper and our knitting and we scream at each other for hours, usually about snow removal. In all the years that I've been attending Marblehead town meeting, I have never once witnessed any sort of debate or controversy about gnomes and gnome-like behavior.
Not once. We do not have a gnome problem in Marblehead. Why? Because gnome's don't exist. Gnomes aren't real. We don't regard them as a threat and, as such, we do not have to pass laws restricting their behavior or their encouragement. Witchcraft was a legal problem and a spiritual problem and, looked at from that standpoint, having a witch trial for a community that is beset by an evil that it can't understand, and has been at a loss to control through other means, then a witch trial becomes the rational choice, which is actually kind of the most chilling realization of all. I started thinking about Physick Book while living in Marblehead, upon first moving there, and by being struck by how different our modern fairy tale notion of witchcraft is from what history tells us about witchcraft. Our modern fairy tale notion has pointy hats and green skin and warty noses and surrender Dorothy and we wiggle our nose in order to make the pot roast.
But we live in a part of the world where for many generations witchcraft was against the law and that means that witchcraft was thought to be real. I started imagining the story of Physick Book because I wondered: if magic were real, the way the colonists actually believed it to be, how would it work? Who would do it? And why? Physick Book follows two storylines. The first takes place in 1991 and follows a graduate student of American history named Connie Goodwin who makes a surprising discovery in her grandmother's house in Marblehead, Massachusetts. She finds the name Deliverance Dane written on a small slip of paper hidden inside a key in a large family Bible, and she learns that Deliverance Dane was a Salem witch who might not have been so innocent after all. So one strand follows Connie in 1991 as she pursues Deliverance through history and the other strand is Deliverance's own story, beginning with her family in the 1680s
and continuing with her descendants into the 18th century. So I'm going to read a tiny, tiny bit, just very short which relates to our discussion here, but I want to make sure that I leave time for questions or for comments because if there's one thing that I think is true, is that we all have an opinion on witchcraft and I'm, and I'm eager to hear what yours happen to be. The short passage that I'm about to read takes place towards the beginning of the book when Connie has just met a young man named Sam who is a steeplejack. I'm told that there have been a number of steeplejacks passing through Old South recently because of the restoration going on of the clock and the clock tower so it seemed a little bit topical. [Reads] Sam turned abruptly down a nameless side street so narrow that a car could only just pass without taking a few front doors along with it. The houses along the street were short and packed tightly together, leading Connie to suspect that this had once been a muse or ? rove ? carriage houses and small barns to serve the grander
houses one block away. Some of them are painted in cheerful, ridiculous colors: ochre, vermilion, puce. Tiny windows held planters overflowing with pansies and wilted tulips. "It's not far from here," said Sam, urging her to hurry. They rounded another corner to the street of houses that would have been served by the muse. These houses had twin chimney stacks and tidy wooden shingles and a few of them were surrounded by modest but luscious green lawn dotted with dandelions. The houses were separated here and there by wooden fencing or by crumbling stone wall layered with moss screened from one another by whispering oak trees. Connie estimated the houses' ages as ranging from the early 18th to the mid-19th centuries, ship captains' houses, if not quite merchant men's houses. The moonlight cast a gray white sheen across the surface of the leaves and grass making the shadows blacker. Connie could smell burning apple wood from an unseen fireplace. The sensation reminded her of sitting in the kitchen of the Concord commune where she grew up with her mother.
Sam caught up Connie's hand to pull her after him as he moved toward the stone wall but Connie balked. "Sam," she whispered. "What are you doing? We can't go sneaking into someone's yard." "Shh," Sam shushed her, smiling. "There's no way they're home. And just in case, we'll tiptoe." "Sam!" she hissed, her fear heightened by excitement and pleasure. "Come on." He tightened his grip on her hand and Connie thrilled at the warm feel of his skin, smooth but calloused, allowing herself to be pulled along the stone wall deep into a little copse of woods between two of the houses. Sam touched his way along the wall, finally stopping by a block of granite about two feet high, standing out in an angle from the stone wall. The wall and surrounding trees cast a black and thick shadow and Connie looked nervously back at the nearer of the two houses, certain she would catch a face behind a curtain, or the sudden snapping on of a porch light to show that they were about to be caught. "Hold on a sec," Sam muttered, rummaging in a pocket of his coveralls. Connie heard a snap and a
hiss and the whiff of phosphorus reached her just as the match flamed to life. "Okay," he said, crouching down to hold the flame near the granite block. "Now look at this." Connie knelt next to him and gazed at the granite block now illuminated in a bright yellow circle that collapsed the surface of the stone into a flat plain. On the block Connie saw carved a simple stick figure of a man, about one foot tall, wearing a hat or headdress, hands and feet held out straight. Next to the left hand was carved a five-pointed star. Next to the right a crescent moon. By the left foot a sun and by the right foot a serpent or a lizard. The carving was untutored and imprecise, errant chisel marks still visible on the old stone. It had clearly not been wrought by a headstone carver or person trained for such work. Above the rough picture was carved a single word in all capital letters: Tetragrammaton. [End of reading] Now this description of a boundary marker--first of all a boundary marker, in
case you haven't encountered one, is a block of stone that you put at the corner of your property, maybe before you build a fence to demarc where your property ends and your neighbor's begins and we have them all over Marblehead. You see them sometimes right next to a front door if the plot is very small. This description of a charmed boundary marker is actually based on a real boundary marker. It exists. It is outside of Newburyport, Massachusetts, in a small parish called Byfield and it is called the Witch Stone. We don't know exactly when it dates from. It dates from about the 1630s to the 1650s. So it's very, very early and my description is embellished a little bit, but is for the most part accurate. It has a man with curling, sort of a curling restoration era wig, a hat, his arms and feet standing out this way with circles on either side of hands and feet, and his face is in a frightening grimace, in fact you can see a picture of this boundary marker on my Facebook page if you want to see what it looks like. That is the face
of folk magical belief. That is the face of 17th century witchcraft, the way the colonists really believed it to be. And it is that kind of story that I investigate in Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. Now, we do have a few minutes left and so I want to make sure if there is time if you want to ask a question. We have a microphone, as well. So go ahead and raise your hand. But I think wait for the microphone. Yes. The question is did, did cunning folk ever get accused, and there's a complex answer to that. And I will make it short. First of all, it's thought that that tradition was sort of imperfectly imported to the colonies. For one reason because the religion, the form of religion that was practiced--puritanism--was so strict. Puritanism was so strict,
that sounds like the opening of a bad joke, doesn't it? How strict was it? It was so strict that they didn't celebrate Christmas because that was too festive. And so it's thought that this, the strictness of the Puritan religion would tamp out some of these magical beliefs. However, there is some evidence that there were a few cunning folk who did wind up being accused, most notoriously a woman named Ann Burt who lived in Lynn, Massachusetts in the 1670s, and actually her granddaughter was accused during the Salem panic. So there was this sense of this being a skill that was transmitted within families. And so most people who were accused of witchcraft were just out of step with their society in a very profound way, usually an economic way or sometimes they were they were just marginalized for whatever reason. And it was not through any kind of magical practice. It was just because they were on the outs with their community, for whatever reason. But there is some evidence that there were some cunning folk who came over
here too. Yes. [Audience member] You said that most of the people who were accused of witchcraft were somehow considered deviant or, um, and I have heard that many women who ? were healers ? for example, or who were herbalists, were accused of witchcraft because they were considered deviant on that account. How much of, of deviance from the pattern of behavior for women could account for witchcraft? [Katherine speaks] Quite a lot. That's actually a very good question. It's no secret that the vast majority of people accused as witches were women. This has been a question that has been of interest to witchcraft scholars from the Middle Ages to the present. Why women. Of course in the Middle Ages it was phrased as, "why are women more susceptible
to being witches than men?" Is it because of a weakness in our Constitution? Is it because of Eve's original sin and therefore we are more likely to be fallen and we are less moral intrinsically. This might sound different if you're accustomed to the gendering of morality that we learned in the Victorian period where it was women who were the guardians of the home and morals. The actually older attitude towards women was that we were more at risk and that more and more likely to be wicked. So that was one of the thoughts behind why it was more women. Another reason is that women were more vulnerable, economically speaking. So there's a great example actually--a woman named Rachel Clinton who started her life very wealthy. She wasn't a Salem witch, she was accused earlier. But she's a wonderful example. She began her life very well off. So she was conspicuous. This was a time period when we had sumptuary laws and so there were laws dictating what you were allowed to wear, according to your station in life. And of course where you sat in
meeting was determined by your social rank. So Rachel Clinton began her life well off. Rachel Hatfield I think was her, was her maiden name but she made a late marriage. We don't know if Rachel had some issues or was hard to get along with, or for whatever reason she married unusually late. And when she did marry, it was, it was not to a nice man. It was to a man who took a lot of her money. She was robbed of her inheritance by some of her siblings and the story of Rachel's life was of abrupt and sharp economic decline and social decline. There was actually an account in her witch trial where someone makes a complaint about Rachel Clinton--the fact that um, that someone passes by her in the sort of central aisle of the meetinghouse on their way out after meeting. And Rachel hunches this person with her elbow. I think it's such a great word she "hunches." And you can imagine, imagine how angry she must have been. She's sitting in the back now and this person who's walking back past her is now sitting in the front. Rachel is keenly aware of her social downward mobility and
she is bitter about it. And she's elbowing this woman as she goes by to make her displeasure felt. And so part of the explanation is that, is that women were more susceptible. The average witch in New England history, the person most likely to be accused, or the sort of statistical average, was a woman in middle age from about her 40s to her 60s and it was because at middle age women were at the peak of their social power and as such they were also at their most visible. If you were a woman in your 40s you probably headed up a household of many children, most of whom were still at home, possibly older relatives too, possibly some servants. You were kind of at the peak where people were most likely to notice you. And if you were noticeable on top of that for other reasons, maybe because of of your attitude, maybe because of your religious belief, maybe because of a special skill set that you had. Or maybe because your life had been very difficult and people, and you embodied something that we all fear, which I think is, is kind of a profound truth about that, then you are more
likely to attract the kind of negative attention that could result in a witchcraft trial. Are there any other questions? [Audience member] Was there a behavioral pattern that ran through, rather a thread through the actions of those who were ? incomprehensible ? accused? [Katherine] A behavior pattern? [Audience member] No, in other words, were they all ?nutty? in the same way. [Katherine] Well, most of the people who were accused in the Salem panic especially were kind of, kind of cranks. You know what I mean? They were sort of, they're sort of conspicuous for being grumpy or for being hard to deal with or of being outspoken and opinionated. So I'll give you an example one of the most infamous victims of the Salem Witch Trials was Giles
Corey who I'm sure you guys have heard of and are aware of. He was the one who was crushed with stones. The reason he was crushed to death with stones rather than hanged was because they were trying to force him to enter a plea. He refused to recognize that the the court's authority to try him. And so he refused to enter a plea. And so they couldn't try him because of the way their legal structure worked at that time. And so they tortured him to force him to enter a plea. And instead they, he ended up dying because they heaped stones upon him. Now Giles Corey, it's a pretty tough way to die. But at the same time Giles Corey was a pretty tough guy. He is the one who accused his wife and also some years before the Salem Panic, Giles Corey--it was pretty widely believed that he had murdered one of his servants and he'd gotten away with it. He owned a lot of land. He was a powerful and visible man and he was huge and strong. He was old by the time the Salem Panic happened but he was one of these people who just was very particular and hard to deal with. And so he is a classic
example of why, why the community would have responded to him the way that they did. I don't know if that speaks to your question. Are there any other questions or comments? We have about five minutes left. Yes. Can you use the mike, microphone? [Audience member] I read that witchcraft was much more prevalent in Europe, that there was so many people accused of witchcraft at a certain point that it was just an amazing number. Not like here. Do you know much about that? [Katherine] I do. That is true. In fact witchcraft was a much more widespread problem in the continent, in France and especially in Germany during the Middle Ages than it was in either in England or in our colonies. I think the reason we're so kind of intrigued by it is because by the time witch trials were happening in North America it was unusually late and it had pretty much
burned itself out, to use a rather tasteless turn of phrase, I'm sorry. In, in the, in the continent. But the most notorious witch-finding manual was actually written in Germany. It was written by two Dominican priests named Springer and Kramer and it's called the "Malleus Maleficarum," or the "Hammer of the Witches." And what it is in fact, in fact is a, is an inquisition text and so one of the reasons that witchcraft was more kind of prevalent at that time wasn't through any practice thereof but because of the way of what we term "witchcraft." Witchcraft is a very handy catch-all category for whatever happens to be what we are disagreeing with. And if you read the "Malleus Maleficarum," which was written in 1486, so this is a, this is you know 200 years before we're talking about witches in North America. The kind of description of witches and witch-like behavior is echoed in the language that we
encounter in North America and yet of course the people in North America who are in power are Protestants and are applying that to the sense of othering. It depends on who is in power, if that makes sense. And in fact there's actually a very moving case of a woman in New England whose last name was Glover, who was a Catholic and who was tried for a witch. And one reason it is thought that she was put to death was because she couldn't defend herself because she didn't speak English. She only spoke Irish. She was one of the early Irish immigrants to our country and, and she was too different. She was out of step and she was, she was the other in a sense. And so calling someone a witch is really calling them that which I don't agree with, that which I don't approve of, and that, what that is depends on who's in power who's doing the speaking. Yes. [Audience member] In your mind,
what was the rationale behind the younger girls who had accused others of being witches? Why did they do it? [Katherine] Why did they do it? This is the signal question, I think, that the most kind of profound question about the Salem Panic especially. There are a couple of different theories as to why these young girls, a group of young girls, behaved the way that they did. One of the most maybe infamous explanations, which has been largely discredited by historians but which I will share with you just because my students at BU really loved it. They were like, 'Yeah." Is ergotism. A historian a few years ago hypothesized that the girls might have eaten moldy bread and gotten ergot poisoning, which is a uh, fungus, which when you eat it causes effects similar to LSD--to hallucination. It's an interesting hypothesis but it is largely been set aside for a couple of reasons. One, because it would have affected more townspeople than just the young girls. But two, because the behavior demonstrated by the young girls is not unique to Salem.
In fact there's an infamous case of a possession that was presided over by Cotton Mather in the 1670s. A young servant, again named Elizabeth Knapp, who was possessed by the devil, and some of her behaviors are very similar to the behaviors we see in the afflicted little girls. It's actually very kind of moving to think about and I will share my hypothesis about it. If you look at the description of some of their behavior, there's a famous description of Abigail Williams running around the tavern Ingersoll's Ordinary in her fits, which is the way they put it. She's pulling, she's pulling burning logs out of the fireplace and she's circling the room going, "Wish, wish, wish," at the top of her, at the top of her voice. Some of us some historians have said that it sounds a lot like playing and being silly. And there's another example, when the same Abigail Williams was at church and one of the former ministers of Salem Village was giving a guest lecture--Deodat Lawson was speaking. Abigail Williams stood up and said, "Name your text!" and what she meant was she wanted him to say what
passage of the Bible he was going to be speaking on, and he said what passage it was going to be and she said "Uh, it's a long text." Now this doesn't sound very shocking but let me put it in a different context for you. In a hierarchical society with educated men at the top, especially ministers and theologians, and women in the middle, who do you think is at the bottom? Young girls are at the bottom, especially young girls who are servants. Young girls' responsibilities were to do what they were told by everyone--older siblings, mothers, family friends, certainly all the men in the household. Everyone. If you are a servant and a young girl you were at the very bottom of a very rigid hierarchy. And yet, suddenly, if you're falling into fits, all of these important people are now gathering around you saying, "Oh there, there. Don't worry about it, we're all going to pray for you. We're worried about you. The community cares about you. You don't have to do any of your chores. We're all
just going to tend to you until you feel better." How seductive must that have been to a young girl who was tired and had to work very hard. And so when we look at Abigail Williams, an 11-year-old at the bottom, the very bottom of the social hierarchy, standing up in the meeting and confronting a man at the top of the social hierarchy and saying, "Don't bore us now, Deodat Lawson. We don't want to hear that long text." Can you imagine how appalling that would have been in that culture in that context. It was considered her being in her fits and yet to us it might sound a bit like rebellion, garden variety rebellion, which I think a lot of us could really understand. One of the afflicted girls, and I have to I have to wrap up because I see we're just past 1:00. One of the afflicted girls, Ann Putnam, made a very famous recantation in about 1705. She stood up before her church and apologized and said that they did it for sport. And the other famous recantation happened right here, was
Samuel Sewell who was one of the judges. He didn't stop believing in witchcraft incidentally. He just felt that in the one case of Salem they were deluded. So I'd like to thank you all for coming today. And how did my talk go. Check back later. I hope that you guys will stop by the bookstore downstairs and thank you all for supporting Old, Old South and for joining me today. [Announcer] Thank you, Ms. Howe.
- Old South Meeting House
- WGBH Forum Network
- Contributing Organization
- WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- Katherine Howe discusses how New England's historic past is woven into her work of fiction, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.Scholars of the Salem Witch Trials have long discussed what caused the tragic witchcraft hysteria, but author Katherine Howe asks: What if the magic was real? In her spellbinding new novel, Howe weaves the story of graduate student Connie Goodwan with the tale of Deliverance Dane, accused of practicing "physick" in 1690s Salem.
- Culture & Identity; Health & Science
- Media type
- Moving Image
Speaker2: Howe, Katherine
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: 7b1b7e7c533860bc4e8ffdf419bf004151e1c6b3 (ArtesiaDAM UOI_ID)
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- Chicago: “Old South Meeting House; WGBH Forum Network; The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane,” 2009-10-08, WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 4, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-jq0sq8qp48.
- MLA: “Old South Meeting House; WGBH Forum Network; The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.” 2009-10-08. WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 4, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-jq0sq8qp48>.
- APA: Old South Meeting House; WGBH Forum Network; The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-15-jq0sq8qp48