Marilynne K. Roach – Six Women of Salem

Six Women

Happy Halloween everyone! If you’re looking for interesting things to research this week, the history of witchcraft is simply fascinating.

I decided to read Roach’s Six Women of Salem at the same time that I was watching American Horror Story: Coven. For those of you who don’t know, the third season of AHS follows a modern day Coven of witches. I’m not one for horror movies, but I loved the show. It was slightly more “Pretty-Little Liars” than horror-story but it was still wildly entertaining. (Stevie Knicks guest stars). It was an interesting experience reading a non-fiction account of the Salem Witch Trials and then watching a highly sensationalized version of the events, but it is clear that the writers on the show did their research, and not everything is totally made up.

Studying the Salem Witch Trials is confusing at best, and absolutely chaotic when done poorly. There are too many names and relationships to keep track of, but Roach tried to tame this wilderness by focusing on six main women and splitting the book into three different sections; their life before the witch-hunts; their lives during the trails; the aftermath. Roach beings each chapter with a paragraph long fictional account of each women’s inner monologue, a personal touch and a nice surprise. While some may find this out of place in a non-fiction book, I found it added nicely to the story.

The book is incredibly well researched which is a hard thing to do, as so much evidence from the trials is hearsay or incidental. It is still almost impossible to determine exactly what happened with the trails, and Roach is a brave soul for trying. I would have however, loved to see a bit more speculation on Roach’s part about what she thought the spark was in Salem rather than just dry facts. The causes and lead up to the Salem witch trials are so important to try and understand, but it felt like Roach glossed over them.

Additionally, I also felt like Roach could have brought race into her book a little bit more. Tituba, the slave who was one of the first women accused of practicing witchcraft is one of the Six Women Roach talks about, but the implications of her being a slave and being Black are largely left out of the equation. In contrast American Horror Story makes race a central (although somewhat essentialized and sensationalized) theme in the show. The season takes place in New Orleans and the war between the White Witches or Descendants of Salem and The Might Voodoo Priestess (a very Sassy Angela Basset) plays a pivotal role in the season. The Salem trials took place at a time of very turbulent race relations and the accusations against Tituba, as well as her release, pose some very interesting questions.

Overall Roach does a good job of trying to make sense of the chaos that is the Salem Witch Trials. Anyone interested in the field should read this, as it is one of the most comprehensive accounts out there. Also watch AHS, just not at night.

Rating: 4/5

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