Tag Archives: Salem Witch Trials

Frances Hill – A Delusion of Satan (1995)

89522I love reading about the Salem witch trials. Obviously anything to do with witchcraft will seem intriguing and is easily sensationalized, but the trials, because the were so confined to a specific time and place make them so interesting to study. Why Salem? Why 1692? These are questions that have bothered American historians. While many are apt to pass over the witch trials or view them as simply an anomaly in American history, there are a number of scholars who have attempted to give this event a significant amount of attention.

Frances Hill’s book is one of the better accounts that I’ve read. For those unfamiliar with the trials, the historical record is shaky at best, and absolutely impossible to get through at its worst. There are so many families involved, many sharing names and way too many people to keep track of. Factor in the debts owed and the grudges held and wading through the history of the Salem witch trials becomes a giant mess. Hill does a good job however, writing clearly and focusing on the prominent community members so the reader does not get lost.

What was especially interesting was Hill’s ideas about what started the whole paranoia about witches. As most know, the panic started when a number of teenage girls appeared hysterical and claimed to be possessed by other women in the community. Hill blames this on the nature of their existence. Growing up in the Puritan faith would have caused young people a great deal of stress and anxiety. While boys had a physical outlet for these feelings (it was permissible for boys to play outside, fight, etc), girls had no such way of dealing with these emotions. Hill believes the mass hysteria that gripped teenage girls in the community was a result of this. They blamed women who were outcasts in society to begin with and as Hill points out, this episode became one of the first episodes of women-on-women bullying.

It is definitely a feminist perspective on the whole episode in Salem, but seeing as the trials involved a majority of women (only one man was convicted of witchcraft), viewing it through a feminist lense is not off base. Hill does a great job in dealing with this very interesting, but aso muddled subject.

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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