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Witchcraft in Early America Sharon Block Department of History, Univ of CA, Irvine

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Presentation on theme: "Witchcraft in Early America Sharon Block Department of History, Univ of CA, Irvine"— Presentation transcript:

1 Witchcraft in Early America Sharon Block Department of History, Univ of CA, Irvine

2 Overview How to think about Witches Early Modern European Witchcraft English Witchcraft Salem Witchcraft Trials, 1692 Why and which witches? – (and other historical interpretations) Witches beyond Salem and English Colonies

3 Where do we get our ideas about witches?

4 Why Study Witchcraft? Not about “What really happened?” More about why witchcraft made sense What choices show about society Make the foreign seem understandable Learn to analyze other cultures and beliefs students take as assumed or automatically true critical thinking

5 European Folk beliefs Witch-crafts: affecting daily world White Witches, Cunning Folk Magical rather then religious Worldly, no gods involved Can be men or women, but often women healing

6 European Religious Beliefs Demonological view tied to (high) Christian culture In league with devil Exodus 22:18 “Though shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Leviticus 20:27 “A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.”

7 European Witchcraft Hunt Background Real Belief "fearful abounding at this time in this Countrey, of these detestable slaves of the Divil, the Witches." -- King James VI of Scotland, 1597

8 Malleus Maleficarum Hammer of Witches Published 1487 Heinrich Kramer, German Catholic Proved witches exist How to prosecute witches Influential on continent

9 Witch Hunts in Europe 1500s-1600s (before Salem) Influence of Inquisition State sponsored Holy Roman Empire: Half of Europe, 75% of witchcraft prosecutions Est. 60, ,000 executed – About 50% of prosecuted

10 British Witchcraft Less Roman Catholic influence Minimal torture Jury trial Capital crime Macbeth

11 What made a believable witch? Women – 80-90% of prosecuted Older, poor, needs charity Known to be quarrelsome and aggressive to neighbors (In severe panics, characteristics break down.)

12 Historical Interpretations of European Witch Hunts Economic and Political tensions Religious can prove own godliness Release social tensions over changing society Effort of elites to discipline common people Suppression of women healter?

13 Moving to the New World Increased Religiosity in New England Cultural, Gender, Wartime Stresses "If any Christian (so called) be a Witch, that is, hath, or consulteth with a Familiar Spirit; he or they shall be put to Death.“ (1636, MA)

14 Witchcraft before Salem 103 had been accused in New England, occasionally in clusters. Witchcraft prosecutions in other colonies too About 80% of accused women, usually over 40 years old.

15 Outline of Salem Trials May 1692: Accusations from mostly-orphaned girls that Tituba (Carib Indian slave) in Reverand's household tells future. Leads to girls' possession, accusations of witchcraft. June 1692: Trials begin, 19 hanged, 1 man pressed to death, 100 imprisoned (4 of those die). Governor halts trials when girls accused his wife.

16 Characteristics of New England Witches Grandmothers: Old women, older women most likely to suffer (over 60) Middling classes (unlike England) Argumentative, aggressive, not well liked Women who interrupt orderly flow of property from one male generation to another

17 Why Women? Religious Beliefs Women's believed religious inferiority "the weaker vessel" (1 Peter 3:7) Less rational, less able to restrain selves, more easily persuaded by devil Puritans believe that souls vulnerable through body, so frail female bodies=vulnerable souls Had fewer direct methods for revenge, so resorted to pact with Satan Women confess: believe they are inherently vile v. men who believe committed individual sin

18 Why Women? Social/Economic Evidence Women Who inherit Property (Carol Karlsen) Women without living brothers Women without living sons Social turmoil expressed through regulation of women? Lack of patriarchal help? (Modern Tie-in…)

19 Grace Sherwood, Virginia, : Witchcraft and slander accusations 1701: Grace’s husband dies 1705: Sherwood wins case against Hill family 1705: Hills accuse grace of witchcraft 1706: Fails water & marks test 1714: Petitions for return of property 2006: Gov. Kaine pardon

20 Beyond English Colonies Spanish “black” magic – Young women – Love magic Native American – Witchcraft part of mystical universe, disease, no devil – Some witch hunts African American – Spirits of the dead (Obeah)

21 What is right and wrong?

22 Trial of Susannah Martin Students should be able to identify the characteristics of a witch understand what made community members believe someone is a witch propose alternative explanations for "witch-like" behavior

23 Susannah Martin Handouts Excerpts from The Wonders of the Invisible World Class Play format Original handwritten execution order

24 Death Warrant of Susannah Martin

25 A few final resources Witchcraft. OAH Magazine of History – Great teacher-friendly essays (PDFs provided) – Best collection of primary documents m/witchhistory.html m/witchhistory.html – Good overview of long history of witchcraft Elizabeth Reis, Spellbound – Essays on Salem, Native American witchcraft+


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