October 02, 2004



This week, the mails brought The Salem Witch Trials Reader, compiled by Frances Hill, who is also author of A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials and, more recently, Such Men Are Dangerous: The Fanatics of 1692 and 2004. The latter work compares the Puritan judges who condemned 19 men and women to death on charges of witchcraft to the Taliban, the Iranian mullahs, and, of course, the perpetrators of the Beslan massacre, the Bali bombing, the attacks on Madrid, the suicide bombings in Israel, and finally, and most eloquently, those responsible for September 11. I haven't read the book, but I am told that Hill is well aware of the limitations of her metaphor. The Puritans, after all, came to their senses within a year of the beginnings of the witch trials. Those imprisoned and awaiting trial, and some who had been sentenced to death, were freed. Within five years, Salem repented for the witch hysteria and the shedding of innocent blood; Salem's citizens also paid restitution to the relatives of those put to death. Obviously, the fanatics of today have no intention of apologizing for their heinous acts of murder...

...ah, no. In fact, Ms. Hill believes the fanatics of 2004 are members of the current U.S. administration:

The author, well known for her books about the Salem witch trials, finds a close parallel between the Puritan ideologues of 1692 and the neoconservative ideologues who hold power in America today. In side-by-side accounts, Hill re-tells the story of the witch trials and American history subsequent to September 11, 2001, showing chilling similarities in the men who hold leadership positions and their pursuit of personal power and wealth.

Right. Because, just like there weren't any witches in Salem, there aren't any terrorists today, and Sept. 11 was just a figment of our imagination.


Posted by Ideofact at October 2, 2004 11:54 PM

But don't you know that September 11th was a joint CIA/Mossad operation conducted in order to have an excuse to invade the Middle East and exploit its resources...or something like that.


Posted by: LJ at October 3, 2004 01:31 AM

It's more sort of incidental, but have you read on the Salem Witch trials In the Devil's Snare? And on witch trails in general... oh, I wish I could remember some of the books. But there were significant procedural differences between the Catholic and Protestant versions, if I remember right (and The Night Battles isn't bad, even if I don't agree with the thesis that what can be found is a pan-European pre-Christian religion, really. At least not until the Romans started increasing some of the cultural exchanges, anyway). And the Salem trials violated some previous standards of evidence, in terms of testimony and the like, I seem to recall.

Been ages since I've had the time to read things not related to Japan, though. ;) (Now, books on trials involving black magic in Japan, that I'd like to see, because I do know that it was a fairly serious offense.)

Posted by: kristina at October 3, 2004 08:40 PM

Well, you know what I think about latter-day Puritanism.

Kristina, you don't want to bring Japanese religious history to the attention of Wiccan types. They might find out that Evil Persecutor Christians get burnt as well.

Posted by: Mitch H. at October 4, 2004 01:06 PM

Kristina --

In Salem, the judges accepted spectral evidence (i.e. -- claims by the afflicted to see the spirits of the accused tormenting them) as grounds for conviction. The rule was that spectral evidence was good enough to question someone, but without stronger evidence (and there was some involving some of those convicted at Salem), it couldn't be trusted.

I have read In The Devil's Snare, and found it of interest. As for your question about a pan-European cult, Chadwick Hansen suggests Pan as the devil figure -- he's got it all (horns, fertility god, drinking, music, debauchery).

So what happened to your blog?

Posted by: Bill at October 5, 2004 01:53 AM

Yes, that sounds a bit like what I was trying to remember, about the spectral evidence. The variations between witch trials in various courts was pretty interesting too. There are some cases in Russian history of political sorcery, which when I am back in the states I can look up the citations.

Fortunately, I guess, studies of witchcraft and witch trials are decently popular. I've been nosing around doing a little comparative reading.

Mitch: Wiccan forms of history are sometimes... um. I mean, I have Wiccan friends, so constantly questioning stories of a pan-European mother-goddess cult or numbers batted around for the "burning times" is a little rude, but.... Well, the development of modern Wicca and related systems, and that whole ceremonial magic(k) scene's interesting in and of itself.

I'll have to read Hansen, but Pan... that's definitely Greco-Roman influence there, isn't it? Not so much Indo-European, then.

My blog was... a combination of server failure, lack of time in entering grad school, and then a decided suspicion on the part of people around in terms of that sort of thing. I've contemplated restarting something similar, instead of bugging people over email with (what are effectively) blog entries, but have come to no conclusions.

Posted by: kristina at October 5, 2004 02:43 AM

Your description of the similarity between the madness of witch-trials and the madness of the terrorists is incredibly clear.

I agree, the comparison between Salem witch-hunters and the neo-conservative ideologues is absurd on its face.

Posted by: steve h at October 5, 2004 03:14 PM