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Halloween Countdown, Day 10

Today's photos are by the brilliant lizziebelle, taken in the burial ground known since 1637 as The Burying Point in Salem, Massachusetts. You can see the rest of her photos from The Burying Point here.

Here is a tragic reminder of the Salem Witch Trials.

DSCN5378


Katherine Howe, author of the adult novel The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and the YA novel Conversion, both about the Salem Witch Trials, also just has edited the brand new Penguin Book of Witches. She recently made this guest post at John Scalzi's Whatever. Here's an excerpt:

On average, the typical accused and executed witch was a woman at middle age—from her 40s to her 60s—who was on the outs with her society in one way or another, usually economically, but maybe personality-wise as well. She was a pain. She was irritating. She made people uncomfortable. She was always begging for something. She was a problem, and she needed to be gotten rid of.

The first person accused as a witch during the Salem episode was a classic example of this. Tituba Indian was a slave in the household of Samuel Parris, the minister in Salem Village. She had come to Salem with him after being enslaved on his failed plantation in Barbados. Tituba was accused by Betty, Samuel’s daughter, of trading her soul to the Devil and using the special powers he granted her to send Betty into “fits.” Tituba confessed, though some historians think that Parris beat the confession out of her, and went on to pass the blame to other women in the community who were vulnerable in similar ways: Sarah Good, who was destitute and begged from door to door, and Sarah Osburn, who had married her handyman and stopped going to church. The idea of “witchcraft” in the colonial period had a lot to do with regulating women, forcing them to comply with cultural ideas of how they were supposed to behave.


DSCN5365 Mrs  Eunice Peele


Next semester (Spring 2015) Katherine Howe will be a visiting writer here at Lenoir-Rhyne University. Very appropriately, the drama department will be performing The Crucible. I will be offering a new and related course for both undergraduate and graduate students at Lenoir-Rhyne to make the most of this happy confluence of events. It will be called "Witch Hunts, Conspiracy Theories, and U.S. Society."

Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
clara_posts
Oct. 10th, 2014 11:23 am (UTC)
I bought the Penguin Book of Witches at the British Museum last week. They have an exhibition of drawings and etchings of witches and sorceresses.
eldritchhobbit
Oct. 11th, 2014 12:37 pm (UTC)
Oh, brilliant! And what a well-timed exhibition. It sounds fascinating.
lizziebelle
Oct. 10th, 2014 11:36 am (UTC)
I will have to look for those books. I'm always fascinated by the history of both witchcraft, and how women have been treated. And thank you for the compliment! <3
eldritchhobbit
Oct. 11th, 2014 12:41 pm (UTC)
I liked The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, but I really loved Conversion, which goes back and forth between the current day and the Salem Witch Trials and makes some very interesting points about how young women were (and are) treated and how conspiracies and scapegoating aren't just issues of the past.

My Penguin Book of Witches is en route, but the excerpts I've seen thus far are really fascinating.
litlover12
Oct. 10th, 2014 01:42 pm (UTC)
Just yesterday I published my review of "Conversion." And then Ms. Howe saw it and retweeted it, sending me into that panicky "oh my gosh I hope I didn't say anything mean that hurt her feelings!!" mode that reviewers get into in such situations. :-) (Even though a retweet might be considered a sign of approval!) I don't think I did, though. I liked the book, but I was writing specifically for Christian parents -- and I said as much in the review -- so I recommended they approach it with discernment.

http://www.breakpoint.org/features-columns/youth-reads/entry/40/26215
eldritchhobbit
Oct. 11th, 2014 12:44 pm (UTC)
Oh, that's a great review! Thanks for sharing it. It's lovely to know Ms. Howe appreciated it, too. I just finished the novel last night, as a matter of fact, and I need to rate/review it on Goodreads. I really appreciated some of the points the book made about scapegoating and how easily today we can be swept up in conspiracies. It's easy to look judgmentally on the mistakes of the past, but I thought Howe did a great job of pointing out that we're not above similarly bad behavior today. As you say in your review, "not as much has changed as we would like to think"!
litlover12
Oct. 13th, 2014 01:31 pm (UTC)
Thanks, I'm so glad you liked it! Yes, I thought that was a really strong point in the book, and it brought a strikingly original perspective to the whole subject of the witch trials. More "this is what we human beings are prone to" and less "this is what our poor benighted slobs of ancestors were prone to." It's so important to remember that humanity is always capable of such things!

Edited at 2014-10-13 01:32 pm (UTC)
whswhs
Oct. 10th, 2014 02:34 pm (UTC)
In the European witch hunts, as I understand it, one of the drivers was that the assets of the accused were seized and turned over to the accusers. Rather like RICO, actually.
eldritchhobbit
Oct. 11th, 2014 12:52 pm (UTC)
Augh, all of the perverse incentives that fueled these tragic events! Apparently the pattern was similar in America. That reminds me of Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables: the New England family patriarch builds the house on land he wanted and finally acquired after falsely accusing the previous owner of witchcraft (for which the poor man was executed).
whswhs
Oct. 11th, 2014 03:12 pm (UTC)
Yes, and the natural targets were people who were (a) somewhat better off then others but (b) not so much better off that accusing them was perilous and (c) socially isolated and unpopular—many of them women but certainly not all. The mechanisms were closely analogous in some ways to those of medieval anti-Semitism. And like it, they seem to embody the ugly side of socialism, the impulse not to help the poor and suffering but to tear down and punish the rich.
byslantedlight
Oct. 10th, 2014 08:43 pm (UTC)
Oh, you remind me that I bought a copy of a book about the Pendle Witches earlier this year - scary scary times... and I am mildly disturbed at myself for having known about the Salem witch trials since I was a little girl, and actually wanting to go and visit Salem on that basis...
eldritchhobbit
Oct. 11th, 2014 01:00 pm (UTC)
Oh, you are so cool! If I'd known you then, I wouldn't been your instant friend. We could've been morbid and bookish little girls together.

My classmate and I competed (and did fairly well, if I do say so myself) with a History Day project on the Salem Witch Trials when we were 'tweens. That was back when the ergot-tainted rye theory was all the rage.

I applaud our mutual mildly disturbing childhoods. :)
ankh_hpl
Oct. 10th, 2014 09:18 pm (UTC)
Halloween & feminism? Talk about two great tastes that taste great together. Thanks for this post, & the book recommendation.
eldritchhobbit
Oct. 11th, 2014 01:00 pm (UTC)
Halloween & feminism? Talk about two great tastes that taste great together.

Ha! Well said indeed, my friend. Well said.

My pleasure! I'm so happy you liked the post.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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