Here is a tragic reminder of the Salem Witch Trials.
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.
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."