Witches Essay Research Paper Witches

Witches Essay, Research Paper


American history has few subjects as interesting as witchcraft, because

it confronts us with many Ideas about women. It confronts us with fears about

women, the place of women in society, and with women themselves. Also, it

confronts us with violence against women and how the problems of society were

often blamed on women. Even though some men were executed as during periods of

witch hunting, witches were generally thought of as women and most who died in

the name of witchcraft were women. In the United States, witchcraft took place

among too educated of people to dismiss it as mere “superstition.” (P.10)

The first person that was executed, as a witch, in America was Margaret

Jones, in 1648. Jones was a midwife and lay healer, who was accused of several

different practices. Minister John Hale, who witnessed Jones’s hanging in Boston

when he was a boy, later said that she “was suspected partly because that after

some angry words passing between her and her Neighbors, some mischief befell

such neighbors in their Creatures, or the like: [and] partly because some things

supposed to be bewitched, or have a Charm upon them, being burned, she came to

the fire and seemed concerned.” (P.20) Hale included neither of these charges in

his list of the evidence presented against Jones, but suggested that the crimes

had to do with her medical practice. She was accused of having a “malignant

touch,” Hale noted, and her medicines were said to have “extraordinary violent

effects.” When people refused to take her medical advice, he added, “their

diseases and hurts continued, with relapse against the ordinary course, and

beyond the apprehension of all physicians and surgeons.”(P.21) Hale also

mentioned that Jones was believed to possess psychic powers: “some things which

she foretold came to pass accordingly; other things she could tell of … she

had no ordinary means to come to the knowledge of.”(P.20) John Hale pointed out

that several of Jones’s neighbors tried to get her to confess and repent. One

of them, he said, “prayed her to consider if God did not bring this punishment

upon her for some other crime, and asked, if she had not been guilty of stealing

many years ago.” (P.22)Jones admitted the theft, but she refused to accept it as

a reason for her conviction as a witch. Hale’s writings, on the other hand,

showed that stealing, and other crimes such as fornication and infanticide, were

regularly associated with witchcraft, by both the clergy and the larger

population . . . ” (p. 22)

This first account, in Karlsens’ study, brings to the surface some of

the community’s views of witchcraft. Most of the society of the time believed in

witches, and those who did not were usually suspected of being one. Additionally,

colonists had two differing views of witches. Some believed that witches were

simply criminals that worked in supernatural ways that were threats to their

neighbors. But more interesting, was the view of the clergy, and specifically

the Puritan church. They saw witches as not only enemies of their neighbors,

but also enemies of God. They believed that witches had entered into an evil

contract with the Devil, in which they would recruit others to destroy the

Puritan churches. Without significant support for at least one of the views, the

accuser in some cases could be brought up on slander charges. When both views

had support, the accused person was likely to be declared a witch. Then they

were considered an enemy of the New England society and the Puritan Faith.

Additionally, when both of these views were very intense, the accusations would

multiply and would effect the lives of not just one or two, but many.

Many of the societies problems were often blamed on witchcraft. The

witches in New England were said to be able to harm others in supernatural ways,

so major illnesses were often blamed on them. Also, people believed witches had

powers over animals and crops. They were often accused for bad harvests and

livestock dying. They were also commonly blamed for miscarriages, non-conception,

and birth-defects. Another problem that was explained with witch craft was the

problems of lunacy. Lunatics were believed to be crazy because a witch had

possessed them.

Although, women were generally accused of being a witch for causing harm

to others, some were actually accused of witchcraft for helping cure illnesses

that doctors could not. Even though they did some good, people strongly believed

that they received their powers from Satan. In return Satan would give her

worldly desires, and the witch would use the powers, given to her, to help his

efforts to overcome the Kingdom of Christ. Some witches would tell fortunes by

looking into a glass ball or an egg. Another belief, was that witches had imps.

Imps were some kind of demonic animal that nourished itself on the witch and

would perform evil acts at her command. Likewise, it was a belief that they

could turn themselves into animals in order to carry out Satan’s evil deeds

without being recognized.

Although there were a few men executed as witches, witchcraft was

generally associated with women. There were 344 persons accused of being witches

in America. Two-hundred and sixty-seven were female and 75 were male (p. 47).

The majority of the women that were accused either were widows or had never been

married. Other women that were accused were most likely related to someone who

was already determined to be a witch. The men that were accused were usually the

husbands of a confirmed witch. Women were generally more likely to be confirmed

a witch, because men were the ones who would judge them. Another factor that

contributed to accusing women of being witches was, during this time in our

history women had practically no voice in society. Men received vastly different

treatment. For example, one man confessed to being a witch and the court ordered

that he was to be whipped and fined for “telling a lie”(p.59). Although there

were many women who were executed, there were only 12 men who were confirmed to

be witches and put to death. Most often, accused persons were likely to be

tortured until they would confess. Women were more likely to confess under the

torture. They did not have as much to loose, because most often they had no land

or wealth. Men were more likely to be land owners and generally held more wealth.

Some of the men were tortured to death. Most of the never admitted guilt,

because, their land would be stripped from their families. One man was tortured

by a method called pressing. During this torture, the person is strapped down

and weights are placed on the person. As the torture goes on, more and more

weight is placed on the person. This happened to this man for two days until it

finally killed him. Even though his pain must have been great, he never admitted

guilt, for fear of losing his land for his children.

Another factor that lead to the accusation of a witch was economics. It

was not uncommon for women in families without male heirs to be accused of

witchcraft shortly after the deaths of fathers, husbands, brothers, or sons.

This would happen because these women were part of a society with an inheritance

system designed to keep property in the hands of men. Decade by decade this

pattern continued. Most of the women who were accused committed no real crimes.

They were simply the victims of their society, who stood in the way of the

orderly exchange of property from on generation of males to the next.

Yet another factor that led to the accusations of some women of being

witches, was adultery. Women were often held responsible for adultery. The man

adulterer would often receive little or no punishment. Women however, were often

whipped and humiliated. The women were also expected to bear the consequences of

the fornication. Meaning, that if pregnancy resulted from the adultery, the

women would bear the financial responsibility of raising the child as well as

the humiliation. Women were held more accountable then men, because it was

believed that the women would entice the men into bed with them. Much like Eve

enticed Adam to eat the apple. One Puritan minister said, “adultery is one of

Satan’s whorish acts.”(P.209) Because of these beliefs, women who committed

adultery were likely to be accused of witchcraft.

The end of the serious outbreaks, of witchcraft accusations, can be

attributed to the “Enlightment” thinking and some new views of womanhood. The

development of scientific and reasonable thinking was spreading throughout the

educated community and some of New Englands more prominent figures started to

become more reasonable. Along with the “Enlightment” thinking, a new view of

womanhood expressed the fears and goals of an emerging industrial society. This

view of woman hood viewed the women as the morally pure. This view depicted that

all women (white middle and upper class women) were good. Now evil in women

seemed to be formed by race. These women were now viewed as having the

characteristics of the witch. To be a real woman was to use their influence to

protect domestication. Acceptance of this thinking assured the white women of

the middle and upper classes that they were not evil.

Overall, witchcraft effecting mainly women in America was portrayed

rather effectively in The Devil in the Shape of a Woman in many ways. First, I

was impressed by the many statistical elements that Carol F. Karlsen acquired

and added to her book. Many of these statistics complimented her idea that women

were the main targets of witchcraft accusations. The stats also did a good job

of convincing me of that idea. Next, I found it fascinating that Karlsen took

more of a documentary approach her study. She detailed events taken from a

numerous collection of stories and then put them into chronological order. She

added things such as the religious ideology and economics of the times to

strengthen her arguments. I was especially amazed by how much political power

the Puritan church had, more specifically, the males in the Puritan church.

Another interesting idea she had was that some of the accused witches were

accused simply as a conspiracy to steal their wealth. Although, I agreed with

the rest of her arguments, I found this one hard to believe. I do not think that

the people of that time were so ignorant that they could not see a conspiracy as

shallow as that. Finally , the stories in her study were absolutely fascinating.

I think what made these stories more fascinating to me was the fact that all

these stories are true. This book made me realize just how much women have

achieved in our society since the days of witchcraft accusations. Also, it gave

me a insight into what it would have been like to live through this tough era in

our history.



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