Attitudes Towards Witchcraft

"'Witchcraft is a wicked Arte, serving for the working of wonders, by the assistance of the Devil, so farre forth as God shall in justice permit.'" William Perkins 
(quoted in Weisman, pg. 27)

Charles Folkard, 1931

Witchcraft Cases 1656-1691 in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire Colonies
Demos, pgs. 401-409
Accusation Complaint Presentment/ Indictment  Trial Acquittal Conviction Confession Execution Slander Repeater
17 84 77 57 36 21* 4 16** 26 22
Cases from 1692-1697 outside Salem
Accusation Complaint Presentment/ Indictment Trial Acquittal Conviction Confession Execution Slander Repeater
3 9 9 4 3 1*** 0 0 0 1
Key to tablesevidence of accusation but no recorded action taken; formal steps towards prosecution; appearance before court, precursor to: trial; trial outcome; trial outcome; accused who claimed guilt; capital sentence; legal action taken by suspected witch; suspect previously charged.
*four reversed verdicts; one escaped
**two scheduled for execution escaped
***reprieved
 

In Salem during 1692, one hundred forty-one people had legal action proceeded against them. Forty-seven confessed.  Nineteen were convicted and executed by hanging.  One was pressed to death under stones.  Two died in prison
(Weisman, pgs. 208-218, Hoffer, pgs. 148-149).
"...THE THREE NECESSARY CONCOMITANTS OF WITCHCRAFT...ARE THE DEVIL, A WITCH, AND THE PERMISSION OF ALMIGHTY GOD." 
(Kramer, pg. 1)


Panoramic View of Salem, Bert Poole, 1895, Peabody Essex Museum


Witchcraft was of concern among the common population because of the harm inflicted upon its victim. 
Theologically, participation in witchcraft was most heinous because the witch stood in defiance of God.
Folk belief in witchcraft was an occasion to place responsibility for failure of business, crops, ability to procreate, etc., upon a personal adversary. 
Theologically witchcraft was a sign of divine wrath 
(Weisman, pg. 57-58).
 

"...the cause (then) of this sharpe punishment, is the very making of a league with the Devill...whereby they covenant to use his helpe for the working of wonders" 
(William Perkins quoted in Weisman, pg. 59).
 

To be afflicted by a witch is to have lost control of thoughts and actions, and to be under the influence of evil spirits.
To be possessed is to be controlled directly from the supernatural world, either by Satan himself or his assistant.
The mediation of this control by a witch is bewitchment 
(Weisman, pg. 62).
 

"Among those Judgments of God, which are a great Deep, I suppose few are more unfathomable than this, That pious and holy men suffer sometimes by the Force of horrid Witchcrafts, and hellish Witches are permitted to break through the hedge which our Heavenly Father has made about them that seek Him"
(Cotton Mather, Burr, pg. 131).
 

"But the gracious Party thus accused and abused by a malicious Devil, Prayed earnestly with and for the Possessed creature; after which she confessed that Satan had deluded her...Yea, she said, that the Devil had himself in the likeness and shape of divers tormented her..." 
(Increase Mather, Burr, pg. 23).
 

Increase Mather and Cotton Mather wrote about possession cases where the victim might bark like a dog, bang their head against the wall, burn themselves in the fire and other acts of odd, unexplainable behavior 
(See I. Mather, Remarkable Providences, and C. Mather, Memorable Providences, in Burr, pgs. 1, 203).

 
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