Monday, June 27, 2022

The Female Witch Myth - Cotton Mather on Witches 1689

 In 1692, at the Salem Village in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Sarah Goode, Sarah Osborne, & Tituba, an Indian slave from Barbados, were charged with the illegal practice of witchcraft. Later that day, Tituba, possibly under coercion, confessed to the crime, encouraging the authorities to seek out more Salem witches.

Just 3 years before this New England minister Cotton Mather (1663-1728) published his 1689 Memorable Providences about witches, which I read in my 1st year of grad school. I thought it was hilarious--the invisible horse was my absolute favorite. I realize that it eats up a lot of room, but once you begin reading it, you might see why I just have to post it.
Cotton Mather 1663-1728

Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions... Written by Cotton Mather, Minister of the Gospel, and Recommended by the Ministers of Boston, and Charleston. Printed at Boston in N. England by R.P. 1689.

Witchcrafts and Possessions.

Section I. There dwells at this time, in the south part of Boston, a sober and pious man, whose Name is John Goodwin, whose Trade is that of a Mason, and whose Wife (to which a Good Report gives a share with him in all the Characters of Vertue) has made him the Father of six (now living) Children. Of these Children, all but the Eldest, who works with his Father at his Calling, and the Youngest, who lives yet upon the Breast of its mother, have laboured under the direful effects of a (no less palpable than) stupendous Witchcraft...

Sect. II. The four Children (whereof the Eldest was about Thirteen, and the youngest was perhaps about a third part so many years of age') had enjoyed a Religious Education, and answered it with a very towardly Ingenuity....

Sect. III. About Midsummer, in the year 1688, the Eldest of these Children, who is a Daughter, saw cause to examine their Washerwoman, upon their missing of some Linnen ' which twas fear'd she had stollen from them; and of what use this linnen might bee to serve the Witchcraft intended, the Theef's Tempter knows! This Laundress was the Daughter of an ignorant and a scandalous old Woman in the Neighbourhood; whose miserable Husband before he died, had sometimes complained of her, that she was undoubtedly a Witch, and that whenever his Head was laid, she would quickly arrive unto the punishments due to such an one. This Woman in her daughters Defence bestow'd very bad Language upon the Girl that put her to the Question; immediately upon which, the poor child became variously indisposed in her health, an visited with strange Fits, beyond those that attend an Epilepsy or a Catalepsy, or those that they call The Diseases of Astonishment.
Sect. IV. It was not long before one of her Sisters, an two of her Brothers, were seized, in Order one after another with Affects' like those that molested her... for one good while, the children were tormented just in the same part of their bodies all at the same time together; and tho they saw and heard not one anothers complaints, tho likewise their pains and sprains were swift like Lightening, yet when (suppose) the Neck, or the Hand, or the Back of one was Rack't, so it was at that instant with t'other too.

Sect. V. The variety of their tortures increased continually... Sometimes they would be Deaf, sometimes Dumb, and sometimes Blind, and often, all this at once. One while their Tongues would be drawn down their Throats; another-while they would be pull'd out upon their Chins, to a prodigious length. They would have their Mouths opened unto such a Wideness, that their Jaws went out of joint; and anon they would clap together again with a Force like that of a strong Spring-Lock. The same would happen to their Shoulder-Blades, and their Elbows, and Hand-wrists, and several of their joints. They would at times ly in a benummed condition and be drawn together as those that are ty'd Neck and Heels;' and presently be stretched out, yea, drawn Backwards, to such a degree that it was fear'd the very skin of their Bellies would have crack'd. They would make most pitteous out-cries, that they were cut with Knives, and struck with Blows that they could not bear. Their Necks would be broken, so that their Neck-bone would seem dissolved unto them that felt after it; and yet on the sudden, it would become, again so stiff that there was no stirring of their Heads; yea, their Heads would be twisted almost round; and if main Force at any time obstructed a dangerous motion which they seem'd to be upon, they would roar exceedingly...

Sect. VI. It was a Religious Family that these Afflictions happened unto; and none but a Religious Contrivance to obtain Releef, would have been welcome to them. ...
Sect. VII. The Report of the Calamities of the Family for which we were thus concerned arrived now unto the ears of the Magistrates, who presently and prudent y apply'd themselves, with a just vigour, to enquire into the story... when she was asked, Whether she believed there was a God? her Answer was too blasphemous and horrible for any Pen of mine to mention. An Experiment was made, Whether she could recite the Lords Prayer; and it was found, that tho clause after clause was most carefully repeated unto her, yet when she said it after them that prompted her, she could not Possibly avoid making Nonsense of it, with some ridiculous Depravations...

Sect. VIII. It was not long before the Witch thus in the Trap, was brought upon her Tryal... Order was given to search the old womans house, from whence there were brought into the Court, several small Images, or Puppets, or Babies, made of Raggs, and stuff't with Goat's hair, and other such Ingredients. When these were produced, the vile Woman acknowledged, that her way to torment the Objects of her malice, was by wetting of her Finger with her Spittle, and streaking of those little Images... when they asked her, What she thought would become of her soul? she reply'd "You ask me, a very solemn Question, and I cannot well tell what to say to it." She own'd her self a Roman Catholick; and could recite her Pater Noster in Latin very readily; but there was one Clause or two alwaies too hard for her, whereof she said, " She could not repeat it, if she might have all the world." In the up-shot, the Doctors returned her Compos Mentis; and Sentence of Death was pass'd upon her.

Sect. IX. Diverse dayes were passed between her being Arraigned and Condemned. In this time one of her Neighbours...had seen Glover sometimes come down her Chimney; That she should remember this, for within this Six years she might have Occasion to declare it. This Hughes now preparing her Testimony, immediately one of her children, a fine boy, well grown towards Youth, was taken ill, just in the same woful and surprising manner that Goodwins children were. One night particularly, The Boy said he saw a Black thing with a Blue Cap in the Room, Tormenting of him; and he complained most bitterly of a Hand put into the Bed, to pull out his Bowels. The next day the mother of the boy went unto Glover, in the Prison, and asked her, Why she tortured her poor lad at such a wicked rate? This Witch replied, that she did it because of wrong done to her self and her daughter. Hughes denied (as well she might) that she had done her any wrong. "Well then," sayes Glover, "Let me see your child and he shall be well again." Glover went on, and told her of her own accord, "I was at your house last night." Sayes Hughes, "In what shape?" Sayes Glover, "As a black thing with a blue Cap." Saye's Hughes, "What did you do there?" Sayes GIover, "with my hand in the Bed I tryed to pull out the boyes Bowels, but I could not..."
Sect. X. While the miserable old Woman was under Condemnation, I did my self twice give a visit unto her. She never denyed the guilt of the Witchcraft charg'd upon her; but she confessed very little about the Circumstances of her Confederacies with the Devils; only, she said, That she us'd to be at meetings, which her Prince and Four more were present at. As for those Four, She told who they were; and for her Prince, her account plainly was, that he was the Devil...

Sect. XI. When this Witch was going to her Execution, she said, the Children should not be relieved by her Death... It came to pass accordingly, That the Three children continued in their Furnace as before, and it grew rather Seven times hotter than it was. All their former Ails pursued them still, with an addition of (tis not easy to tell how many) more, but such as gave more sensible Demonstrations of an Enchantment growing very far towards a Possession by Evil spirits.

Sect. XII. The Children in their Fits would still cry out... the Boy obtain'd at some times a sight of some shapes in the room. There were Three or Four of 'em... A Blow at the place where the Boy beheld the Spectre was alwaies felt by the Boy himself in the part of his Body that answered what might be stricken at; and this tho his Back were turn'd; which was once and again so exactly tried, that there could be no Collusion in the Business. But as a Blow at the Apparition alwaies hurt him, so it alwaies help't him too; for after the Agonies, which a Push or Stab of That had put him to, were over, (as in a minute or 2 they would be) the Boy would have a respite from his Fits a considerable while ' and the Hobgoblins disappear...
Sect. XIII. The Fits of the Children yet more arriv'd unto such Motions as were beyond the Efficacy of any natural Distemper in the World. They would bark at one another like Dogs, and again purr like so many Cats. They would sometimes complain, that they were in a Red-hot Oven, sweating and panting at the same time unreasonably: Anon they would say, Cold water was thrown upon them, at which they would shiver very much. They would cry out of dismal Blowes with great Cudgels laid upon them; and tho' we saw no cudgels nor blowes, yet we could see the Marks left by them in Red Streaks upon their bodies afterward. And one of them would be roasted on an invisible Spit, run into his Mouth, and out at his Foot, he lying, and rolling, and groaning as if it had been so in the most sensible manner in the world; and then he would shriek, that Knives were cutting of him. Sometimes also he would have his head so forcibly, tho not visibly, nail'd unto the Floor, that it was as much as a strong man could do to pull it up. One while they would all be so Limber, that it was judg'd every Bone of them could be bent. Another while they would be so stiff, that not a joint of them could be stir'd. They would sometimes be as though they were mad, and then they would climb over high Fences, beyond the Imagination of them that look'd after them. Yea, They would fly like Geese; and be carried with an incredible Swiftness thro the air, having but just their Toes now and then upon the ground, and their Arms waved like the W'ings of a Bird. One of them, in the House of a kind Neighbour and Gentleman (Mr. Willis) flew the length of the Room, anout 20 foot, and flew just into an Infants high armed Chair; (as tis affirmed) none seeing her feet all the way touch the floor.

Sect. XIV. Many wayes did the Devils take to make the children do mischief both to themselves and others... "They say, I must do such a thing!" Diverse times they went to strike furious Blowes at their tenderest and dearest friends, or to fling them down staires when they had them at the Top, but the warnings from the mouths of the children themselves, would still anticipate what the Devils did intend. They diverse times were very near Burning, or Drowning of themselves...When they were tying their own Neck-clothes, their compelled hands miserably strangled themselves, till perhaps, the standers-by gave some Relief unto them. But if any small Mischief happen'd to be done where they were. as the Tearing or Dirtying of a Garment, the Falling of a C'up, the breaking of a Glass or the like; they would rejoice extremely, and fall into a pleasure and Laughter very extraordinary...

Sect. XV. They were not in a constant Torture for some Weeks, but were a little quiet, unless upon some incidental provocations; upon which the Devils would handle them like Tigres, and wound them in a manner very horrible. Particularly, Upon the least Reproof of their Parents for any unfit thing they said or did, most grievous woful Heart-breaking Agonies would they fall into... It would sometimes cost one of them an Hour or Two to be undrest in the evenin , or drest in the morning. For if any one went to unty a string, or undo a Button about them, or the contrary; they would be twisted into such postures as made the thing impossible. And at Whiles, they would be so managed in their Beds, that no Bed-clothes could for an hour or two be laid upon them; nor could they go to wash their Hands, without having them clasp't so odly together, there was no doing of it. But when their Friends were near tired with Waiting, anon they might do what they would unto them. Whatever Work they were bid to do, they would be so snap't in the member which was to do it, that they with grief still desisted from it. If one ordered them to Rub a clean Table, they were able to do it without any disturbance; if to rub a dirty Table, presently they would with many Torrnents be made uncapable. And sometimes, tho but seldome, they were kept from eating their meals, by having their Teeth sett when they carried any thing unto their Mouthes.

Sect. XVI. But nothing in the World would so discompose them as a Religious Exercise. If there were anv Discourse of God, or Christ, or any of the things which are not seen qnd are eternal, they would be cast into intolerable Anguishes... Once, those two Worthy Ministers Mr. Fisk' and Mr. Thatcher bestowing some gracious Counsils on the Boy, whom they there found at a Neighbours house, he immediately lost his Hearing, so that he heard not one word... Yea, if any one in the Room took up a Bible to look into it, tho the Children could see nothing of it, as being in a croud of Spectators, or having their Faces another way, yet would they be in wonderful Miseries, till the Bible were laid aside...
Sect. XVII...I took the Eldest of them home to my House. The young Woman continued well at our house, for diverse dayes... But on the Twentieth of November in the Fore-noon, she cry'd out, "Ah, They have found me out! I thought it would be so!" and immediately she fell into her fits again. ..

Sect. XVIII. Variety of Tortures now siez'd upon the Girl... she often would cough up a Ball as big as a small Egg, into the side of her Wind-pipe, that would near choak her, till by Stroking and by Drinking it was carried down again. At the beginning of her Fits usually she kept odly Looking up the Chimney, but could not say what she saw. When I bad her Cry to the Lord Jesus for Help, her Teeth were instantly sett; upon which I added, "Yet, child, Look unto Him," and then her Eyes were presently pulled into her head, so farr, that one might have fear'd she should never have us'd them more. When I prayed in the Room, first her Arms were with a strong, tho not seen Force clap't upon her ears; and when her hands were with violence pull'd away, she crted out, " They make such a noise, I cannot hear a word!" She likewise complain'd, that Goody Glover's Chain was upon her- Leg, and when she essay'd to go, her postures were exactly sluch as the chained Witch had before she died...

Sect. XIX. In her ludicrous Fits, one while she would be for Flying; and she would be carried hither and thither, tho not long from the ground, yet so long as to exceed the ordinary power of Nature in our Opinion of it: another-while she would be for Diving, and use the Actions of it towards the Floor, on which, if we had not held her, she would have throwrn her self...
Sect. XX. While she was in her Frolicks I was willing to try, Whether she could read or no; and I found, not only That If she went to read the Bible her Eyes would be strangely twisted and blinded, and her Neck presently broken, but also that if any one else did read the Bible in the Room, tho it were wholly out of her sight, and without the least voice or noise of it, she would be cast into very terrible Agonies...

Sect. XXI. ... A few further Tryals, I confess, I did make; but what the event of 'em was, I shall not relate, because I would not offend...

Sect. XXII. There was another most unaccountable Circumstance which now attended her... Ever now and then, an Invisible Horse would be brought unto her, by those whom she only called, "them," and, "Her Company... "They say, I am a Tell-Tale, and therefore they will not let me see them." Upon this would she give a Spring as one mounting an Horse, and Settling her self in a RidingPosture-she would in her Chair be agitated as one sometimes Ambleing, sometimes Trotting, and sometimes Galloping very furiously...
Sect. XXIII. One of the Spectators once ask'd her, Whether she could not ride up stairs; unto which her Answer was, That she believe'd she could, for her Horse could do very notable things. Accordingly, when her Horse came to her again, to our Admiration she Rode (that is, was tossed as one that rode) up the stairs: there then stood open the Study of one belonging to the Family, into which entring, she stood immediately upon her Feet, and cry'd out, "They are gone; they are gone! They say, that they cannot,-God won't let 'em come here! "

Sect. XXIV. ...Presently upon this her Horse returned, only it pestered her with such ugly paces, that she fell out with her Company, and threatned now to tell all, for their so abusing her. I was going abroad, and she said unto them that were about her, "Mr. M. is gone abroad, my horse won't come back, till he come home; and then I believe"...

Sect. XXV. From this day the power of the Enemy was broken; and the children, though Assaults after this were made upon them, yet were not so cruelly handled as before...

Sect. XXVI. Within a day or two after the Fast, the young Woman had two remarkable Attempts made upon her... Another time, they putt an unseen Rope with a cruel Noose about her Neck, Whereby she was choaked, until she was black in the Face; and though it was taken off before it had kill'd her, yet there were the red Marks of it, and of a Finger and a Thumb near it, remaining to be seen for a while afterwards.

Sect. XXVII. This was the last Molestation that they gave her for a While...

Sect. XXVIII. ... I was in Latin telling some young Gentlemen of the Colledge, That if I should bid her Look to God, her Eyes would be put out, upon which her eyes were presently served so. I was in some surprize, When I saw that her Troublers understood Latin, and it made me willing to try a little more of their Capacity. We continually found, that if an English Bible were in any part of the Room seriously look'd into, though she saw and heard nothing of it, she would immediately be in very dismal Agonies.

Sect. XXIX. Devotion was now, as formerly, the terriblest of all the provocations that could be given her...During the time of Reading, she would be laid as one fast asleep; but when Prayer was begun, the Devils would still throw her on the Floor, at the feet of him that prayed. There would she lye and Whistle and sing and roar, to drown the voice of the Prayer; but that being a little too audible for Them, they would shutt close her Mouth and her ears, and yet make such odd noises in her Threat as that she her self could not hear our Cries to God for her. Shee'd also fetch very terrible Blowes with her Fist, and Kicks with her Foot at the man that prayed; but still (for he had bid that none should hinder her) hei, Fist and Foot would alwaies recoil, when they came within a few hairs breadths of him just as if Rebounding against a Wall; so that she touch'd him not, but then would beg hard of other people to strike him, and particularly she entreated them to take the Tongs and smite him; Which not being done, she cryed out of him, "He has wounded me in the Head." But before Prayer was out, she would be laid for Dead, wholly sensless and (unless to a severe Trial) Breathless; with her Belly swelled like a Drum, and sometimes with croaking Noises in it; thus would she ly, most exactly with the stiffness and posture of one that had been two Days laid out for Dead...When Prayer was ended, she would Revive in a minute or two, and continue as Frolicksome as before.

Sect. XXX. After this, we had no more such entertainments. The Demons it may be would once or twice in a Week trouble her for a few minutes with perhaps a twisting and a twinkling of her eyes, or a certain Cough which did seem to be more than ordinary...

Sect. XXXI. ...We could cheat them when we spoke one thing, and mean't another. This was found when the Children were to be undressed. The Devils would still in wayes beyond the Force of any Imposture, wonderfully twist the part that was to be undress't, so that there was no coming at it. But, if we said, untye his neckcloth, and the parties bidden, at the same time, understood our intent to be, unty his Shooe! The Neckcloth, and not the shooe, has been made strangely inaccessible...

Sect. XXXII. The Last Fit that the young Woman had, was very peculiar. The Daemons having once again seiz'd her, they made her pretend to be Dying; and Dying truly we fear'd at last she was: She lay, she tossed, she pull'd just like one Dying, and urged hard for some one to dy with her, seeming loth to dy alone... Anon, the Fit went over; and as I guessed it would be, it was the last Fit she had at our House...

Sect. XXXIII. This is the Story of Goodwins Children, a Story all made up of Wonders! I have related nothing but what I judge to be true. I was my self an Eye-witness to a large part of what I tell...

Following the publication of Mather's 1689 treatise, the 1692 hysteria in the small Puritan community of Salem began when 9-year-old Elizabeth Parris & 11-year-old Abigail Williams, the daughter & niece of the Reverend Samuel Parris, began experiencing fits & other mysterious maladies. A doctor concluded that the children were suffering from the effects of witchcraft, & the young girls corroborated the doctor's diagnosis. With encouragement from a number of adults in the community, the girls, who were soon joined by other "afflicted" Salem residents, accused a widening circle of local residents of witchcraft, mostly middle-aged women but also several men and even one four-year-old child. During the next few months, the afflicted area residents incriminated more than 150 women & men from Salem Village and the surrounding areas of Satanic practices.

In June 1692, the special Court of Oyer, "to hear," & Terminer, "to decide," convened in Salem under Chief Justice William Stoughton to judge the accused. The first to be tried was Bridget Bishop of Salem, who was found guilty & executed by hanging on June 10. Thirteen more women & 4 men from all stations of life followed her to the gallows; & one man, Giles Corey, was executed by crushing. Most of those tried were condemned on the basis of the witnesses' behavior during the actual proceedings, characterized by fits & hallucinations that were argued to be caused by the defendants on trial.

In October 1692, Governor William Phipps of Massachusetts ordered the Court of Oyer and Terminer dissolved & replaced with the Superior Court of Judicature, which forbade the type of sensational testimony allowed in the earlier trials. Executions ceased, & the Superior Court eventually released all those awaiting trial and pardoned those sentenced to death. The Salem witch trials, which resulted in the executions of 19 innocent women & men, had effectively ended.

Note:
The Female Witch Myth was strengthened by English Jurist Matthew Hale (1609-1676), whose writings & court rulings on women were/are far-reaching & long-lasting. In 1662, he was involved in one of the most notorious of the 17C English witchcraft trials, where he sentenced 2 women to death for being witches. The judgment of Hale in this case was extremely influential in future cases in England & in the British American colonies, & was used in the 1692 Salem witch trials to justify the forfeiture of the accused's lands. As late as 1664, Hale used the argument that the existence of laws against witches is proof that witches exist.

Perhaps English Jurist Matthew Hale (1609-1676) read Malleus Maleficarum 1486 (translated by Montague Summers 1928 - see Google Books) Written in Latin & first submitted to the University of Cologne on May 9th, 1487, the title is translated as "The Hammer of Witches." Written in 1486 by Austrian priest Heinrich Kramer (also Kraemer) & German priest Jakob (also James) Sprenger, at the request of Pope Innocent VIII. As the main justification for persecution of witches, the authors relied on a brief passage in the Bible (the book of Exodus, chapter 22, verse 18), which states: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." The Malleus remained in use for 300 years. It had tremendous influence in the witch trials in England & her North American colonies, & on the European continent. 

The Malleus was used as a judicial case-book for the detection & persecution of witches, specifying rules of evidence & the canonical procedures by which suspected witches were tortured & put to death. Thousands of people (primarily women) were judicially murdered as a result of the procedures described in the book because of having a strange birthmark, living alone, mental illness, cultivating medicinal herbs, or simply because they were falsely accused (often for financial gain by the accuser). The Malleus serves as a chilling warning of what happens when intolerance takes over a society.