Tuesday, 11 March 2014

A delusion of Satan, Frances Hill

In 1953 Arthur Miller wrote his play The crucible. He wanted to comment on the political situation of his time, the witch hunt against communists. To do this he used the historical witch hunt of 1692 in Salem.
For his play, he changed the facts to give his story more impact. A delusion of Satan is a well documented non-fiction account of the Salem witchhunt and it gives a good insight into what happened and why.

In 1692 Massachusetts was a colony of the English crown, but it was a colony in political unrest. The English crown had taken away rights some years earlier and colonists tried to get these rights back, without much result.
In this colony the Puritans (strict Calvinists) were the dominant factor.

Life was hard in those days, sickness and death were always present and many children had to live with relatives because their parents had died. Everything had to be made by hand and luxury was hard to find. And of course, luxury was seen as sinful.

The puritans lived a strict life. Feasts, like Christmas, were not celebrated and the services in the church were long and without joy. The devil was an everyday-reality for most people. Many Puritans saw in the many outbreaks of diseases or the attacks from Indians a sign from God that they were not strict enough in their religious observance.
There were no musical instruments, no games and only religious books telling the reader that Satan was everywhere and each activity was potentially sinful.

Boys had some activities outside, like hunting or working on the land. The girls had no such luck, for them there was only the work inside the house.
According to all kinds of different sources many girls suffered from attacks that made them blind, mute or had them shake uncontrollably. In the 19th century Freud would categorize these attacks as hysterical. Nowadays mass hysteria is very uncommon, because almost all girls and women have enough possibilities to lead a fulfilling life. In the 17th century there were no possibilities for girls. Because the term hysteria or the background of this behavior was unknown, people attributed this to witchcraft.

Within Salem there was not so much Christian love for their brothers and fellow men as you would expect. There was Salem village and Salem town and both places were in bitter fights about land and rights. The Putnam family was a key in these fights. They owned much land, but they wanted more.

The new minister, Samuel Parris did not make things better. He was appointed minister against the will of many people and he antagonized many more with his behaviour, demanding more and more for his church and himself. He and his wife had brought with them a slave from Barbados and most villagers looked upon her as she was a devilish creature. It was under her watch that the girls in the village engaged in some magical rituals like pouring an egg into a glass of water to see the form of their future husbands. 

Out of fear for these sinful, magical rituals and the devil the girls became hysterical, showing the typical behavior of being mute, having fits etc. For the first time in their lives these girls felt important, people listened to them and they were the centre of attention.

The first accusations were for people outside the regular community, like the slave or a beggar. But soon the villagers were also accused and people had to confess or be hanged. The Putnam family played a key role in these accusations, their daughter Ann played a leading part in the group of girls and most of the people who were accused were seen by the Putnams as enemies of the family or they would gain something by getting rid of them.
In total 19 people were hanged because they refused to confess their guilt.

Among the people who survived there were many victims, like Dorcas Good who was accused of being a witch with her mother. Dorcas was send to prison and spend eighteen months in a dark cell, chained to the wall. She was only 4 ½ years old at the time and she went insane. Children lost their parents and family of the convicted had no rights to the inheritance.

In 1706 Ann Putnam made a public apology, saying she was sorry for the role she played and that she believed all people to be innocent. According to her it had all been ‘a delusion of Satan’.

Published in 1995 (new version in 2002)
Pages: 228

2 comments:

  1. How was the writing in this book? Some non-fiction books are a bit slow and tedious, but this one sounds good.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The writing is good, not dry or tedious at all. Very interesting and good background information.

      Kind regards,

      Delete

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