Restoration Movement Rejected: First American Awakening - Second American Awakening - Witchcraft Roots - Chapter One A

The life of the early colonists in New England was such as to give rapid growth to the germs of the doctrine of possession brought from the mother country. Andrew Dickson White shows that diobolic possession and hysteria has always been the product of clergy engaged in warfare to see who is king of the mountain. Modern revivalists depend upon the same mind-altering, change-agent methods to prove that their new paradigm is superior to your old pattern. Both are, at heart, clergy warfare among the shepherds while the sheep get trampled.

While we do not totally understand the casting out of demons in the first century, the Jews and Pagans practiced a form of communication with the dead. While the Witch of Endor could never call up Samuel from the dead, Samuel nevertheless appeared to teach a lesson that the True God can do what witches cannot. And in the case of Jesus, we understand that His miracles were signs of His supernatural power. While the soothsayers of the day could never produce real results, Jesus did so to draw people away from those who claim the power.

White shows that much of what is thought of demon possession in the modern world is the result of treatable illness. However, just as the world gained medical skills, the clergy took up the role of Soothsayer and the Witch of Endor using her "familiar spirit" (a musical-like empty wineskin which produced the booms to go along with the whispers and clangs).

If by the use of mind-control, change-agentry tricks, the audience can be led into even mild hysteria the trickster feels vindicated because his more conservative contenders for billets on the Good Ship Evangelicism cannot produce the same level of "spiritual" excitement.

This competitive spirit to disprove Calvinism of the old fellowship certainly was a motivator at Cane Ridge or any of its modern reincarnations.


Toward the end of the same century similar manifestations began to appear on a large scale in America.

The life of the early colonists in New England was such as to give rapid growth to the germs of the doctrine of possession brought from the mother country.

Surrounded by the dark pine forests;

having as their neighbours Indians, who were more than suspected of being children of Satan;

harassed by wild beasts apparently sent by the powers of evil to torment the elect;

with no varied literature to while away the long winter evenings;

with few amusements save neighbourhood quarrels;

dwelling intently on every text of Scripture which supported their gloomy theology, and adopting its most literal interpretation,

it is not strange that they rapidly developed ideas regarding the darker side of nature.

This fear of witchcraft received a powerful stimulus from the treatises of learned men. Such works, coming from Europe, which was at that time filled with the superstition, acted powerfully upon conscientious preachers, and were brought by them to bear upon the people at large. Naturally, then, throughout the latter half of the seventeenth century we find scattered cases of diabolic possession. At Boston, Springfield, Hartford, Groton, and other towns, cases occurred, and here and there we hear of death-sentences.

In the last quarter of the seventeenth century the fruit of these ideas began to ripen. In the year 1684 Increase Mather published his book, --Remarkable Providences--, laying stress upon diabolic possession and witchcraft. This book, having been sent over to England, exercised an influence there, and came back with the approval of no less a man than Richard Baxter: by this its power at home was increased.

In 1688 a poor family in Boston was afflicted by demons: four children, the eldest thirteen years of age, began leaping and barking like dogs or purring like cats, and complaining of being pricked, pinched, and cut; and, to help the matter, an old Irish woman was tried and executed.

All this belief might have passed away like a troubled dream had it not become incarnate in a strong man. This man was Cotton Mather, the son of Increase Mather. Deeply religious, possessed of excellent abilities, a great scholar,

anxious to promote the welfare of his flock in this world and in the next,

he was far in advance of ecclesiastics generally on nearly all the main questions between science and theology. He came out of his earlier superstition regarding the divine origin of the Hebrew punctuation; he opposed the old theologic idea regarding the taking of interest for money; he favoured inoculation as a preventive of smallpox when a multitude of clergymen and laymen opposed it; he accepted the Newtonian astronomy despite the outcries against its "atheistic tendency"; he took ground against the time-honoured dogma that comets are "signs and wonders."

He had, indeed, some of the defects of his qualities, and among them pedantic vanity, pride of opinion, and love of power; but he was for his time remarkably liberal and undoubtedly sincere. He had thrown off a large part of his father's theology, but one part of it he could not throw off: he was one of the best biblical scholars of his time, and he could not break away from the fact that the sacred Scriptures explicitly recognise witchcraft and demoniacal possession as realities, and enjoin against witchcraft the penalty of death. Therefore it was that in 1689 he published his --Memorable Providences relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions--. The book, according to its title-page, was "recommended by the Ministers of Boston and Charleston," and its stories soon became the familiar reading of men, women, and children throughout New England.

Out of all these causes thus brought to bear upon public opinion began in 1692 a new outbreak of possession, which is one of the most instructive in history.

The Rev. Samuel Parris was the minister of the church in Salem,

and no pope ever had higher ideas of his own infallibility,

no bishop a greater love of ceremony,

no inquisitor a greater passion for prying and spying.[[147]]

Before long Mr. Parris had much upon his hands. Many of his hardy, independent parishioners disliked his ways. Quarrels arose.

Some of the leading men of the congregation were pitted against him.

The previous minister, George Burroughs, had left the germs of troubles and quarrels, and to these were now added new complications arising from the assumptions of Parris.

There were innumerable wranglings and lawsuits;

in fact, all the essential causes for Satanic interference which we saw at work in and about the monastery at Loudun, and especially the turmoil of a petty village where there is no intellectual activity, and where men and women find their chief substitute for it in squabbles, religious, legal, political, social, and personal.

In the darkened atmosphere thus charged with the germs of disease it was suddenly discovered that two young girls in the family of Mr. Parris were possessed of devils: they complained of being pinched, pricked, and cut, fell into strange spasms and made strange speeches--showing the signs of diabolic possession handed down in fireside legends or dwelt upon in popular witch literature--and especially such as had lately been described by Cotton Mather in his book on --Memorable Providences--.

The two girls, having been brought by Mr. Parris and others to tell who had bewitched them, first charged an old Indian woman, and the poor old Indian husband was led to join in the charge.

This at once afforded new scope for the activity of Mr. Parris. Magnifying his office, he immediately began making a great stir in Salem and in the country round about.

Two magistrates were summoned. With them came a crowd, and a court was held at the meeting-house. The scenes which then took place would have been the richest of farces had they not led to events so tragical. The possessed went into spasms at the approach of those charged with witchcraft, and when the poor old men and women attempted to attest their innocence they were overwhelmed with outcries by the possessed, quotations of Scripture by the ministers, and denunciations by the mob.

One especially--Ann Putnam, a child of twelve years--showed great precocity and played a striking part in the performances. The mania spread to other children; and two or three married women also, seeing the great attention paid to the afflicted, and influenced by that epidemic of morbid imitation which science now recognises in all such cases, soon became similarly afflicted, and in their turn made charges against various persons.

The Indian woman was flogged by her master, Mr. Parris, until she confessed relations with Satan; and others were forced or deluded into confession.

These hysterical confessions, the results of unbearable torture, or the reminiscences of dreams, which had been prompted by the witch legends and sermons of the period, embraced such facts as flying through the air to witch gatherings, partaking of witch sacraments, signing a book presented by the devil, and submitting to Satanic baptism.

The possessed had begun with charging their possession upon poor and vagrant old women, but ere long, emboldened by their success, they attacked higher game, struck at some of the foremost people of the region, and did not cease until several of these were condemned to death, and every man, woman, and child brought under a reign of terror. Many fled outright, and one of the foremost citizens of Salem went constantly armed, and kept one of his horses saddled in the stable to flee if brought under accusation.

The hysterical ingenuity of the possessed women grew with their success. They insisted that they saw devils prompting the accused to defend themselves in court. Did one of the accused clasp her hands in despair, the possessed clasped theirs; did the accused, in appealing to Heaven, make any gesture, the possessed simultaneously imitated it; did the accused in weariness drop her head, the possessed dropped theirs, and declared that the witch was trying to break their necks. The court-room resounded with groans, shrieks, prayers, and curses; judges, jury, and people were aghast, and even the accused were sometimes thus led to believe in their own guilt.

Very striking in all these cases was the alloy of frenzy with trickery. In most of the madness there was method.

Sundry witches charged by the possessed had been engaged in controversy with the Salem church people.

Others of the accused had quarrelled with Mr. Parris. Still others had been engaged in old lawsuits against persons more or less connected with the girls. One of the most fearful charges, which cost the life of a noble and lovely woman, arose undoubtedly from her better style of dress and living. Old slumbering neighbourhood or personal quarrels bore in this way a strange fruitage of revenge; for

the cardinal doctrine of a fanatic's creed is that his enemies are the enemies of God.

Any person daring to hint the slightest distrust of the proceedings was in danger of being immediately brought under accusation of a league with Satan. Husbands and children were thus brought to the gallows for daring to disbelieve these charges against their wives and mothers. Some of the clergy were accused for endeavouring to save members of their churches.[[150]]

One poor woman was charged with "giving a look toward the great meeting-house of Salem, and immediately a demon entered the house and tore down a part of it." This cause for the falling of a bit of poorly nailed wainscoting seemed perfectly satisfactory to Dr. Cotton Mather, as well as to the judge and jury, and she was hanged, protesting her innocence.

Still another lady, belonging to one of the most respected families of the region, was charged with the crime of witchcraft. The children were fearfully afflicted whenever she appeared near them.

It seemed never to occur to any one that a bitter old feud between the Rev. Mr. Parris and the family of the accused might have prejudiced the children and directed their attention toward the woman.

No account was made of the fact that her life had been entirely blameless; and yet, in view of the wretched insufficiency of proof, the jury brought in a verdict of not guilty. As they brought in this verdict, all the children began to shriek and scream, until the court committed the monstrous wrong of causing her to be indicted anew. In order to warrant this, the judge referred to one perfectly natural and harmless expression made by the woman when under examination. The jury at last brought her in guilty. She was condemned; and, having been brought into the church heavily ironed, was solemnly excommunicated and delivered over to Satan by the minister. Some good sense still prevailed, and the Governor reprieved her; but ecclesiastical pressure and popular clamour were too powerful. The Governor was induced to recall his reprieve, and she was executed, protesting her innocence and praying for her enemies. [[150b]]

Another typical case was presented.

The Rev. Mr. Burroughs, against whom considerable ill will had been expressed, and whose petty parish quarrel with the powerful Putnam family

had led to his dismissal from his ministry, was named by the possessed as one of those who plagued them, one of the most influential among the afflicted being Ann Putnam. Mr. Burroughs had led a blameless life, the main thing charged against him by the Putnams being that he insisted strenuously that his wife should not go about the parish talking of her own family matters. He was charged with afflicting the children, convicted, and executed. At the last moment he repeated the Lord's Prayer solemnly and fully, which it was supposed that no sorcerer could do, and this, together with his straightforward Christian utterances at the execution, shook the faith of many in the reality of diabolic possession.

Ere long it was known that one of the girls had acknowledged that she had belied some persons who had been executed, and especially Mr. Burroughs, and that she had begged forgiveness; but this for a time availed nothing. Persons who would not confess were tied up and put to a sort of torture which was effective in securing new revelations.

In the case of Giles Corey the horrors of the persecution culminated. Seeing that his doom was certain, and wishing to preserve his family from attainder and their property from confiscation, he refused to plead. Though eighty years of age, he was therefore pressed to death, and when, in his last agonies, his tongue was pressed out of his mouth, the sheriff with his walking-stick thrust it back again.

Everything was made to contribute to the orthodox view of possession. On one occasion, when a cart conveying eight condemned persons to the place of execution stuck fast in the mire, some of the possessed declared that they saw the devil trying to prevent the punishment of his associates. Confessions of witchcraft abounded; but the way in which these confessions were obtained is touchingly exhibited in a statement afterward made by several women.

In explaining the reasons why, when charged with afflicting sick persons, they made a false confession, they said:

"... By reason of that suddain surprizal, we knowing ourselves altogether Innocent of that Crime, we were all exceedingly astonished and amazed, and consternated and affrighted even out of our Reason; and our nearest and dearest Relations, seeing us in that dreadful condition, and knowing our great danger, apprehending that there was no other way to save our lives,... out of tender... pitty perswaded us to confess what we did confess. And indeed that Confession, that it is said we made, was no other than what was suggested to us by some Gentlemen; they telling us, that we were Witches, and they knew it, and we knew it, and they knew that we knew it, which made us think that it was so; and our understanding, our reason, and our faculties almost gone, we were not capable of judging our condition; as also the hard measures they used with us, rendered us uncapable of making our Defence, but said anything and everything which they desired, and most of what we said, was in effect a consenting to what they said...."[[152]]

Case after case, in which hysteria, fanaticism, cruelty, injustice, and trickery played their part, was followed up to the scaffold. In a short time twenty persons had been put to a cruel death, and the number of the accused grew larger and larger. The highest position and the noblest character formed no barrier. Daily the possessed became more bold, more tricky, and more wild. No plea availed anything. In behalf of several women, whose lives had been of the purest and gentlest, petitions were presented, but to no effect. A scriptural text was always ready to aid in the repression of mercy: it was remembered that "Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light," and above all resounded the Old Testament injunction, which had sent such multitudes in Europe to the torture-chamber and the stake, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."

Such clergymen as Noyes, Parris, and Mather, aided by such judges as Stoughton and Hathorn, left nothing undone to stimulate these proceedings. The great Cotton Mather based upon this outbreak of disease thus treated his famous book, --Wonders of the Invisible World--, thanking God for the triumphs over Satan thus gained at Salem; and his book received the approbation of the Governor of the Province, the President of Harvard College, and various eminent theologians in Europe as well as in America.

But, despite such efforts as these, observation, and thought upon observation, which form the beginning of all true science, brought in a new order of things. The people began to fall away. Justice Bradstreet, having committed thirty or forty persons, became aroused to the absurdity of the whole matter; the minister of Andover had the good sense to resist the theological view; even so high a personage as Lady Phips, the wife of the Governor, began to show lenity.

Each of these was, in consequence of this disbelief, charged with collusion with Satan; but such charges seemed now to lose their force.

In the midst of all this delusion and terrorism stood Cotton Mather firm as ever. His efforts to uphold the declining superstition were heroic. But he at last went one step too far. Being himself possessed of a mania for myth-making and wonder-mongering, and having described a case of witchcraft with possibly greater exaggeration than usual, he was confronted by Robert Calef. Calef was a Boston merchant, who appears to have united the good sense of a man of business to considerable shrewdness in observation, power in thought, and love for truth; and he began writing to Mather and others, to show the weak points in the system. Mather, indignant that a person so much his inferior dared dissent from his opinion, at first affected to despise Calef; but, as Calef pressed him more and more closely, Mather denounced him, calling him among other things "A Coal from Hell." All to no purpose: Calef fastened still more firmly upon the flanks of the great theologian. Thought and reason now began to resume their sway.

The possessed having accused certain men held in very high respect, doubts began to dawn upon the community at large. Here was the repetition of that which had set men thinking in the German bishoprics when those under trial for witchcraft there had at last, in their desperation or madness, charged the very bishops and the judges upon the bench with sorcery. The party of reason grew stronger.

The Rev. Mr. Parris was soon put upon the defensive: for some of the possessed began to confess that they had accused people wrongfully. Herculean efforts were made by certain of the clergy and devout laity to support the declining belief, but the more thoughtful turned more and more against it; jurymen prominent in convictions solemnly retracted their verdicts and publicly craved pardon of God and man. Most striking of all was the case of Justice Sewall. A man of the highest character, he had in view of authority deduced from Scripture and the principles laid down by the great English judges, unhesitatingly condemned the accused; but reason now dawned upon him. He looked back and saw the baselessness of the whole proceedings, and made a public statement of his errors. His diary contains many passages showing deep contrition, and ever afterward, to the end of his life, he was wont, on one day in the year, to enter into solitude, and there remain all the day long in fasting, prayer, and penitence.

Chief-Justice Stoughton never yielded. To the last he lamented the "evil spirit of unbelief" which was thwarting the glorious work of freeing New England from demons.

The church of Salem solemnly revoked the excommunications of the condemned and drove Mr. Parris from the pastorate. Cotton Mather passed his last years in groaning over the decline of the faith and the ingratitude of a people for whom he had done so much. Very significant is one of his complaints, since it shows the evolution of a more scientific mode of thought abroad as well as at home: he laments in his diary that English publishers gladly printed Calef's book, but would no longer publish his own, and he declares this "an attack upon the glory of the Lord."

About forty years after the New England epidemic of "possession" occurred another typical series of phenomena in France. In 1727 there died at the French capital a simple and kindly ecclesiastic, the Archdeacon Paris. He had lived a pious, Christian life, and was endeared to multitudes by his charity; unfortunately, he had espoused the doctrine of Jansen on grace and free will, and, though he remained in the Gallican Church, he and those who thought like him were opposed by the Jesuits, and finally condemned by a papal bull.

His remains having been buried in the cemetery of St. Medard, the Jansenists flocked to say their prayers at his grave, and soon miracles began to be wrought there. Ere long they were multiplied. The sick being brought and laid upon the tombstone, many were cured. Wonderful stories were attested by eye-witnesses. The myth-making tendency--the passion for developing, enlarging, and spreading tales of wonder--came into full play and was given free course.

Many thoughtful men satisfied themselves of the truth of these representations. One of the foremost English scholars came over, examined into them, and declared that there could be no doubt as to the reality of the cures.

This state of things continued for about four years, when, in 1731, more violent effects showed themselves. Sundry persons approaching the tomb were thrown into convulsions, hysterics, and catalepsy; these diseases spread, became epidemic, and soon multitudes were similarly afflicted. Both religious parties made the most of these cases. In vain did such great authorities in medical science as Hecquet and Lorry attribute the whole to natural causes: the theologians on both sides declared them Supernatural--the Jansenists attributing them to God, the Jesuits to Satan.

Of late years such cases have been treated in France with much shrewdness. When, about the middle of the present century, the Arab priests in Algiers tried to arouse fanaticism against the French Christians by performing miracles, the French Government, instead of persecuting the priests, sent Robert-Houdin, the most renowned juggler of his time, to the scene of action, and for every Arab miracle Houdin performed two: did an Arab marabout turn a rod into a serpent, Houdin turned his rod into two serpents; and afterward showed the people how he did it.

So, too, at the last International Exposition, the French Government, observing the evil effects produced by the mania for table turning and tipping, took occasion, when a great number of French schoolmasters and teachers were visiting the exposition, to have public lectures given in which all the business of dark closets, hand-tying, materialization of spirits, presenting the faces of the departed, and ghostly portraiture was fully performed by professional mountebanks, and afterward as fully explained.

So in this case. The Government simply ordered the gate of the cemetery to be locked, and when the crowd could no longer approach the tomb the miracles ceased. A little Parisian ridicule helped to end the matter. A wag wrote up over the gate of the cemetery.

"De par le Roi, defense a Dieu De faire des miracles dans ce lieu"--

which, being translated from doggerel French into doggerel English, is--

"By order of the king, the Lord must forbear To work any more of his miracles here."

But the theological spirit remained powerful. The French Revolution had not then intervened to bring it under healthy limits. The agitation was maintained, and, though the miracles and cases of possession were stopped in the cemetery, it spread. Again full course was given to myth-making and the retailing of wonders. It was said that men had allowed themselves to be roasted before slow fires, and had been afterward found uninjured; that some had enormous weights piled upon them, but had supernatural powers of resistance given them; and that, in one case, a voluntary crucifixion had taken place.

This agitation was long, troublesome, and no doubt robbed many temporarily or permanently of such little brains as they possessed. It was only when the violence had become an old story and the charm of novelty had entirely worn off, and the afflicted found themselves no longer regarded with especial interest, that the epidemic died away.[[156]]

But in Germany at that time the outcome of this belief was far more cruel. In 1749 Maria Renata Singer, sub-prioress of a convent at Wurzburg, was charged with bewitching her fellow-nuns. There was the usual story--the same essential facts as at Loudun--women shut up against their will, dreams of Satan disguised as a young man, petty jealousies, spites, quarrels, mysterious uproar, trickery, utensils thrown about in a way not to be accounted for, hysterical shrieking and convulsions, and, finally, the torture, confession, and execution of the supposed culprit.[[157]]

Various epidemics of this sort broke out from time to time in other parts of the world, though happily, as modern skepticism prevailed, with less cruel results.

In 1760 some congregations of Calvinistic Methodists in Wales became so fervent that they began leaping for joy. The mania spread, and gave rise to a sect called the "Jumpers." A similar outbreak took place afterward in England, and has been repeated at various times and places since in our own country.[[157b]]

In 1780 came another outbreak in France; but this time it was not the Jansenists who were affected, but the strictly orthodox. A large number of young girls between twelve and nineteen years of age, having been brought together at the church of St. Roch, in Paris, with preaching and ceremonies calculated to arouse hysterics, one of them fell into convulsions. Immediately other children were similarly taken, until some fifty or sixty were engaged in the same antics. This mania spread to other churches and gatherings, proved very troublesome, and in some cases led to results especially painful.

About the same period came a similar outbreak among the Protestants of the Shetland Isles. A woman having been seized with convulsions at church, the disease spread to others, mainly women, who fell into the usual contortions and wild shriekings.

A very effective cure proved to be a threat to plunge the diseased into a neighbouring pond.

Witchcraft and Revivalism Section One

Witchcraft and Revivalism Section One-A

Witchcraft and Revivalism Section Two

Witchcraft and Revivalism Section Three

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