SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Lifestyle

August 9, 2013

New book examines history of American witch phobia

Witch hysteria never died down in America, says Owen Davies, professor of social history at the University of Hertfordshire in England, whose book “America Bewitched, The story of witchcraft after Salem,” was published in May. Davies, who has also written scholarly treatments of paganism, ghosts and books of magic spells, recently answered some questions from the Salem News.

How prevalent was the belief in and accusation of witches in America after 1692?

Numerous commentators during the 19th century considered the persecution of witches to have ended at Salem — bar a few extraordinary instances. The Salem trials were part of a colonial past distant from the enlightened and progressive state of independent America. This was a reassuring story, but completely false. I have found more cases of people being murdered as witches after Salem than were executed officially before 1692.

According to your introduction, accusation of witches was in part renewed by new groups of immigrants. Did they bring their own traditions with them?

The descendants of colonial populations did not lose their fear of witches, and the millions of immigrants from myriad countries brought with them their own beliefs and concerns about witchcraft. I have come across witch assaults and murders in Irish, British, German, Italian, Swedish, Serbian, Mexican, and African-American communities.

What do these beliefs tell you about all the cultures where they occur? Have they changed over time?

Witchcraft beliefs and the persecution of supposed witches during the Salem trials era and beyond seem like another world, aspects of another time unconnected with ours, but they are not. At the heart of witchcraft accusations are fundamental fears, misfortunes, insecurities, uncertainties and personal experiences that people in America experience today.

How did the accusation of witchcraft serve as a cover for racism on the part of accusers after 1692, beyond the Puritan context?

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Lifestyle
  • macaws Vet Connection: Pet birds need training, social interaction and time out of the cage People are fascinated with the big colorful birds on display at Animal Kingdom and wild bird sanctuaries. It's always fascinating to see someone walking down the street with a big-beaked bird on his or her shoulder as a companion. We are all drawn to

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ask Dog Lady: Her little dog is obsessed with food Dear Dog Lady: I have a 3-year-old, long-coated Chihuahua named Mexipep (after a brand of hot sauce). She has many fine attributes -- she's very sweet, not nervous and barky like the short-coated Chihuahuas can be. On the subject of food, however, th

    July 25, 2014

  • howe Book Notes: Local novelist sees ‘conversion’ syndrome in witch trials The parallels between 1692 and today are so close, they're frightening. That's one conclusion you could draw from reading "Conversion," Marblehead resident Katherine Howe's new novel, which compares the world of the Salem Witch Trials to the life of

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • vehicles Quick pick: Festival of vehicles

    Festival of vehicles Take a ride over to the Hamilton-Wenham Public Library for the 16th annual Vehicle Night on Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The festival of fire trucks, emergency vehicles, cruisers and snow plows takes place in the library park

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Friday's Best Bets Best Bets for Friday, July 25

    Looking for something to do today? Here are The Salem News' Best Bets:

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Dear Abby: Tyke becomes a terror when mom takes back her cellphone Dear Abby: When my friend "Fran" and I get together with our kids, they often play games on her cellphone until the battery dies. If she tries to take the phone from her 6-year-old to make a call or recharge the phone, he starts yelling at her, pushe

    July 25, 2014

  • misselwood_2 Rare, classic cars make an appearance at annual Endicott College show

    The original Concours d'Elegance was a fashion show on wheels. "It did start in 17th century France, where some of the aristocracy wanted to show off the fashions they were wearing," said Patrick Cornellison, chairman of the event. "Mainly women woul

    July 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • twenties_3 Ipswich's Castle Hill braces for 1,000 at Roaring '20s Lawn Party

    The latest dance craze started in the 1930s. The Lindy Hop, which first flourished in the ballrooms of Harlem, is expected to draw hundreds of people to a dance floor at the Crane Estate this Sunday. Organized by Boston Swing Central, a dance club in

    July 24, 2014 4 Photos

  • kallyson North Shore entertainment calendar Good cause YARD SALE TO BENEFIT JIMMY FUND. Saturday, July 26, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., 11 Anna Drive, Danvers. Family yard sale with all proceeds benefiting the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk. WOOSHIE'S WARRIORS FUNDRAISER FOR MS. Sunday, July 27, 10 a.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • The reader's eye Name: Erika Torkildsen Hometown: Beverly Description: "I took this at the Salem Common around a park where I noticed a ripped basketball net amid the blue sky. Instead of taking the picture from my original view, I tipped the camera up from under the

    July 24, 2014

NDN Video
Comments Tracker