Saturday, November 27, 2010

Grandma set ablaze in Alleged Exorcism Attempt | Ghana News, Breaking News, Ghana Sports, Ghana Movies, Ghana Music Entertainment

Grandma set ablaze in Alleged Exorcism Attempt | Ghana News, Breaking News, Ghana Sports, Ghana Movies, Ghana Music Entertainment: "Five people who allegedly tortured and extracted the confessions of witchcraft from Ama Hemmah before drenching her in kerosene and setting her ablaze have been arrested by the Tema Police."

People against torturing witches want the terrorists to win.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

No sequel for Cornerstone Books: Store to close Monday - Beverly, MA - Salem Gazette

No sequel for Cornerstone Books: Store to close Monday - Beverly, MA - Salem Gazette: "Salem, Mass. —
If Cornerstone Books were a novel, the epilogue would be written about this week.

The popular downtown bookseller will shut its doors on Monday, Nov. 1 after about five years of business."

The book business is hard. Big stores and now big websites have the advantage.
I feel for independent store owners. Many in the Maryland area have been helpful to me.
But I've made the most money selling directly off Amazon.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Salem Witch Trials and the War on Terror

From June 1692 until October 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts a special court, called the The Court of Oyer and Terminer, was set up to try people charged with witchcraft. Previously in New England witch trials had been rare occurrences, but that year over one hundred and fifty people had been arrested and twenty were put to death by the court. The trials were later ended by the governor of the colony as it become apparent that injustices had been carried out.

Most people, or at least most Americans, know something about the trials and there is no shortage of theories about why they began and why they ended. They have often been explained as being the result of tainted food causing hallucinations or of a particular Puritan obsession with sin and the devil. However, these explanations fail to satisfy. There is no particular reason to suspect that ergot was responsible for the outbreak of accusations and this theory, a favorite of armchair historians, is generally not acceptable by serious historians as being a major contributor, or even a minor one, to the events that year in Salem. As for the nature of Puritanism itself, unlike other religions, it was not especially mystical or obsessed with fantastical religious occurrences and experiences. There are no reports of religious visitations by saints or gods as is common in other faiths, such as Catholicism. If anything, Puritans tended to be more grounded in the physical world and were concerned about ways to make it better.

That is essentially what makes the witch trials so odd. The Puritans had in a previous generation overthrown the superstitious myth of the divine right of kings, abolished the secret trials of the Star Chamber, outlawed torture in all cases, and had established some level of religious tolerance previously unknown in recent memory in Britain. And while modern Americans and Britons would certainly not feel comfortable living under their Puritan regime, these were not wild-eyed religious zealots, but rather thoughtful men who actually believed in the concepts of justice and law.

The very idea of witch trials would seem absurd to use in the west in the 21st century, but that was not the case in 17th century America. These were men of the pre-enlightenment. They were men of their times. They did not invent the concept of witchcraft. Witchcraft is the world's oldest religion, if one can call it that, and its use to do harm was condemned by all of antiquity. Judaism expressly forbade the use of any divination or witchcraft, whether for good or evil, on the pain of death. Witch trials and persecutions were not unique to the Puritans and were carried out on a much greater scale in Europe, mainly by Catholics and Lutherans. Puritans in New England did not have a history of actively seeking out alleged witches, but only took action when there was an alleged victim.

Prior to the outbreak of the witch trials in Salem, prosecutions were very rare. First, one normally had to have a complaining victim. Although the mere act of forming a Satanic covenant or conjuring spirits was illegal as it had been since the Witchcraft Act of 1604, which was passed under the reign of James I who had a particular obsession with witches (previous laws under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I required a victim or some harm), the authorities did not do stings in order to uncover people practicing witchcraft in the privacy of their homes. Such intrusions into the personal lives of citizens at the time would have been viewed as absurd and tyrannical. And even if a victim did come forward, convictions were hard to obtain. It had been the established rule in English law that in order to convict the court would need the testimony of two witnesses to an act or acts of witchcraft or the confession of the alleged witch, not under duress, along with some other evidence. Acquittals for witchcraft were more common than convictions.

It would be a mistake to argue that there was or is no such thing as witchcraft. The historical record is clear that there were some people who engaged in everything from holistic medicine, divination, the use of of charms, and the cursing of others which often would produce psychosomatic illness in the person if he or she believed in the power of such things. As I argued in my book, Justice at Salem, there were undoubtedly people who were happy to gain a reputation as a suspected witch in order to gain some power over others. Again since convictions, or even charges, were rare, no one in New England would have much to fear from others thinking that he or she might be a witch.

Unfortunately, the Puritans of 1692 weren't much different than us. Circumstances had changed, fears had taken hold, and in their war against evil, the law and justice became victims. I do not think that one can ignore the role that the "early New England 9/11" (as I call it) of the Candlemas Massacre played in the start of the witch trials. During King William's War in January 1692 in the small town of York, Maine, which was then part of Massachusetts, came under attack from native tribes. One hundred or so villagers were murdered, the town was burned to the ground, and the survivor were taken off in bondage, although later freed. These traumatic events, and the other conflicts with the Indians (and French), were well known to the people of Salem. It didn't matter that even more serious crimes against the Indians had been committed by European and British settlers. The Indian lives mattered less to them. The attack against York would not have been seen in any context, but rather just as a Satanic act of terror. They believed that the Indians worshiped the Devil, so when accusations of witchcraft were later made against an Indian slave in Salem and she apparently freely confessed and offered lurid details of her actions, the worst fears of the people appeared to be coming true.

And it is worth noting that by all accounts the average people in Salem were strong supporters of the witch trials and were not troubled by the dropping of the legal standard of two witnesses in order to get convictions. Neither were they bothered by the use of torture, or what the Bush regime would call enhanced interrogation, in order to get convictions from suspected witches. They knew the witches were guilty so all of this was justified. Spectral evidence, previously insufficient to even bring charges, was happily used by judges and jurors to send innocent people to their deaths. In their defense, there was a real fear that the very existence of their community was in threat, from a combination of witches and Indians aligned with the devil. There is no doubt that the external threat from Indians and others was real and was serious. The fact that Tituba, the Indian slave, had confessed and the fact that there appeared to be a strong case against the Reverend Mr. George Burroughs, who may have had some Indian blood in him or at least was dark skinned, certainly left little doubt in the minds of most that this was a serious threat.

What is forgotten by many is that most of the Puritan religious leaders were skeptical that there was a serious outbreak of witchcraft and urged moderation. One of the reasons for the ending of the trials, it is speculated, was the publication of a book by the Reverend Mr. Increase Mather called Cases of Conscience concerning evil spirits personating men, Witchcrafts, infallible Proofs of Guilt in such as are accused with that Crime where he argued that "It were better that ten suspected witches should escape, than that one innocent Person should be Condemned." Mather expressly rejected the idea of convicting people on mere spectral evidence, the testimony that one's image was tormenting others, and instead argued for the return of the previous standard which required actual evidence.

The Puritans took only a few mere months to wake up and to reject the idea that it was better to sacrifice justice and the law in order to achieve security. Even in the midst of threatening times they realized that the witch trials had been a serious mistake. Most of the people involved, including one judge and all of the jurors, later expressed regret and remorse for their actions. Many of the accusers also later asked for forgiveness as well. The people of early New England were not monsters, but rather decent people who acted out of fear, instead of rationality. But it did not take long for them to realize that their civilization was not worth defending if it had to resort to torture, the use of questionable evidence, and abolishment of their legal traditions. One wonders when we will do the same.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Salem Witch Trials Timeline

Sorry I haven't updated this page in a while.
Here is your September timeline. Sorry for the lack of commentary.
See my book, Justice at Salem, for my theories on many of these events.

Salem Witch Trials Timeline: "September 9
Six accused are tried and condemned by the court.
September 16
Giles Corey refuses to stand trial, so the Court of Oyer and Terminer orders the sheriff to pile rocks on him.
September 17
Nine accused are tried and condemned by the court.
September 19
Giles Corey is pressed to death.
September 22
Martha Corey, Mary Easty, Alice Parker, Ann Pudeator, Margaret Scott, Wilmot Reed, Samuel Wardwell and Mary Parker are hanged on Gallows Hill.
Mary Herrick of Wenham, Massachusetts reports that the ghost of Mary Easty appeared to her and proclaimed her innocence of witchcraft."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sarah Good, Sarah Wildes, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, and Rebecca Nurse are tried

The history of the Salem witch trials continued when on June 29, 1692, Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, Sarah Wildes, Sarah Good, and Elizabeth Howe were put on trial for witchcraft.

They were all convicted at trial and were later executed on July 19, 1692.

The case against Sarah Good is documented in my book,
Justice at Salem.
She was on of the first accused by the Indian slave, Tituba, of being a witch.
A younger woman, despite popular misconceptions, she, along with her husband, had a hard time supporting themselves and often had to rely on the charity of others. Good was a angry woman and even when others were generous with her, she responded with bitterness and rage. When someone would give her something to eat, she would often mutter curses over the food, leading many to suspect that she was a witch even before the outbreak of the trials. Cattle and other livestock would often become ill and sometimes die after coming in contact with her. During her deposition during the trials she was caught in several lies and even her own husband thought she was a witch, or soon would become one. It is not hard to imagine why the people of Salem thought she was guilty.

Susannah Martin was also hanged as a witch. Martin, like Bridget Bishop, had previously been accused of witchcraft, although that allegation was not proven in court.

Although she was able to quote the Bible during her trial, something which many common folk thought impossible for a witch to do, the Reverend Mr. Cotton Mather, who did not subscribe to such superstitions, was still convinced of her guilt. In his book, Wonders of the Invisible World, he recounted the evidence against her. Most of it related to spectral evidence of her spirit alleging attacking the victims in the courtroom. Some of it seemed to relate to the people having nightmares that they blamed on her. Other allegations involved harm to livestock and various other threats and the use of occasional supernatural power.

Mather concluded his remarks on Martin by writing:
Note, this Woman was one of the most impudent, scurrilous, wicked Creatures in the World; and she did now throughout her whole Tryal, discover her self to be such an one. Yet when she was asked, what she had to say for her self? Her chief Plea was, That she had lead a most virtuous and holy Life.

Regarding Sarah Wilds or Wildes, Mather had no comment.
The case against Wilds is documented here. Much of it appears spectral in nature, meaning that it ought not to have been enough for a conviction at the time. Much of it is hard to read or follow.

Elizabeth Howe was also condemned. Mather didn't comment on her case either. In his book he tried to document the strongest witchcraft cases and did have doubts about some of the convictions, although not directly expressed.

Under questioning, Howe expressly rejected the witchcraft claim:

What say you to this charge? Here are them that charge you with witchcraft

It it was the last moment I was to live, God knows I am innocent of any thing in this nature
Did not you take notice that now when you lookt upon Mercy Lewis she was struck [down?]
I cannot help it.
You are charged here; what doe you say?
I am innocent of any thing of this nature.
Is this the first time that ever you were accused?
Yes S'r.
Howe had several people come forward and offer character evidence for her, including this elderly woman:

The Deposision of Debory Hadley aged about 70 yeares: this Deponant testifieth & s'h: that I have lived near to Elizabeth How (the wife of James How Junior of Ipswich) 24 year & have found her a Neighbourly woman Conssiencious in her dealing faithfull to her mises & Christian-like in her Conversation so far as I have observed & further saith n't.
The rest of the case against Howe is here and includes the usual spectral allegations and problems with livestock.

Finally, Rebecca Nurse was also condemned. When the jury originally returned they had a verdict of not guilty, but after uproar from the victims, the judges sent the jurors back to reconsider (not an uncommon practice at the time, but would be completely rejected as unfair and illegal in America today) and she was convicted. At her execution, she prayed for her accusers, unlike Sarah Good who cursed them.

The case against Nurse is documented here. Needless to say, it was not overwhelming.
When Ann Putnam, Jr, one of the young accusers later sought to become a full member of her church, she issued a general apology for her role in the trials and expressly apologized for her role in condemning Nurse, who had generally been seen as a nice elderly church lady before she was accused.

The Salem Village Church Record Book recorded the event with this entry:

The confession of Anne Putnam when she was received to communion: 1706.

I desire to be humbled before God for yt sad and humbling providence that befell my fathers family in the year about 92, yt I then being in my childhood should by such a providence of God be made an instrument for yt accuseing of severall persons of a grievous crime wherby their lives were taken away from them, whom now I have just grounds and good reason to believe they were innocent persons, and yt it was a great delusion of Satan yt deceived me in that sad time, whereby I justly fear I have been instrumental with others tho' ignorantly and unwittingly to bring upon myself & this land the guilt of innocent blood Though what was said or done by me against any person I can truly and uprightly say before God & man I did it not out of any anger, malice, or illwill to any person for I had no such thing against one of them; but what I did was ignorantly being deluded by Satan. And particularly as I was a chief instrument of accuseing of Goodwife Nurse and her two sisters I desire to lye in the dust & to be humbled for it in that I was a cause with others of so sad a calamity to them & their familys, for which cause I desire to lye in ye dust & earnestly begg fforgiveness of God & from all those unto whom have given just cause of sorrow & offence, whose relations were taken away or accused.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hex Appeal - Magazine - The Atlantic

According to this article in The Atlantic Hex Appeal - Magazine - The Atlantic people are regularly charged and convicted of witchcraft in Africa and receive light sentences. The main reason for this is apparently they fear that without prosecution the common people will lynch suspected witches. Perhaps it never occurred to them to stop this insanity and just stop and prosecute anyone who participates in lynching.

In my book about the witch trials, I pointed out that the common people of New England generally supported the witch trials and it was the elite who were skeptical of the claims. Eventually the elite put an end to the persecutions.

Wednesday's Witches: World Cup, Salem, and Burkittsville witchery!

Wednesday's Witches: World Cup, Salem, and Burkittsville witchery!: "Bishop Isaac Nonyane, a South African 'witch doctor,' has claimed that Australian footballer Harry Kewell's groin injuries and other health problems are due to 'malicious spirits.' The Bishop recommends prayer"

Prayer of course was the cure originally recommended by Rev. Parris before the start of the Salem witch trials. And it was the cure that usually worked best. Bewitchment was usually caused by suggestion and could be "cured" by it as well.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Religious Establishment Advocated for Restraint - The Return of Several Ministers

Today in the Salem witch timeline:Salem Witch Trials Timeline: "Twelve ministers of the colony advise the court not to rely on spectral evidence for convicting suspected witches."

The document they produced, which was authored by Cotton Mather, was called The Return of Several Ministers Consulted by his Excellency, and the Honorable Council, upon the present Witchcrafts in Salem Village.

It argued for more caution in the prosecution of witchcraft and warned that the Devil may be behind false allegations. Had the judges considered this far fewer people would have been tried. Perhaps there would have been no additional executions.

Many have the view that the religious establishment was behind the witch trials, but the fact is that most ministers were either opposed to the trials outright or were at least skeptical of what was going on.
I address all of this more fully in my book, Justice at Salem.

The document these ministers signed is produced below:

I. The afflicted state of our poor neighbors that are now suffering by molestations from the invisible world, we apprehend so deplorable that we think their condition calls for the utmost help of all persons in their several capacities.

II. We cannot but with all thankfulness acknowledge the success which the merciful God has given unto the sedulous and assiduous endeavours of our honorable rulers to detect the abominable witch- crafts which have been committed in the country, humbly praying that the discovery of these mysterious and mischievous wicked- nesses may be perfected.

III. We judge that in the prosecution of these, and all such witch- crafts, there is need of a very critical and exquisite caution, lest by too much credulity for things received only upon the Devil's authority there be a door opened for a long train of miserable consequences, and Satan get an advantage over us, for we should not be ignorant of his devices.

IV. As in complaints upon witchcrafts there may be Matters of Inquiry which do not amount unto Matters of Presumption, and there may be Matters of Presumption which yet may not be reckoned Matters of Conviction, so 'tis necessary that all proceedings thereabout be managed with an exceeding tenderness towards those that may be complained of, especially if they have been persons formerly of an unblemished reputation.

V. When the first inquiry is made into the circumstances of such as may lie under any just suspicion of witchcrafts, we could wish that there may be admitted as little as is possible of such noise, company, and openness as may too hastily expose them that are examined, and that there may be nothing used as a test for the trial of the suspected the lawfulness whereof may be doubted among the People of Cod, but that the directions given by such judicious writers as Perkins and Bernard be consulted in such a case.

VI. Presumptions whereupon persons may be committed, and, much more, convictions whereupon persons may be condemned as guilty of witchcrafts, ought certainly to be more considerable than barely the accused person being represented by a specter unto the afflicted, inasmuch as 'tis an undoubted and a notorious thing that a Demon may, by God’s permission, appear even to ill purposes in the shape of an innocent, yea, and a virtuous man. Nor can we esteem alterations made in the sufferers by a look or touch of the accused to be an infallible evidence of guilt, but frequently liable to be abused by the Devil's legerdemains.

VII. We know not whether some remarkable affronts given to the Devils by our disbelieving those testimonies whose whole force and strength is from them alone may not put a period unto the progress of the dreadful calamity begun upon us in the accusation of so many persons, whereof we hope some are yet clear from the great transgression laid unto their charge.

VIII. Nevertheless, we cannot but humbly recommend unto the government the speedy and vigorous prosecution of such as have rendered themselves obnoxious, according to the direction given in the Laws of God and the wholesome statutes of the English nation for the detection of witchcraft.

(reprinted in Hansen 123-25)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Lady Gaga Undresses LisaNova at the Salem Witch Trials

Perhaps this will help bring back some interest in the trials:

Lady Gaga Undresses LisaNova at the Salem Witch Trials

Perhaps this will help bring back some interest in the trials:

Google Insights for Search - Web Search Interest: salem witch trials - Worldwide, 2004 - present

Google Insights for Search - Web Search Interest: salem witch trials - Worldwide, 2004 - present

I would love for my book about the Salem witch trials - Justice at Salem to be on the first page whenever anyone searches for "Salem witch trials" on Google, but looking at the Google trends, it appears that the term is being search less and less each year:

I also find it funny how the term is search much more closer to Halloween even though most of the events occurred during the spring and summer.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Bridget Bishop

In 1692, yesterday, June 10, Bridget Bishop was hanged for witchcraft.
She has been incorrectly portrayed as a young woman who was persecuted by the Puritans for wearing provocative red dresses and for running a tavern.
In fact she was a bitter old woman who used her reputation as a witch to get her way. Prior to the Salem witch trials a mere reputation as a potential witch wasn't enough for a conviction. Two witnesses to an act of witchcraft had been the traditional standard for conviction and thus convictions had been very rare in New England.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Salem Witch Trials, Justice at Salem

Justice at Salem is a free ebook about the Salem witch trials. It is also available from

I plan on blogging about related topics, although I don't expect to post as much as I do on my regular blog,

If you would like to contact me just reply with your email address.