Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Americans Handled their Witchcraze Better than Europeans

New Criterion
"In Witchcraft at Salem (1969), for example, Chadwick Hansen offered the first balanced, comparative account of the Salem episode. He showed that by seventeenth-century standards the evidence that supernatural crimes were being committed was overwhelming. There were practicing witches in New England—people who believed themselves in contact with the invisible world and able to harness it to do harm to others. Moreover, those who imagined themselves to be victims of the witches were truly “possessed.” This is to say that they suffered genuine torments, and that most of them honestly believed these to be administered by witches. Their fits were accompanied by physical symptoms that included the spontaneous appearance of physical marks exactly where they felt themselves being pricked. Their symptoms and behavior, Hansen showed, were typical of modern cases of extreme hysteria observed under clinical conditions.
Yet the New England courts, despite the apparently unmistakable evidences of witchcraft set before them, consistently acquitted far more witches than they convicted. Fifty people confessed to being witches in Salem, but thirty of them were never convicted (in the end twenty out of hundreds accused were found guilty and executed). Outside of Salem, sixteen witches were executed in America during the seventeenth century, and none thereafter. In France during the same period, Hansen pointed out, “approximately nine hundred witches were burned in the single city of Bamber, and approximately five thousand in the single province of Alsace.” It can be added that by some estimates five hundred thousand people were burned as witches between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries in Europe, most of them being first subjected to dreadful tortures.

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