What better way to celebrate Good Friday and Easter than talking all about my latest read, The Witches by Stacy Schiff, A rollicking good romp about pacts with Satan, possession, and the brutal execution of innocents. Happy Easter!
Schiff’s book is a hefty historical look at the Salem witch trials that I was saving for a some time off. Yup, that’s about as crazy as all my spring breaks get. Reading a nice thick historical nonfiction book I like is truly the most hedonistic act of debauchery I can think of for my college party times.
I was in good company reading this book though because that meant I got to get an in depth analysis of what New England Puritans thought a pact with Satan would entail. Their wildest dreams of Satanic indulgences usually involved getting a nice new dress, and maybe a trip to Europe, or a strange, exotic witch familiar, like a yellow canary, in exchange for their immortal soul. If Satan really had been running around New England back then, I think he would feel like those guys from Pawn Stars, smirking at the camera after getting a schmuck to sell the Declaration of Independence for ten dollars.
Schiff combed through just about every record and period source she could to find out everything about the trials, down to the really human elements, the stuff that really weirds people out and also makes them want to come back time and again to this event.
We see neighbors build up tension with petty rivals in a small rural town that traps everyone together in a puritan lifestyle and no outlet for their growing rivalries, until they get to blame everyone they hate for “witchcraft.” As much as you want to blame the super strict puritan lifestyle these guys had and their strict religious beliefs for this literal witch hunt, when you read Schiff’s story and the research backing it up, what really comes across is how the hate, fear and conviction are all incredibly human drives that could capture us just as easily today as they did in 1692. For proof, look no further than any news coverage whatsoever of the primaries and upcoming election. The timing was just too perfect for me to deny the evidence right before my eyes that we haven’t evolved much as a people from the fearful, finger pointing mob we find in the Salem witch trials. Not to sound too pessimistic of the United State’s future or anything, but reading Schiff’s book made me feel a connection to the past in an all too authentic way.
As much as I didn’t understand why those puritans all wanted yellow canaries as demonic familiars or what caused the crazy hallucinations of demonic dogs and monkey men, (not when Mountain Dew wouldn’t exist for another couple centuries,) I still connected very personally to the motives that lead to this violent historical event.
So yeah, that’s my spring break so far. You jelly? Jelly enough to declare me a most horrible and evil witch in a New England court hearing? Don’t, please. Please just check out Schiff’s book The Witches instead.