Salem Witches Were Hanged.--The witches of our own New England were largely the development of too-serious interpretations of Biblical law and injunction; actually, by law, authorities (under pressure of the church leaders) took numerous lives of innocent people.
Religion Cause of the Troubles.--One can hardly picture witchcraft conditions in those early days as being so serious that nearly every man, woman and child, and everything in the catalog of human knowledge was suspected of being a witch, or in aiding one.
To avoid being accused as a witch, one had to get "the jump on the other fellow" and accuse him first!
Montague Summers, in "The Geography of Witchcraft," at p. 256 says: "There can be no doubt that the settlers in New England were not only firm believers in every kind of witchcraft, but well primed in every malevolent superstition that could commend itself to their prejudiced and tortured minds. They looked for the Devil round every corner, and saw Satan's hand in every mishap, in every accident. The Devil, in fact, played a larger part in their theology than God. They were obsessed with hell and damnation; their sky was cloudy and overset; their horizon girded with predestination and the awful consciousness of sin."
John Wesley was a firm believer in witchcraft, and in 1768 he writes in his journal: "It is true . . . that the English in general . . . have given up all accounts of witches and apparitions as mere old wives' fables. I am sorry for it . . . With my latest breath will I bear testimony against giving up to infidels one great proof of the invisible world: I mean that of witchcraft and apparitions, confirmed by the testimony of all ages."
In New England one person claimed that the Devil frequently had carnal knowledge of her body!
Today houses are still secured, as well as barns, day and night, against witches. Window blinds, or shutters keep out all light, and some occupants have been known to go out very seldom, after dark--the darkness that harbors all sorts of things, only through imagination.
Today some people can hear witches in chains, or shutters rattling at night; chairs or floors creaking; noises in the walls, attics or cellars; lowing of cattle; howling of dogs; earth lights in the fields or woods, or in the cemetery; shadows in the moonlight; strange odors; the noise of expansion or contraction of pottery, or steam pipes; the noise caused by mice, rats, and slight vibrations caused by draughts.
Likewise, Pennsylvania has been singled out for years as a stamping ground for these same kind of "devils." Research, however, fails to discover any witches, looking any different from the people the reader and the writer know most intimately; now and then an old man, or woman, may be identified as "one of those 'witch doctors,' or 'pow-wow' doctors." But, in New England, well-known citizens were pointed out as "witches."
Sydney George Fisher, in "Men, Women and Manners in Colonial Times," (2 vols. Phila. 1898) says:
"In former times no sect of religion and no class of life had been free from it (witchcraft), more than four thousand books had been written about it, it had assailed the highest intellectuals as well as the lowest, and Sprenger estimates that in the fifteenth century one hundred thousand persons were executed for it in Germany alone, and that during the Christian epoch nine million men and women had been put to death for this supposed crime. Those who doubted were reminded of the witch of Endor in the Old Testament and of the laws of Moses against witchcraft. In the books of the Middle Ages it is asserted over and over again that to doubt the existence of witchcraft is to deny the Holy Scriptures and to refuse confidence in the general belief of all mankind."
". . . No one was safe; the slightest peculiarity in manner, or an obscure chance remark that could be given a double meaning, was enough to secure a conviction. Many who had lost some household article or cattle, or who had suffered a misfortune or sickness, were allowed to relate their trouble before the court as evidence that one of their neighbors had bewitched them . . . When a person was accused, his only hope of escape was in confession, and this process manufactured witches very fast. . ."
"Even in this awful delusion the Puritan mind still worked by its close reasoning processes. The few who were opposed to punishing for witchcraft argued that it might be possible for a devil to get into a person and make a witch of him against his will . . . "
"If an ordinary man, they said, does anything supernatural, it must be by aid of the devil . . ."
In Pennsylvania the authorities always gave, and today give, the accused the great benefit of doubt--either as to the commission of a crime (of witchcraft), or the mental state of the person involved. Is witchcraft in this Commonwealth, then, so very terrible?
Mary Baker Eddy--and Witchcraft.--Howard W. Haggard, M. D., in "Devils, Drugs and Doctors," (at pp. 312-3; Blue Ribbon Books, Inc.) tells how Mary Baker Eddy, in her own day, put a lot of faith in the powers of "malicious animal magnetism"--just another term for witchcraft. Mrs. Eddy, according to a newspaper account, declared that her husband's death was caused by this "magnetism"--the opposite of faith healing. Dr. Haggard further states:
Thus when Mary Eddy assigned hysterical ailments to malicious animal magnetism and asked the courts of Salem, in 1878, to punish alleged persecutors, she was attempting to revive witchcraft and the punishment of witches. But along with this black magic she introduced white magic . . .