“Witches are outsiders, and those among us who have been bullied and ostracized can relate to their plight. Part of our fascination with witches is that they are the only female mythic figures with power. These are women who don’t need to be rescued by a prince or a king, but, instead, can save themselves….” ~Alice Hoffman, from the 25th anniversary edition of Practical Magic
Halloween is my favorite holiday — and friends who know me well aren’t surprised by my fascination with the history of “witches.”
My parents, both of whom were New England history buffs, took me on vacation to historic Massachusetts sites when I was a preteen. My favorite spots — you guessed it — were the house made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables (I read the paperback in the car during the trip) and other buildings tied to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Yes, I was a weird kid.
The victims of the Salem Witch Hysteria weren’t devil worshippers. But nearly 200 were accused, some of whom were merely eccentrics, herbalists, or midwives. Others refused to conform to church politics, and a few owned land that was coveted by those in power. All said and done, nineteen innocent villagers were hanged by Puritans on Gallows Hill; five others died in custody. In addition, one of the victims, a man, was pressed beneath heavy stones until he died.
It occurs to me that many of my favorite doctors today are women. Had they tried to practice medicine or other healing arts in colonial America, I suspect they would have been accused of witchcraft. Maybe I would have been too — given that I’m opinionated, bookish, and more than a little eccentric. Oh, and did I mention my herb garden in the back yard? ~CL
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