chapter  12
27 Pages

SPECTRAL EVIDENCE: THE WITCHCRAFT COSMOLOGY OF SALEM VILLAGE IN 1692 Dennis E. Owen

Like a magnet, the Salem witchcraft trials have continually drawn the attention of historians back to the drab and terrifying events of 1692. There is perhaps a fascination with the demonic or at least with the uncanny which might account for this. Additionally there has been an embarrassment that our Puritan forebears should have been so overwhelmed by the apparently irrational. Consequently progress in our understanding of the witchcraft trials has been rather slow and painful. Much analysis has concerned itself with laying blame as if designating those responsible could somehow remove the stain of Salem from the record of colonial history. As late as 1949 Marion Starkey, who claimed the insight and objectivity of psychological method, attributed the entire episode to 'the childish fantasies of some very little girls1, and to a general craving for 'Dionysiac mysteries1. (1) A more fruitful approach appeared in 1969 with Chadwick Hansen's 'Witchcraft at Salem' which, apparently informed by the sociology of knowledge, made the point that people could honestly believe in witchcraft and that such belief could indeed affect their perceptions and experiences of reality.