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America Bewitched: Witchcraft After Salemby Owen Davies
Synopses & Reviews
The infamous Salem witch trials of 1692 are etched into the consciousness of America. Nineteen people executed, one tortured to death, four others perished in jail--the tragic toll of Salem remains a powerful symbol of the dangers of intolerance and persecution. As time passed, the trials were seen as a milepost measuring the distance America had progressed from its benighted past. Yet the story of witchcraft did not end in Salem. As Owen Davies shows in America Bewitched, a new, long, and chilling chapter was about to begin.
Davies, an authority on witches and the supernatural, reveals how witchcraft in post-Salem America was not just a matter of scary fire-side tales, Halloween legends, and superstitions: it continued to be a matter of life and death. If anything, witchcraft disputes multiplied as hundreds of thousands of immigrants poured into North America, people for whom witchcraft was still a heinous crime. Davies tells the story of countless murders and many other personal tragedies that resulted from accusations of witchcraft among European Americans-as well as in Native American and African American communities. He describes, for instance, the impact of this belief on Native Americans, as colonists-from Anglo-American settlers to Spanish missionaries-saw Indian medicine men as the Devil's agents, potent workers of malign magic. But Davies also reveals that seventeenth-century Iroquois--faced with decimating, mysterious diseases--accused Jesuits of being plague-spreading witches. Indeed, the book shows how different American groups shaped each other's languages and beliefs, sharing not only our positive cultural traits, but our fears and weaknesses as well.
America Bewitched is the first book to open a window on this fascinating topic, conjuring up new insights into popular American beliefs, the immigrant experience, racial attitudes, and the development of modern society.
"Historian Davies (Magic: A Very Short Introduction) makes a strong case for the inefficacy of corporeal punishment in this tedious cultural history — despite the judges' intentions, the 1692 executions in Salem, Mass., of 19 individuals accused of witchcraft did little to inhibit its development and evolution. Drawing upon stories from colonial times to today, Davies explores a number of topics related to wizardry — such as how communities identified, dealt with, and legislated the supposed practice of sorcery — and he offers up an intriguing social taxonomy of witches: 'outsider witches,' he explains, were pegged as such because of 'where they lived, how they lived, and what they looked like'; 'long-term personal feuds and unresolved tensions' led to scurrilous accusations of witchery and what Davies terms 'conflict witches'; and the 'accidental' type were 'simply in the wrong place at the wrong time... or did or said something completely innocently but which subsequent misfortune rendered suspicious with hindsight.' Over the years, the stigma surrounding witchcraft has dissipated: in the 19th century, many people placed horseshoes above the threshold of their houses to ward off evil, but today, proponents of Wicca are regarded as 'benign and sympathetic' pagans. It has some compelling moments, but Davies's wearying survey adds little to the study of occultism in America. 20 illus. Agent: Andrew Lownie, the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency Ltd." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Witchcraft after Salem is the first major history of witchcraft in America - from the Salem witch trials of 1692 to the present day.
The infamous Salem trials are etched into the consciousness of modern America, the human toll a reminder of the dangers of intolerance and persecution. The refrain 'Remember Salem!' was invoked frequently over the ensuing centuries. As time passed, the trials became a milepost measuring the distance America had progressed from its colonial past, its victims now the righteous and their persecutors the shamed. Yet the story of witchcraft did not end as the American Enlightenment dawned - a new, long, and chilling chapter was about to begin.
Witchcraft after Salem was not just a story of fire-side tales, legends, and superstitions: it continued to be a matter of life and death, souring the American dream for many. We know of more people killed as witches between 1692 and the 1950s than were executed before it. Witches were part of the story of the decimation of the Native Americans, the experience of slavery and emancipation, and the immigrant experience; they were embedded in the religious and social history of the country. Yet the history of American witchcraft between the eighteenth and the twentieth century also tells a less traumatic story, one that shows how different cultures interacted and shaped each other's languages and beliefs.
This is therefore much more than the tale of one persecuted community: it opens a fascinating window on the fears, prejudices, hopes, and dreams of the American people as their country rose from colony to superpower.
About the Author
Owen Davies is Professor of Social History at the University of Hertfordshire. He has written extensively on the history of magic, witchcraft, ghosts, and popular medicine. His books include The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts, Grimoires: A History of Magic Books, and Magic: A Very Short Introduction. He is also the editor of the forthcoming Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft and Magic.
Table of Contents
2. Magic of a New Land
3. The Law
5. Dealing with Witches
6. Dealing with Witch Believers
8. Witch Killings Up Close
9. Times a'Changing
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