Witch-Hunt by Marc Aronson is a retelling of the 17th Century Salem Witch-Trials. Aronson presents the evidence, testimonies, myths, and theories surrounding the infamous trials which led to the deaths of 24 people.
Often history books are quite difficult to sift through, they usually use technical jargon and don’t engage with the facts they are presenting. Aronson skillfully crafts Witch-Hunt in a way that makes the tale engaging for readers who want to learn about the trials out of interest, as opposed to having to read about them for academic purposes. He also clears up any misinformation and misconceptions we may have about the trials, such as the notion that witches were burned – when they were actually hung.
He starts by painting a scene of the usual proceedings in court; an accused women and her frantic accusers screaming that the witch is using her powers to hurt them. An important facet often left out of discourse surrounding the Salem Witch-Trials is the context in which is began. This was a Salem in New England where the growing Puritan population wanted to distance themselves from the rest of Salem. Leading to the existence of Salem Village and Salem Town.
Not only women were accused, but also a handful of men. Some of the accused were quick to catch on to the fact that confessing to witchcraft potentially saved one from execution, however, the strong hold religion had on people made lying to save their own life impossible, as a fear of eternal damnation overwhelmed them. One of the accused admitted to witchcraft but was so upset and guilt-ridden by the lie that she retracted her statement.
In fact, religion played a large role in the trails, despite many of the accused being devout church goers, the hangings were justified as expelling the Devil from Salem. It wasn’t just the outcasts who were accused but prominent community members – and a small group of young girls accusing as many as they could. When one would scream that she was struck with pins, the others would echo her claims. Perhaps it was a case of mind over matter, and believing your friend was inflicted led to others feeling they were too. Today, sentencing someone based on the hysterics of a group of young girls seems ridiculous, but made perfect sense in a hysterical Salem.
The accusers could have done so for their own personal gain, revenge for petty incidents from the past – as the author explains prior to the trials Salem wasn’t exactly a close community – or purely as a malevolent game. The theory that the community may have eaten bread with a certain kind of mold that induces hallucinations has been debunked, the exact motive behind the trials is unclear.
Aronson paints the growing hysteria of the trials vividly throughout the book, and captures the deep remorse afterwards when it finally dawned on Salem that 24 people had in-justly lost their lives. Soon the accusers became the outcasts.
Of course, some wonder if there was real witches in Salem, and that is unclear also. The first accused, Tituba, was a women of colour said to dable in “magic tricks” she picked up in England. Others say she taught young girls voodoo, or engaged in practices such as dropping an egg white in cold water and interpreting the form it takes.
Having previously read Wicca: Elemental Magic by Lisa Chamberlain I was able to even add my own interpretations to the story of the Salem Witch Trials having already had an understanding of witchcraft.
The practice of Wiccanism, which falls under Paganism, wasn’t brought into the equation in Aronson’s book. Although many Wiccan’s consider themselves witches, most believe in the likes of karma and so do not set out to harm others. Wiccan’s are often spiritual and practice small rituals, usually of good intent. The Devil is solely a Christian deity, and so Wiccan’s or witches do not “get their powers from Satan” as is often preached, but rather believe that everyone possesses magic but modernity has made us lose touch with it. The common belief that the pentagram is a Satanic symbol is false, as each triangle making up the star on a pentagram represent an element, with the circle around it representing spirit.
If you’re looking for Harry Potter or Hocus Pocus style witchcraft then you’re going to be disappointed if you look into Wicca and/or Paganism or if you read Elemental Magic. I would still recommend it as means to clear up the common misconceptions.
Black Magic isn’t one and the same with Wiccanism. Black Magic involves the use of supernatural powers for evil, malevolent and selfish purposes, often intended to cause harm.
Although occasionally voodoo dolls and other artifacts associated with witch craft were found in the homes of the accused witches, I don’t think full force black magic was taking place, nor do I think anything evil had possessed the town. Perhaps some were closet pagans and practiced simple rituals or even dabbled with voodoo but I bet 17th Century Salem did not resemble Hocus Pocus. If anything, I think one case led to another and it led to the inhabitants in Salem thinking their only option was to accuse or be accused. Regardless, the Salem Witch Trials remains one of the most bizarre cases in history.