December 23, 2017

Sina-cism: Lessons from a modern witch hunt

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Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

A few of my Putnam ancestors knew a thing or two about witchcraft, having played leading roles as accusers and prosecutors during the unfortunate events that unfolded in Danvers and Salem between 1692 and 1693. The emotionally disturbed Ann Putnam, the misguided judge Thomas Putnam, and a host of other early New Englanders with axes in need of grinding pulled off one of history’s most infamous and memorable mass delusions.

There were, of course, no witches in Salem in the 17th century, and one cannot help but lament the 20 executions, the losses felt by their survivors, and the incalculable damage to the lives and reputations of all the accused.

Still, I have a certain grudging respect for all involved.

For starters, they managed to kick up a complete bucket of nonsense for well over a year without the aid of the internet or any mass media. All they needed was one best-selling piece of fake news, Cotton Mather’s 1689 book, “Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions,” too much Calvinism; some bitter squabbles over land; and a few impressionable young women.

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