America Bewitched: Witchcraft After Salem

America Bewitched: Witchcraft After Salem

by Owen Davies
     
 

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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… See more details below

Overview


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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. (May)
From the Publisher

"Owen Davies tells a fascinating tale that has never been told before with all the skills of a true craftsman. Its sheer breadth of coverage amazes from the start." --Ronald Hutton, author of The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Pagan Witchcraft

"An extraordinary achievement... I was frankly staggered at the range of Davies's research." --Professor H. C. Erik Midelfort, University of Virginia

"Davies tells a highly original story, yet one that makes instant sense... This is a vivid, arresting, insightful book, written with sympathy and human understanding. It extends Davies's reputation as an original thinker in the field, when so much work is derivative or merely illustrative of well-established ideas." --Malcolm Gaskill, Fortean Times

"Davies's catholic approach has produced a volume densely packed with fascinating material. Along with detailed excurses into folklore -- there are sustained discussions of hairballs, hag-riding, and skin shedding -- the author presents a trove of historical anecdotes and case studies drawn from his wide research into local histories, obscure newspapers, and other neglected byways." --Nova Religio

Library Journal
In 1711 the Massachusetts Bay colony compensated the families of those persecuted as witches in the 1692 Salem trials, but Davies (social history, Univ. of Hertfordshire; The Haunted: A Social History of Ghosts) demonstrates that neither America's belief in witchcraft nor the attendant accusations, defamations, and even killings had ended. He combed newspaper stories from all over the country plus secondary sources to report innumerable cases exhibiting the lies, prejudice, superstition, lawsuits, and savagery continuing to surround the fear of witchcraft and suspicions of bewitchment well into the mid-20th century. Such suspicions were in effect caused by factors such as ethnic and racial prejudice; the movement of Native American folk remedies, healing rituals, and magical beliefs into mainstream culture; lack of knowledge about mental health and physical ailments; personal animosities; and paranoid reactions to bad luck and hard economic times. Davies presents a convincing argument that witchcraft troubles subsided after New Deal entitlements allowed Americans to rely on the government for support instead of blaming "witches" for economic problems and inexplicable difficulties. VERDICT Completing the little-known history of witchcraft and our attitudes toward it long after Salem, this book will be particularly engaging for students of American folklore and witchcraft history, and to those interested in the continued interweaving of superstition into American culture.—Margaret Kappanadze, Elmira Coll. Lib., NY

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199578719
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
03/22/2013
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
926,966
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.40(d)

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