Calef and the Mathers

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On September 13, 1696, three years after the trials had ended, Calef was alerted to another possible witch-hunt. Thomas Brattle, a local merchant and critic of the Salem trials, informed him that Boston minister Cotton Mather (see biography and primary source entries) was once again "curing witches." Mather had taken a young girl named Margaret Rule into his home in an attempt to treat her for possession by evil spirits. At the time of the witch trials, Mather was widely known for his attempts to cure "bewitched" (cast under a spell) women through months of fasting (eating little or no food) and prayer, keeping detailed written records for future reference. He had supposedly rid quite a few women of evil spirits prior to treating Rule.

Margaret Rule's stay in Cotton Mather's home in 1696, three years after the Salem witch trials ended, attracted considerable attention due to the wild nature of her "possession." She frequently entered into violent fits similar to those the afflicted teenage girls had experienced during the Salem trials (convulsions, feeling as though she were being pinched, etc.). The memory of this time was still fresh in the Massachusetts colony so Calef, fearing another witch-hunt, decided to witness Mather's methods himself. What he observed was not a person possessed by evil spirits but rather a young woman who craved the attention of men. She could be soothed in her fits only by the "laying on of hands." Only men, however, could calm Rule, who (according to Calef) implored Mather and his father Increase Mather to rub her face and naked belly. According to records cited in The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Enquiry into the Salem Witch Trials, when a woman attempted to soothe her in the same manner she retorted, "Don't you meddle with me!" One evening Calef witnessed her telling all women to leave the room because she preferred the company of men. He also noted that Rule told Cotton Mather certain local women were witches, a matter he chose to keep secret.

Fearing that this young woman could cause another outbreak of witchhunt hysteria, Calef felt the Mathers were encouraging her craving for male attention because they too were enjoying the experience. Calef kept the notes and letters he had written during this period, planning to publish them in a book as a preventive measure in stopping future false accusations. Ironically, just before Rule was "cured" she had one last episode, during which she named the demon who was afflicting her. Reportedly she named her haunter as none other than Cotton Mather himself.

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