Evil witch replaced by pitiful hag

New Englanders continued to target the same kind of person as a witch: an elderly, reclusive woman remained under

A Case of False Accusation

An episode that occurred in 1720 in Littleton, Massachusetts, was eerily similar to the event that started the Salem witch trials. It began when eleven-year-old Elizabeth Blanchard had visions, went into trances, and acted as if she were "possessed.' She tore at her clothing, disfigured herself, and bit other people. She also reported sensations of being strangled and pricked by invisible hands. Soon Elizabeth's two sisters were exhibiting the same bizarre behavior, and all three girls accused a local woman of putting a spell on them. Littleton townspeople gathered for a meeting and were immediately split on the issue. Their reactions showed the struggle between traditional Puritan and Enlightenment values in New England

According to historian John Putnam Demos, "Some thought [the Blanchard sisters] labored of bodily maladies, others that their minds were disordered . . . others thought them to be underwitted; others that they were perverse and wicked children. But the greater number thought and said that they were under an evil hand, or possessed by Satan. This was the general cry of the town."

Ironically, the accused woman died during the controversy, and the children returned to their normal behavior. Years later, as adults, the three girls confessed to their pastor that they had faked the entire episode to get attention and that they had been "Led by folly and pride into outright deceit."

suspicion, particularly in more rural areas that were isolated from modern trends. Traditional healers were under the strongest scrutiny, just as they had been during the European witch-hunts that started in the fifteenth century (see Chapter 1). A newly emerging medical field, based on the latest scientific theories, however, left no place for women healers in mainstream society. In fact the modern stereotype of the witch began taking shape during the eighteenth century: the image of the powerful, eccentric woman who did the work of Satan— in other words, the witch who had stood trial in Salem only a few decades earlier—was reduced to an ugly, toothless, old hag. As a result the witch became a somewhat laughable figure, merely a useless old woman who was socially isolated and even mentally weak. This is clearly reflected in reports that more harm was done to witches than was being done by them. The Enlightenment encouraged a sense that ordinary people could outwit these outcasts. The new rational man was therefore more powerful than the old hocus-pocus herbalist. Consequently, witches ceased to provoke real fear and instead provoked ridicule and mockery. Evidence comes from the story of a Reverend Walker in New Hampshire who dismissed notions of witchcraft when townspeople appealed for his help against two local witches. "The most [the townspeople] had to fear from witches was from talking about them; that if they would cease talking about them and let them alone, they would soon disappear," Walker commented, as recorded in John Putnam Demos's Entertaining Satan.

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