Since the Puritans saw themselves as God's chosen people, they believed they had been sent to the New World (the European term for North and South America) to wage a battle against the agents of the devil (the Christian term for the source of all evil). Consequently, they considered Native Americans, European settlers of different faiths, and the unpredictable forces of nature to be forms of the devil himself—and therefore direct challenges to the will of God. As soldiers in the war between good and evil, the Puritans established a highly structured society with rigid laws and rules based on the Christian holy book, the Bible. They viewed any sinful act as trea-
Innocent people often plead guilty to being witches to avoid torture and possible death.
Reproduced by permission of AP/Wide World Photos.
son against the entire community and an invitation to the devil. To avoid transgression (an act in violation of a law), the church tightly controlled every aspect of daily life. They prohibited any activities that opened the doors to sin, such as games, dancing, frequent bathing, physical recreation, and social gatherings outside of church. Anyone who deviated from the rules immediately aroused suspicion. Puritans were also disturbed by any signs of difference, which they inter-
Women led difficult lives through out the American colonies, but the status of women was particularly low in New England Puritan communities. Puritan ministers used the biblical tale of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman God created, to show that women had inherited Eve's original sin—she was tempted to eat the forbidden fruit of knowledge—and could not be trusted. Puritans thought that women were the source of all problems on Earth, and that only men were capable of solving these problems. Yet entrance into heaven was predetermined by God for only a select few men, who would find out they were chosen after they died. While they were on Earth, however, they called themselves the "elect," or the Saints. The elect were at the center of Puritan religious and social life, and they were the only people permitted to join the church, become freemen (citizens), or vote. This did not mean that women did not have to go to church. In fact, church attendance was mandatory for everyone, and skipping worship services was a punishable crime. Women were therefore silent observers, often listening to sermons on the most popular topic of the day: women's inferiority as the result of Eve's sin.
preted as the presence of evil in their midst. For instance, they thought crippled, aged, poor, eccentric, deformed, and sickly people were possibly the offspring of Satan.
Puritan laws gave women as little freedom and power as possible. For example, a widow who tried to keep her dead husband's estate rather than pass it on to her sons was in danger of losing everything in court. A woman adulteress could be put to death for her crime. Puritans believed that women could gain access to power only through communion with the devil. For this reason strong-willed, independent, and unmarried women were most frequently targeted as witches. Many women became suspects simply because they were not part of the mainstream community.
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