The devils favorite challenge

New England ministers preached that the devil had singled out Puritans for special challenges because they were the most dedicated opponents of evil on Earth. Furthermore, they believed that witches were human manifestations (embodiments) of the devil, and that the devil's favorite way of testing Puritans was to place witches in the heart of their communities. Cotton Mather (see biography and primary sources entries), the prominent Massachusetts Bay minister, expressed the typical view in Wonders of the Invisible World (1693), his famous book on "proofs" of witchcraft: "If any are scandalized that New England, a place of as serious piety as any I can hear of under Heaven should be troubled so much with witches, I think 'tis no wonder: where will the Devil show the most malice but where he is hated, and hateth, most?" As life in the New World became increasingly difficult, the Puritans began blaming witches for all of their problems—economic hardship, epidemic illnesses, political conflict, and social unrest. Eventually they decided that eliminating witches was the only way to achieve victory over the devil. As John Putnam Demos notes in Entertaining Satan, a history of the witchcraft trials: "Witches could be blamed for a good deal of trouble and difficulty. In this respect the belief in witchcraft was very useful indeed. To discover an unseen hand at work in one_s life was to dispel mystery, to explain misfortune, and to excuse incompetence." During the second half of the seventeenth century charges of witchcraft became rampant in Puritan communities.

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