Demos Angered By Annointing

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Drury, Neville. Pan's Daughter. Sydney: Collins Australia,


Nurse, Rebecca (1621-1692) Accused witch executed in the SALEM WITCHES hysteria in Massachusetts in 1692-93.

Rebecca Nurse and her husband Francis were two of the most prominent and well-respected citizens of Salem. They had established a prosperous farm compound that was almost self sufficient, supporting a large extended family of several generations. Their prosperity was envied, and they angered some of the residents by their involvement in a land dispute.

However, the Nurses were regular churchgoers, and Rebecca was known for her meek demeanor and good deeds; she was saintlike. Of all the people who might be candidates for witchcraft, she was probably the least likely. By the time of the hysteria, she was old and infirm as well, suffering from stomach problems and weakness that kept her confined for days to her home.

Historians have speculated that had she been the first to be accused, few would have believed the charges, and the hysteria might have died an early death with no, or perhaps few, casualties. But the hysteria of the girls by then were believed by too many residents. When the girls cried out against Nurse, their charges were taken seriously by many. Envy of the Nurses' prosperity and status, and simmering resentments over the land dispute, may have played a role in the fate of Rebecca. It is possible that the accusing girls picked up on gossip against Re becca and her family. She also was vocal in her criticism of the examinations and upheld the innocence of the first women accused. Soon the girls were muttering against Rebecca as a witch.

Some of the Nurses' friends paid a visit to the Nurse farm to warn Rebecca. There they found her in ill health, sick for about a week with a stomach ailment. Nurse voluntarily raised the issue of the hysteria and how badly she felt for Reverend Samuel Parris and his family. She said she believed the girls were indeed afflicted by an "evil hand," but that the accused were innocent. When told that she was being cried out against as a witch herself, Nurse was astonished. She replied, "If it be so, the will of the Lord be done . . . I am as innocent as the child unborn; but surely, what sin hath God found out in me unrepented of, that he should lay such an affliction upon me in my old age?"

On March 23, 1692, a warrant was issued for Nurse's arrest. She was questioned the following day before a public audience that included the girls. When told that several of the girls claimed she had harmed them by beating and afflicting them with pain, Nurse said God would declare her innocence. It appeared that she might be set free. Then Ann Putnam Sr., worked into an emotional frenzy, declared that Nurse had appeared to her with the "black man," the DEVIL, and tempted her. Putnam's charge incited the crowd. When Nurse then beseeched God to help her, the girls fell into terrible fits, claiming that Nurse and her FAMILIARS were harming them.

There was more damning testimony. A neighbor Sarah Houlton claimed that Nurse had cursed her husband to death because his pigs got loose on the Nurse farm. Another neighbor, Henry Kenney, said Nurse bewitched him so that he could not breathe properly whenever he was near her.

Hathorne had Nurse examined for WITCH'S MARKS. Several were found. Nurse protested that any older person such as herself would have growths on their body.

Judge John Hathorne questioned Nurse at length. She either repeated her innocence or said she could make no reply. The latter answer seemed most troubling to the magistrates and the crowd. The girls mimicked every body movement that Nurse made and fell into repeated fits. Nurse acknowledged that she thought the girls were bewitched. Even more damning to herself was her answer that she thought the Devil could indeed appear in her shape. Ann Putnam went into such violent fits that she had to be carried from the meeting house. Nurse was sent to jail to await further examination, which took place on April 11.

Sentiments about Nurse were mixed. Even Hathorne was doubtful that such a pious woman could be in league with the Devil. Thirty-nine of her friends signed a petition in her favor—including even Jonathan Putnam, who had been one of her original accusers.

Nurse was tried in the Court of Oyer & Terminer on June 30 with four others. Ann Putnam Jr. testified that Nurse had killed six children, and Houlton retold the story of her husband's cursed death.

Despite the testimony against her, Nurse was the only one found not guilty by the jury. The accusers fell into fits in protest. Not all of the judges were happy with the verdict, and William Stoughton said he would seek a new indictment against her. Accused witch Abigail Hobbs was brought out from jail to testify against Nurse. Rebecca recognized her as "one of us." She probably meant as a fellow prisoner and accused, but the court took her words to mean a fellow witch. Asked to explain herself, Nurse remained silent. The jury changed the verdict to guilty.

Nurse's friends appealed to Governor William Phips, who granted Nurse a reprieve. It did no good. Nurse's church in Salem excommunicated her on July 3. Nurse was executed by hanging on July 19. Her death demonstrated that no one was safe from the accusations of witchcraft.


Demos, John Putnam. Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Hansen, Chadwick. Witchcraft at Salem. New York: New

American Library, 1969. Upham, Charles. History of Witchcraft and Salem Village. Boston: Wiggin and Lunt, 1867.



oak apples Oak apples are galls formed on oak trees by the larva of a type of wasp. In folk MAGIC, they are used as a means of divining whether or not a child has been bewitched or struck by the EVIL EYE. To determine bewitchment, three oak apples are cut from a tree and dropped into a bowl or pail of water that is placed beneath the child's cradle. If they float, the child is safe; if they sink, he or she is bewitched. The procedure requires strict silence or it will not be accurate.


In the 17th century a young Spanish nun, Doña Micaela de Aguirre, was obsessed by the Devil. Irritated by Doña Micaela's perfection, the Devil began tormenting her, appearing one night in the shape of a horse. He stood on Micaela with his full weight, kicking and trampling her and leaving her badly bruised. Sometimes the Devil immersed Doña Micaela in the convent well up to her neck, leaving her there all night. In the end, according to her biographer, Doña Micaela triumphed: "Mocking his obsession Although the terms obsession and possession have been used interchangeably, obsession, from the Latin obsidere, technically refers to "besieging" or attacking a person or personality from without. POSSESSION, on the other hand, refers to being completely taken over by the Devil, DEMONS or other spirits from within. Medieval theologians distinguished between the two states, although in neither case was the victim responsible.

Saints could not be possessed, but could be obsessed by devils and evil thoughts. Usually such torments afflicted monks and hermits who lived ascetic, celibate lives, often in the desert. The Life of St. Hilary tells how the saint's "temptations were numerous; . . . how often when he lay down did naked women appear to him." And when St. Anthony tried to sleep, the Devil assumed the form of a woman and tried to seduce him with feminine gestures. Other holy or biblical figures, such as Saul, also suffered obsessive spirits, not total possession.

Man obsessed by Devil (JOHANNES LICHTENBERGER, prognosticate, 1500)

cunning she bade him fetch an axe and chop wood. And the enemy could not disobey her [for she was a saint]; he took the axe and chopped the wood up with all haste and departed in confusion, roaring with anger at being defeated by a young nun."

In modern psychiatry, obsession means being totally dominated by a fixed idea that controls or affects all other actions, such as constantly checking to see if a door is locked, or believing that deadly germs are everywhere. Most physicians do not believe that a person can become totally possessed by demons from within.

oils (also anointing oils) Perfumed and floral oils have played an important role in magical and religious rites throughout history. Their efficacy is based on the belief that odors and scents have the power to affect people and objects. In ancient Egypt, magical spells to assure the well-being of the dead called for the magician to anoint himself with certain oils. The Catholic Church uses sacred oils in baptisms, confirmations and the ordination of priests. In contemporary Witchcraft, scented oils are used to perfume the air prior to rituals, to create a pleasing atmosphere for the gods, and scented and plain oils are used in anointing in initiation, self-blessings, Wiccaning and magical spells. Oils also are common in folk magic and in the magical spells of Vodun and SANTERÍA.

The formula for oils depends upon their purpose. The oil itself should be pure and virgin; olive oil is ideal, but other vegetable oils are also used. The oils are mixed with various herbs, flowers, roots and essences. As the Witch works, she chants over them a CHARM related to the oils. The bottles or vials are left in the dark for several days to increase the potency of the oils.

Anointing oils are rubbed on various parts of the body, such as the palms, forehead, heart, genitals and chakras; are placed in shoes; and are rubbed onto ritual tools. They also are rubbed onto CANDLES, which are then burned in spells and rites; and onto effigies and poppETs.

Oils are made for numerous purposes, such as to attract love, money, protection and luck; to ward off negative influences, the EVIL EYE and illness; to cast or break curses; to bless, confuse and influence others; to enhance psychic powers and "dream true"; to gain success and win victory in legal disputes.

Examples of formulas are as follows: to attract health, mix two ounces of virgin oil with a single scent, either rose, gardenia, carnation, grated lemon peel or lemon flowers. A blessing oil for ritual tools and altar consists of two tablespoons of a mixture of two parts frankincense and one part benzoin gum, added to two ounces of oil.


Marlbrough, Ray L. Charms, Spells & Formulas. St. Paul:

Llewellyn Publications, 1987.

ointments (also unguents) Grease-based preparations have been used in magical, healing and oracular rites since ancient times. The ancient Egyptians used magical and sacred ointments for numerous purposes, such as embalming mummies and stimulating prophetic dreams. According to the instructions on a third-century magical papyrus, divining dreams could be induced in an elaborate rite, part of which called for the smearing of a magical ointment on the eyes. The ointment was made from the flowers of "the Greek bean," which could be purchased from a garland seller. The flowers were sealed in a glass container and left for 20 days in a dark and secret place. When the container was opened, it would reveal a phallus and testicles inside. The container was resealed for another 40 days, after which the genitals would become bloody. The ointment made from this was kept on a piece of glass in a pot that was hidden, and was rubbed on the eyes when an answer to a question was desired from one's dreams.

In folklore, witches were reputed to use ointments— also called sorcerer's grease—for two purposes: flying and to kill others. Some ointments also were said to enable witches to shape-shift into animals and birds (see metamorphosis). Recipes for ointments have been handed down through the centuries and have been published in magical GRIMoiRES. The recipes contain vile ingredients such as baby's fat and bat's blood, or bizarre ingredients such as the filings of BELLS. Many also call for herbs and drugs that are toxic and/or hallucinogenic, such as belladonna (the "Devil's weed"), hemlock, hellebore root, cannabis, hemp, MANDRAKE, henbane and aconite. Such drugs produce dizziness, confusion, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, delirium and hallucinations.

According to lore, witches of old brewed the ointments in their cauldrons. For flying, they rubbed the ointments on themselves and the brooms, pitchforks, chairs, poles or beanstalks that they used to ride through the air. Some accused witches confessed in trials that they were given magic ointments by the DEVIL. Five women brought to trial in Arras, France, in 1460 said they had been given such an ointment by Satan, which they rubbed on small poles and "straightway flew where they wished to be, above good towns and woods and waters, and the Devil guided them to that place where they must hold their assembly."

Legends tell of people who found pots of ointment, rubbed themselves with it and instantly found themselves transported to the scene of wild witch revelries.

While witches often insisted they had indeed flown through the air with the help of their ointments, most demonologists, as early as the 15th century, believed the effects to be imaginary and not real. In some tests conducted by investigators, a witch rubbed herself down with the ointment and then fell into a deep sleep. Upon awakening, she insisted she had been transported through the air to a SABBAT, when in fact she had been observed not

Witches concocting flying ointment before the sabbat (HANS BALDUNG GRIEN, 1514)

moving for hours. In a tale from 1547, a witch summoned before the INQUISITION of Navarre secretly brought along a jar of magic ointment, which she managed to rub on herself. In front of the judges, she turned into a screech owl and flew away.

One recipe published in REGINALD Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) calls for sium, Acarum vulgare (probably sweet flag), cinquefoil, bat's blood, oil and Solanum somniferum, combined with fat or lard, which the witches were supposed to rub vigorously into their skin "till they look red and be verie hot, so as the pores may be opened and their flesh soluble and loose."

Scot also offered another flying recipe, which called for the fat of young children to be boiled in water and combined with "eleoselinum" (probably hemlock), aconite, poplar leaves and soot. Still another recipe called for aconite, poppy juice, foxglove, poplar leaves and cinquefoil, in a base of beeswax, lanoline and almond oil.

Like demonologists of his time, Scot believed that the ointments affected the brain and did not really enable witches to fly.

In modern times, Dr. Erich-Will Peuckert of the University of Góttingen, West Germany, tested a medieval flying-ointment recipe on himself and a colleague. The ingredients included deadly nightshade, thornap-ple, henbane, wild celery and parsley in a base of hog's lard. The ointment caused the two men to fall into a trancelike sleep for 20 hours, during which each had nearly identical dreams of flying through the air to a mountain top and participating in erotic orgies with monsters and DEMONS. Upon awakening, both men had headaches and felt depressed. Peuckert was impressed with the intense realism of the dreams. In light of his experiment, it is probable that medieval witches who used such ointments believed that they actually had such experiences, which accounts for the similarities in many "confessions."

The following killing ointment was recorded by JoHANN WEYER, 16th-century demonologist:

Hemlock, juice of aconite,

Poplar leaves and roots bind tight.

Watercress and add to oil

Baby's fat and let it boil.

Bat's blood, belladonna too

Will kill off those who bother you.

It is possible that some medicinal ointments, concocted by village wise women and wise men for deadening pain and healing, contained an imbalance of toxic ingredients that proved fatal.

Another kind of ointment supposedly made witches invisible. Medieval witches were said to rub themselves down with it before leaving their homes for secret sabbats. The chief ingredient was the herb VERVAIN, associated with invisibility, which was crushed and steeped overnight in olive oil or lard, then squeezed through a cloth to remove the leaves. Sometimes mint was substituted for vervain.

GERALD B. Gardner, the father of contemporary Witchcraft, said he knew of no 20th-century Witches who used any kind of ointments. Gardner believed medieval witches did use ointments but said such preparations most likely were applied to help keep naked witches warm in outdoor rites or to make them slippery if they were caught, both of which are dubious. Some ointments, he said, contained perfumes that were released in dancing as the skin grew hot.

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