Table of Contents
Also by John Demos
Circles and Lines:
The Shape of Experience in Early America
The Unredeemed Captive:
A Family Story from Early America
Past, Present, and Personal:
The Family and the Life Course in American History
Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England
A Little Commonwealth:
Family Life in Plymouth Colony
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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA
The enemy within : 2,000 years of witch-hunting in the Western world / John Demos.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 297) and index.
eISBN : 978-0-670-01999-1
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To Pen and Tom
This book is the end product of an almost half-century engagement with witchcraft study.
Imagining such a lengthy prospect was impossible when, as a beginning graduate student in 1960, I was assigned the topic of witchcraft for a term paper. In due course, however, the paper became a published article. And the article spawned other articles, numerous conference presentations, and eventually the writing of a large scholarly book (
Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England
, Oxford University Press, 1982).
At that point I thought surely I had said my last word on witchcraft history. Yet the talk-show invitations kept coming each year at Halloween; there was still the occasional witchcraft conference to attend; there were even middle-of-the-night phone calls from people who thought themselves possessed by the Devil. To an extent, therefore, I kept my hand in.
Then, to my surprise, I was back in the thick of itâinvited by the editors of Viking to attempt a broad-gauge summary and synthesis of the entire subject. The challenge was considerable, but I did feel a certain eagerness in response. It would be like returning to a house well-known from long before, but now grown through various additions into a mansion. There were old rooms to revisit, and new ones to reconnoiter for the first time. Indeed, many of the mansion's contentsânothing less than a vast output of scholarship during the past two and a half decadesâwere unfamiliar. The study of European witchcraft has reached extraordinary levels of sophistication; reading and reflecting on that would prove especially rewarding. The American side of witchcraft study has also been reinvigorated; rewards would come from there as well. The range and variety of all such work did indeed invite synthesis.
But synthesis was itself an unfamiliar process for me. I have previously made my way as a historian of very specific times, places, and events. My aim in all my other projects has been depth more than breadth. Those priorities are reversed here; the coverage is nothing if not broad. The idea is to pull together histories as widely separated as the late Roman Empire, medieval Europe, colonial America, and modern-day Red scares (among others). Moreover, my synthesis seeks to bridge not only histories but also historiographyâthat is, the writings of literally hundreds of different scholars, each with his or her own style, presuppositions, research focus and strategy, and period of interest. Wide coverage seems an important, even necessary, goal with certain historical topics, but the risk of collapsing distinctions, oversimplifying, flattening, trivializing is formidable.
A second unfamiliar aspect of my current project involves audience. Although I have always hoped to interest general readers in the fruits of my research, my primary audience till now has been fellow scholars and students. But again, in this book the priorities are reversed. In fact, what some are calling popular history has of late achieved a remarkable growth. “History is hot,” I heard a publisher say last year, and bestseller lists would seem to bear him out. Interestingly, many history books on such lists come from the hands of “writers” with no claim to scholarly credentials (as if historians were not writers themselves!); the results, in my opinion, are decidedly mixed. The finest of these books are fine indeed, the worst so crude as to seem a kind of caricature. One can only be pleased that history should become popular, even hot; but professionals, too, must be persuaded to enter that mix.
There is a third kind of unfamiliarity here which may be most compelling of all. My focus, through a long academic career, has been on people who lived and died two, three, or more centuries ago. Though I've tried to understand them, to empathize with them, and (in a way) to connect with them as fellow humans, their experience has the unavoidable feel of remoteness. In direct contrast, the current book brings its subject virtually to the present; hence the sense of connection grows far more immediate and personal. Many of the individual people described in my concluding section are still living; some are the entirely innocent targets of recent witch-hunts (in the figurative sense). For example, an unknown number of those prosecuted in the day-care “abuse” investigations of the 1980s and '90s remain in prison years later; to write about them is a new and different experience. If this book were somehow to shorten their “trials” at least a bit, or if it proved at all instrumental in forestalling similar injustice in the future, I would feel extremely gratified. Furthermore, connection with the targets of modern-day witch-hunts brings a renewed and deepened feeling for their counterparts in the old-style witch-hunts of pre-modern times. Targets then, targets now: the struggles and sufferings of them all are painfully clear.
I wish, finally, to express appreciation to various colleagues and friends who have helped move my project along. First comes the legion of previous witchcraft historians whose spadework in the many corners of this large landscape underlies my synthesis throughout; their names will be found in the Bibliographic Commentary that stands at the book's end. The names of others whose assistance was more direct and personal can be set down here. Jane Kamensky, Aaron Sachs, and Virginia Demos gave the entire manuscript a careful reading and offered many critical and constructive suggestions. James R. Green, Alexander Keyssar, and Paul Freedman read and commented on one or another section that fell within their own special areas of expertise. Numerous others responded to my requests for advice about readings or specific points of fact and interpretation: among these Robert Johnston, Beverly Gage, and Michelle Nickerson were particularly helpful. I benefited greatly from the work of three undergraduate research assistants: Jeremiah Quinlan, Adrian Finucane, and Christine Matthias. Finally, two skilled editors at Viking, Wendy Wolf and Ellen Garrison, provided invaluable late-stage counsel, and thereby improved things in ways both large and small.
And now I believe that I truly
said my last word on witchcraft history . . .
June 1582. In the English town of Chelmsford, half a dozen elderly matrons carefully undress a sawyer's wife named Alice Glasscock and begin a search of her body for “the marks of a witch.” In due course they discover several “spots . . . well sucked”âso they presumeâby Satan's imps. This is part of a formal investigation that will lead to Glasscock's trial, conviction, and execution.
September 1623. In the small south German village of Marchtal, a group of farmers and their families interrupt their harvest dance to forbid the approach of a woman named Ursula GÃ¶tz. “Begone! Begone,” they shout together, “you shitty witch!” Branded thus, and under threat of torture, GÃ¶tz will eventually confess to all sorts of “devilish” designs against persons, cattle, crops.
Autumn 1656. In New Haven, in the British colony of Connecticut, a woman named Elizabeth Godman knocks at the door of her neighbor Goodwife Thorp and asks to buy some chickens. Thorp replies curtly, “We have none to sell,” whereupon Godman turns away muttering what sounds like a threat. The next day, when several of Thorp's chickens are found dead, she will charge Godman with using “evil means” against them.
May 1692. In Salem, Massachusetts (also a British colony), seven mostly teenage girls thrash wildly about on a courtroom floor, alongside a bewildered witch suspect named Martha Carrier. “There is a black man whispering in her ear!” shrieks one of the girls. A second wails, “She bites me, and tells me she would cut my throat!” while others in the group endure “most intolerable outcries and agonies . . . of affliction.” Carrier's will be one of twenty lives lost to America's most famous witch-hunt.
Alice Glasscock. Ursula GÃ¶tz. Elizabeth Godman. Martha Carrier. All were caught in the snare of real events; all were players in a vast drama spanning key centuries in the history of what we now call “Western civilization.” The idea of witchcraft has been part of that history as far back as the records allow us to see. Thousands of people like GÃ¶tz, Glasscock, Godman, and Carrier have been pursued, harassed, injured, and killed because of it.