Friday, June 3, 2016

It's Not That Complicated: Chapter 10 - Part One

This chapter is titled "Playing with Matches: Meddling with Other People's Relationships".   Honestly, most of this very, very short chapter is on what you can and cannot talk to female friends about.

The introduction for this chapter is the worst historical mangle of the entire book.

"Once upon a time, in a nice Christian community named 'Peace', a bunch of average, church-going tweenaged (sic) girls began meeting in a kitchen for some "quality girl time", to enjoy space away from their parents, speculate about their future husbands, and complain about other people in the community.  Once their collective imaginations were fanned into hysteria, their meddlings set the community on fire.  By the year's end, 150 innocent people had been imprisoned and 20 had been hanged or pressed to death for witchcraft.  What this typical-girl talk had turned into was the Salem Witch Trials.

Many know the sad story of Salem as a cautionary tale about the dangers of superstition, community hysteria, or lapses on due process.  But there is another lesson buried in these events, one especially one for young women.  When girls let their minds be overrun with curiosity and fear about the future (and the paranormal); when they cut themselves off from reality and accountability to commune together in secret girl-talk sessions; when they get hopped up on each other's estrogen and emotionalism; when they feed the fires of each other's conjecture and imaginings; when they stir the pot of gossip, grudges, and desire for attention - people can get burned." (pgs. 179-180)

  • The Botkin Family spends a great deal of time talking about how they understand history better than anyone else.  This section pretty clearly illustrates the difference between historical research done by professionals and what passes for research under the Botkin Family.
    • To save time, the book I used to debunk this section is "The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-By-Day Chronicle of A Community Under Siege" by Marilynne K. Roach published in 2002.  Ms. Roach spent 20 years compiling a timeline of the Salem Witch Trials using archived documents. This book provides a comprehensive overview of what was happening in Salem and surrounding communities.  She is also very clear when the record has gaps or questions that cannot be currently answered due to lost documents. 
    • By comparison, Anna Sofia and Elizabeth seem to have spent 20 minutes reading secondary sources and applying their conclusions too broadly.  (And by secondary sources, I mean they failed to do even a cursory read of the Wikipedia article.  Maybe they watched the first 15 minutes of "The Crucible" by Arthur Miller and failed to watch the rest of the film. Oh, who am I kidding?  They've never read or watched "The Crucible")  This is unfortunate because the Salem Witch Trials have a great deal to teach the followers of CP.
Let's get the most obvious problem out of the way first:
There is no evidence that the accusers in the Salem Witch Trials ever met together alone for girl talk or any communal dabblings in the occult.
  • It's easy enough to see where the mistaken idea came in.  Several girls in the community admitted to having tried to predict their future husbands using a trick of watching the shape that an egg white takes in a glass.  One of the local women made a witch cake early in the timeline to try and determine who was afflicting the girls.  Tituba, a female slave who lived in the same household as one of the accusers, explained that she didn't do any bad magic, but had done good magic to try and protect the girls' in the house from witchcraft.  
    • It doesn't take much from these unrelated events to craft the commonly understood story that a bunch of pre-teen or teenage girls were meeting with Tituba to learn some harmless occult practices.
  • On the flip side, when would these girls have had time to get together?  Salem Village or Salem Farms was a working community.  The amount of work that needed to be done during the growing season was staggering: planting, weeding, harvesting, preserving, preparing fibers, making cloth, making clothes, caring for livestock, making dairy products,  repairing household items, caring for the sick, young and elderly...the list never ends.  The winter had fewer chores, but cold weather and snow makes traveling dicey during 25% of the year.
  • Even if the girls did manage to get together, how would they have avoided their parents?  It's not like these girls lived in a modern home.  If one girl visited another, she would have likely been helping out with chores or been knitting under the watchful eye of the mother.  
Salem was not a peaceful place during the time of the Salem Witch Trials.
  • The Botkin Family seems to believe that the end times are near.  If they do believe that, it would behoove them to look at the effects that a fractured society had on the people within it.
    • Massachusetts was in an uncertain legal status.  The original charter had been revoked.  England had sent over a greatly hated governor who was eventually removed from the colony.  The people of Massachusetts were uncertain of how England was going to respond and were facing a potential war against a much stronger nation.
    • France and allied Native American Tribes were attacking settlements in Maine.  
      • In "In the Devil's Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692" Mary Beth Norton makes a compelling argument that the witchcraft trials cannot be viewed apart from the wars between the Anglo-American and French / Native American peoples that had raged for 30 years. 
      • Many of the accusers would be diagnosed with PTSD today.  Refugees from towns attacked had come to Salem.  At least two of the accusers in the Salem Witch Trials had survived attacks that had killed family members.  The torments that the accusers used against the witches like "being roasted on a spit" or "being torn to pieces" were based on methods of torture the girls had witnessed while in captivity.
Historians have been able to piece together some of the preceding events that linked the adult family members of the accusers with the people accused of witchcraft.
  • The story of the Salem Witch Trials is often reduced to a pat story where some girls accused women who were "traditional" victims of witchcraft, then everything spiralled out of control and random people were accused willy-nilly until the flames burned out.  That's not the reality of the situation.
    • The original set of accused witches weren't so cut and dried.  
      • Sarah Good is pointed out as being homeless and angry at people who turned away her requests for charity.  While that was true, it was also true that she had been involved in an ugly dispute over her father's will that predisposed her other siblings and their kin-by-marriage to justify the pittance she got on her behavior.
      • Sarah Osborne had married an indentured servant after she was widowed and did not turn over the farm she and her first husband had purchased to the son of her first marriage when he came of age.
      • Tituba is always described in the archived documents as an "Indian".  In a time where war was very close at hand, Tituba was likely seen as a potential traitor or double agent by some of the locals. (One of the most poignant portions of the trial for me is when Tituba explains that the Devil only required people to be his servant for 6 years.  Compare this with the fact that Tituba would never be freed.....)
      • Martha Corey was a member of the local church.  She had also had a child out of wedlock who was rumored to have an African-American or Indian father.  
      • Rebecca Nurse was viewed as an upstanding member of society.  Roach makes a cogent argument that the Nurse family's ability to pay for substitutes so that their sons did not need to fight in the recent and ongoing wars had lead to deep resentment among local members of Salem.
Big ideas that the Botkin sisters missed:
  • Clashes between families can be transmitted across generations.  Most of the girls who were making accusations were far too young to have been directly involved in clashes between adults.  The girls had learned that it would be safe to accuse Sarah Good or Sarah Osborne through what they overheard adults say and do towards each other.
  • The road to hell is paved with good intentions.  
    • It's too easy and too trite to make lists of good people and bad people.  Heck, we still do that today when trying to categorize the people involved with the Salem Witch Trials, but it doesn't work.  
      • Abigail Hobbs was both accused of witchcraft and accused others of witchcraft.  She's left the clearest connection between the wars in Maine and the witchcraft trial when she accused George Burroughs of consorting with the Devil and causing the attacks on local settlements.  She also likely lost her mother during one of those attacks. she a good girl or a bad girl?
      • Mercy Lewis was around 19 during the trials.  She prevent some accusations of witchcraft while promoting others.  She had lost her position as a wealthy young woman in Maine when her entire family had been killed during the wars and had been reduced to work as a servant.  Does she go in the good or bad pile?
      • IMHO, the Salem Witch Trials drove home the point that every person can do good and every person can do evil.
    • Due process was thrown out the window in hopes of safety.  I don't believe in trying to force modern ideas on historical events - the Salem Witch Trials managed to destroy due process under their understanding of the idea.   
      • People got that "spectral evidence" and "witchcraft" was an accusation that could be easily abused.  To prevent this, the accused were supposed to testify without the accuser(s) present.  This tidbit of basic courtroom procedure was thrown out.
      • Previous courts made it clear that "folk" tests should not be used.  The Salem Witch Trials ignored this and made it really easy for the accusers to demonstrate that the accused were witches.  (Ironically, there were records of people being found innocent in other courts when the folk tests were used with the accuser being blindfolded.  It turns out that accusers are really bad at guessing if the person touching them is a witch if they can't see who it is.....)
      • It's AMAZING how much more detailed - and accurate! - people's descriptions of who they saw interacting with the Devil became after they were thrown into a communal jail.  Prior to being jailed, people might say that they saw some shadowy men or women.  After they had had a chance to discuss testimony with other accused people, the same person could identify people they saw with the Devil clearly - even people they hadn't met.....