Looking Back to Look Ahead: Salem Edition
“They won’t tell you fairytales of how girls can be dangerous and still win. They will only tell you stories where girls are sweet and kind and reject all sin. I guess to them it’s a terrifying thought, a red riding hood who knew exactly what she was doing when she invited the wild in.”
Meanwhile - Nikita Gill
Salem MA, right in our backyard, is a Halloween destination. Haunted Happenings lists all of the ways you and your family can get the full experience. Of course the reason Salem is on the map is much more sinister - the Salem Witch Trials from 1692-1693. This phenomenon and paranoia left over 200 people accused of witchcraft, and 20 lost their lives.
I grew up knowing that the witch trials happened, of course, but looking back now I think we have much to learn from our history, and some hope to draw too. The Salem Witch Trials came on the heels of massive witch hunts across Europe. This cultural history spanned over 300 years, and came with the puritans across the ocean. Theocratic government - religion chosen and enforced as law came with them as well.
The Theocracy made witch hunting a natural part of the Pope Gregory the IX Inquisition, fully sanctioned by church and state alike. All the witch hunts - both in Europe and Salem were fed by fear, closed mindedness, corrupt power dynamics, and lack of understanding. Suspects were imprisoned inhumanely and cruelly tortured until confession and death seemed their best choice.
It’s roughly estimated that tens of thousands of people in Europe, mostly women, were executed as witches. This seeps into our lore and fairy tales, as does the fear of a strong, intuitive woman. The crone or hag is a mythical archetype woven into lore from every country and culture. Much of the "damning" evidence for witchcraft was herbal mixtures of plants which were poisonous and hallucinogens. Applying these to sensitive areas gave a high without causing severe illness or death, which ingestion would cause. Whether or not it was labeled as witchcraft, these rituals were not looked on kindly by the theocratic government. Witch hunts were a very real way to strip women of personal pleasure or bodily autonomy.
Our stories and lore extol the sweet, virtuous maidens and princesses, while casting shadow and doubt on the crones, the witches, the hags. In “The Women Who Run With Wolves” Clarissa Pinklola Estes talks about the history of these characters. The old, wise, woman, often represents the Wild Woman archetype. But we overlook her because she is not “pretty”. She does not meet our specifications of Heroine. She is too weathered, is missing too many teeth, and to hold space for her, we must face the dark wild in ourselves.
Some days I look at our current social climate and see the same themes:
Abuse of power and corruption Fear of what we don’t understand Fear of others who aren’t like us Fear of different belief systems, cultures, and religions Searching for reasons that bad things happened to us or our loved ones Searching for ways to right a perceived slight or a vendetta Fear of the fully embodied and unleashed Feminine
But there’s another theme that I draw from Salem’s story, and one I think we should hang on to.
The turn around.
The fact that this is where the witch hunts stopped. It’s sad irony that the witch hunt in Salem started losing steam when the Governor’s wife was accused. The humanity seeped in when she was someone (someone importants') wife. If she had just been “someone” she may have been number 21. But hey, for 1693 that’s progressive and I’ll take it.
The hope I see in this gruesome and sobering story is this:
We decide what traditions and vices we hang on to, and pass on to the next generation.
We decide what stops with us. I know for me, the work I am putting in can feel like an uphill battle. I don’t just mean blogging! I mean the healing work, the therapy, the reading and developing my mindset. Calling out misogyny, being totally honest about where my integrity and yes, my faith, lead me regardless of response. In another 300 years, it’s possible and even likely no one will know who I was. But I can also choose to stand with my sisterhood of women in making history, saying that #timesup.
We may not be witches (well some of us may be, but not THAT kind!) but we hold the power to craft the future that women are looking back on in another 325 years. I’m not just talking about protesting, or hashtagging, or social justice warrioring, although all those things have merit.
Moms, I’m talking about what you say to your sons and daughters. I’m talking about how seriously you take their “no” and how much autonomy you encourage. I’m talking about giving your sons tools to process their emotions, and your daughters opportunities to get messy, be loud, and find their voices. I’m talking about teaching ourselves that we matter, by prioritizing our own needs, as women, above the convenience and comfort of everyone else in our lives. I’m talking about advocating for ourselves, claiming our space, and waking up to the full understanding that our healing is of so much more importance than our waistlines. I’m talking about using our energy to build community and sisterhood, instead of counting weight watchers points. I'm talking about doing the work to understand what power dynamics we benefit from, and leveraging our advantages to help those who were born in different social landscapes.
The women of 2,343 are counting on us to show up for them. To craft a world where they don’t feel the need to hold their keys between their fingers when they walk down the street after dark. Where pepper spray isn’t a common keychain accessory. Where every other girl and woman doesn't have a #metoo story.
Where they can stand on the shoulders of women who have done excruciating work, and reach the stars.
Let’s be those women.
For me, Salem is famous yes, for the executions of
Bridget Bishop (née Playfer; executed June 10, 1692) Rebecca Nurse (née Towne; July 19, 1692) Sarah Good (formerly Poole, née Solart; July 19, 1692) Elizabeth Howe (née Jackson; July 19, 1692) Susannah Martin (née North; July 19, 1692) Sarah Wildes (née Averill; July 19, 1692) George Burroughs (August 19, 1692) George Jacobs Sr. (August 19, 1692) Martha Carrier (née Allen; August 19, 1692) John Proctor (August 19, 1692) John Willard (August 19, 1692) Martha Corey (September 22, 1692; wife of Giles Corey) Mary Eastey (née Towne; September 22, 1692) Mary Parker (née Ayer; September 22, 1692) Alice Parker (September 22, 1692) Ann Pudeator (September 22, 1692) Wilmot Redd (September 22, 1692) Margaret Scott (September 22, 1692) Samuel Wardwell Sr. (September 22, 1692) Giles Corey (September 19, 1692) - Pressed to death. Bethany Shafer (october 21,1692)
But the fact that they were the last. This fall as you enjoy Halloween with your family, remember these men and women. Think about what about our world, based in fear and control, you might want to see end with you, or your generation.