Trickster at Work

"Witch Hill" or "The Salem Martyr" (1869) by Thomas Slatterwhite Noble.  (Source:  Collection of the New York Historical Society.)

“Witch Hill” or “The Salem Martyr” (1869) by Thomas Slatterwhite Noble. (Source: Collection of the New York Historical Society.)

In Salem in 1692, the Kingdom of Satan had descended in great wrath.  Legions of the devil’s servants were torturing the minds and bodies of the faithful, a score of condemned persons had been executed on Gallows Hill, and the jails were filled with confessed witches and wizards.

Marie Louis Von Franz observes:

“There is such a passionate drive within the shadowy part of oneself that reason may not prevail against it.  A bitter experience coming from the outside may occasionally help; a brick, so to speak, has to drop on one’s head to put a stop to shadow drives and impulses.”

 (Carl Jung, Man and his Symbols, 1968)

Such a “brick,” such an irreconcilable chasm between delusion and reality, such a personal calling to account for the consequences of unexamined projections of evil, was to fall squarely on the head of the Reverend John Hale.  In October 1692, Mary Herrick of Wenham complained of being tormented by Mrs. Sarah Hale—the reverend’s wife.  Being “fully satisfied of his Wife’s sincere Christianity,” the reverend could no longer believe that the devil could “Afflict in a good Man’s shape.”  He shifted his attitude:  “Nothing else could convince him: yet when it came so near to himself, he was soon convinc’d that the Devil might so Afflict.” (Robert Calef, “More Wonders of the Invisible World,” 1700).

There were others who were spared and protected from accusations.  In his famous “letter,” Thomas Brattle complained “that some particular persons, and particularly Mrs. Thatcher of Boston,” had been accused by the afflicted persons yet remained at large, even while others had been apprehended “upon the same account.”  Mrs. Thatcher was the mother-in law of Jonathan Corwin, one of the judges and chief witch-hunters of the trials. (Thomas Brattle, “letter (1692),” in Frances Hill, The Salem Witch Trials Reader, 2000). When the Revered Samuel Willard (who made efforts to oppose the witch-hunt), one of the most distinguished ministers in Boston, was accused, the judges rejected the charges outright (Marion Starkey, The Devil in Massachusetts, 1949). And when Lady Mary Phips, the governor’s wife, was cried out against by the bewitched, the accusation was ignored.

When the relatives of the rich, the eminent, and the powerful became the object of accusations, the witch-hunt came promptly to an end. By comparison, prosecuting a few sacrificial soldiers for the sins of the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse in Iraq was not the bitter, mind-clearing experience of a brick falling on the head of the powerful. Indicting the Secretary of Defense or the President himself for violating international law, however, might have been a brick of sufficient force to halt the projection of evil.  And so Salem in the 17th century—and not the United States in the 21st—learned the lesson contained in the ancient myth of Iphigeneia:  when the witch-hunter is made to pay a personal price—when the warmonger is extracted a cost for his war—his actions become sober and wise.




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