Transit Neptune in Pisces through the Salem Witch Trials   Leave a comment

Transit Neptune is in Pisces and one of the occurrences the last time this Planet was in Pisces was the Salem witch trials. To understand the trials we must understand some of the events of that time, Salem, Massachusetts in the late 1600s faced a number of serious challenges to a peaceful social fabric. Salem was divided into a prosperous town and a farming village. The villagers, in turn, were split into factions that fiercely debated whether to seek ecclesiastical and political independence from the town. In 1689 the villagers won the right to establish their own church and chose the Reverend Samuel Parris, a former merchant, as their minister. His rigid ways and seemingly boundless demands for compensation increased the already present friction. Many villagers vowed to drive Parris out, and they stopped contributing to his salary in October 1691.

These local concerns only compounded the severe social stresses that had already been affecting New England for two decades. A 1675 conflict with the Indians known as King Philip’s War had resulted in more deaths relative to the size of the population than any other war in American history. A decade later, in 1685, King James II’s government revoked the Massachusetts charter. A new royally-appointed governor, Sir Edmund Andros, sought to unite New England, New York, and New Jersey into a single Dominion of New England. He tried to abolish elected colonial assemblies, restrict town meetings, and impose direct control over militia appointments, and permitted the first public celebration of Christmas in Massachusetts, a celebration of which Puritans strongly disapproved. After William III replaced James II as King of England in 1689, Andros’s government was overthrown, but Massachusetts was required to eliminate religious qualifications for voting and to extend religious toleration to sects such as the Quakers. The late seventeenth century also saw a increase in the number of black slaves in New England, which further unsettled the existing social order.

In other words this was a time when religious factions were highlighted and certain religious groups felt their way of life and core values were being eroded.  Add to this mix an outbreak of smallpox and crop failures and we can see that this is a tense time in which prejudices are most likely to surface.  How did this take place lets meet some of the main characters.

Elizabeth Hubbard, like most of the other afflicted girls, was detached from her parents and family of birth. She went to Salem to live with her great-aunt Rachel Hubbard Griggs and her husband, the town physician Dr. William Griggs who diagnosed the original girls as being under the affliction of an “Evil Hand”. As a physician Dr. Griggs and his wife were viewed as a family of social standing. But Elizabeth was known as a servant to the household and not as an adopted daughter.

In 1692 Elizabeth was around 17 years old, making her one of the oldest of the original set of afflicted girls. Along with Elizabeth Parris, Abby Williams and Anne Putnam, Elizabeth started the accusations with claims of being tortured by specters of certain members of the community. The reasons behind the start of the accusations are somewhat unclear. There are many theories of why the young girls accused people of witchcraft ranging from the hysteria to the social and economic set up of the village of the time. In The Devil in the Shape of a Woman, Carol Karlsen researched some of the accusing girls and suggests that they may have behaved as they did due to the fact that many of them felt that their future was uncertain. As orphans, society looked at them in a different light. Most of the girls had no monetary or emotional support from direct family members. As Karlsen states, that the frontier wars, “had left their father’s estates considerably diminished, if not virtually destroyed. Little if anything remained for their dowries. With few men interested in women without dowries, the marriage prospects of these women, and thus their long-term material well being, looked especially grim (227)”. Elizabeth Hubbard, like most of the other accusing girls, was a servant with very dismal if any prospects for the future. Karlsen goes on to suggest the afflicted were able to use their dramatic possession performances to “focus the communities’ concern on their difficulties”. This was the one situation in which Elizabeth Hubbard and the others accusing girls had the respect and attention of the community. Karlsen thinks that this was the girls way of dealing with the oppression they felt as orphans within Puritan society (226-230). We can never know exactly why Elizabeth Hubbard accused so many people of witchcraft but from the documents we can read some of her testimony and draw conclusions about the kind of girl she was.

Sarah Churchill spent her early childhood in Saco, Maine. Her parents were Arthur and Eleanor Churchill and her grandfather was a well-respected and wealthy man named Major William Phillips. In 1680, when Sarah was eight years old, Wabanaki Indians attacked Saco. During the attack, Sarah and her parents joined 50 other people in the home of her grandfather. When the Wabanaki’s arrived in Saco, they surrounded the house and attempted to burn the settlers out of the garrison. The attempt failed, but they shot and injured several members of the party – including Major Phillips. The attack scared the Churchill family into moving to Marblehead, Massachusetts. While the fate of Sarah’s mother, Eleanor, is unknown, her father Arthur lived until 1710. By 1692 Sarah had moved to Salem Village closer to her relatives, the Ingersolls. According to Mary Beth Norton, author of In the Devil’s Snare, Sarah, like several other girls who witnessed the terrors of the Indian Wars, may have suffered from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

In Salem, Sarah became the maidservant of George Jacobs Sr., who was a crippled old man living on his prosperous farm near Salem Village. By hiring herself out as a servant, Sarah went from being the granddaughter of one of the wealthiest and socially prominent men in Maine (Major Phillips) to a low status maidservant for a country farmer in Salem.  During George Jacobs Sr.’s interrogation Sarah Churchill was eager to testify that he did not conduct family prayers and that he had led a “wicked life”. As Sarah was probably a victim of Jacobs’ physical abuse, she was quick to implicate her master. It was said that the 80 year old, Jacobs Sr. beat Sarah with his canes when she did not do her household chores to his satisfaction. Jacobs, who at the incredulous at the accusations against him, denigrated his young accusers in court, calling them “witch bitches.”

Elizabeth (Betty) Parris was nine years old when the witchcraft epidemic broke out in Salem, and she actively participated in its beginning. Elizabeth, a sweet girl, had difficulty facing the stark realities of predestination and damnation that her father, Reverend Samuel Parris, preached to her. Elizabeth Parris lived in a period of economic uncertainty and yearned to know what lay in her future.

In the dark winter days of 1691, Elizabeth Parris and her cousin Abigail Williams began to undertake experiments in fortune telling, using a device known as a “venus glass.” A venus glass consists of an egg white suspended in water in which one could see shapes and figures. The girls mainly focused on their future social status, and specifically on the trade in which their husbands would be employed. These fortune telling secrets were shared with other young girls in the area. On one occasion, the glass revealed the horrendous specter of a coffin, which, as Rev. John Hale reported in A Modest Inquiry into the Nature of Witchcraft, (1702) led to “diabolical molestation.”. And it is out of these childish beginnings that the Salem witchcraft outbreak began.

The young Ann Putnam was the daughter of Thomas Putnam and Ann Putnam, Sr. She is listed in every account as one of the “afflicted girls” and her name appears over 400 times in the court documents. She was twelve years old when the Salem Witch Trials began in 1692. By the time they were over, she had accused nineteen people, and had seen eleven of them hanged.

Initially, Ann was fed names by her parents and minister. Her father was an influential church leader and became an aggressive accuser of witches. Her mother was a fearful woman, still mourning the death of her infant daughter, and, later, she claimed that she herself was attacked by witches. Though many of the people Ann accused were those that her family or the Rev. Parris had quarreled with, she had other sources for her accusations. Mary Beth Norton has recently uncovered a connection between George Burroughs (whom Ann first accused) and Mercy Lewis, a nineteen year-old servant in the Putnam’s household. Norton’s groundbreaking research reveals the fact that Burroughs had been minister to the Maine town of Falmouth where both of Mercy’s parents died during Indian attacks. Moreover, the afflicted girls seem to have entered into something of a conspiracy as time went on, so that in the case of Burroughs the name provided by the older Lewis was quickly echoed by Ann who initiated the accusation.

Mercy Lewis was born in Falmouth, Maine in 1675. The Lewis family lived in Maine until an Indian attack killed all of Mercy’s extended family. In the Devil’s Snare historian Mary Beth Norton suspects that Mercy’s parents were killed in a later attack witnessed by Mercy herself. This tragic event cemented Mercy’s connection between the Wabanaki Indians and Satan. The settlers came to fear death, captivity, and torture by the Indians. “In light of the perceived alliance between Satan and the Wabanakis, such suffused dread could easily have been vocalized in what became the commonplace description of the devil’s threats to ‘tear [the afflicted] to pieces’ if they did not comply with his demands.” Mercy testified to one of the witch conventions and reported that they were singing biblical passages regarding God’s judgment of the heathen.

As a result of being orphaned, Mercy was sent to live as a servant with Reverend George Burroughs in Maine and then later to the household of Thomas Putnam in Salem Village. At the Putnam household, Lewis befriended Ann Putnam and her cousin Mary Walcott who were among the first to make claims of affliction by specters of witches. From her previous experience, Mercy was chief source of information about George Burroughs and the Hobbs family in Maine.

At the time the Salem witchcraft trials began, Mary Warren was twenty years old and employed as a servant in the household of John Procter of Salem Village.  Both of Mary Warren’s parents died before this stage in her life. This situation forced Warren to become a servant and support herself since she had no funds or property to claim. Some of Mary’s anxiety over the loss of her parents surfaced during the trials. The document in which John DeRich accused George Jacobs, Sr., states, “that Mary Warrens mother did appeare to this Deponent [John DeRich] this day with a white man and told him that goodwife Parker and Oliver did kill her.” In her statement against Alice Parker, Mary Warren also claims that she killed her mother and afflicted her sister, Elizabeth, “she [Alice Parker] also told me she: bewiched my mother & was a caus of her death: also that: she bewiched my sister: Eliz: that is both deaf & dumb.” Having no family and working for a man who beat her, it is not very surprising that, when accused of witchcraft herself, Mary Warren sought the public attention and legal protection of being an aggressive accuser of local witches.

Although eighteen year-old Mary Walcott was not the most notorious of the accusers, her role in the Salem witch trials was by no means minimal. She was one of the original girls to be afflicted; and it was her aunt, Mary Sibley, who decided to try some white magic to fend off the evil powers in the village. It was Sibley’s idea to persuade Tituba and John Indian, slaves of the Rev. Samuel Parris, to make the “witch cake” to discover witches that resulted in Betty Parris and Abigail Williams making their first accusations.

Walcott’s mother died when she was young and her father, Joseph Walcott, Captain of the Salem Village militia, married Deliverance Putnam thus making him the brother-in-law of Thomas Putnam, one of the most powerful men in the village. The family alliance made Mary Walcott the niece of Thomas Putnam and cousin of his twelve year-old daughter Ann Putnam, Jr., a household that also included Mercy Lewis, an orphaned servant girl, who, with Ann Putnam, Jr., became one of the most active accusers.

Abigail Williams, aged 11 or 12 in 1692, played a major role in the Salem Witch trials as one of the prominent accusers. She lived with her uncle, the Rev. Samuel Parris, Salem Village’s minister. Although it was ordinary practice for young girls to live with relatives to learn about housewifery, we know very little about Abigail, including where she was born and who her parents were.  Even though Abigail played a major role as an accuser at the beginning of the trials, especially in March, April, and May, she gave her last testimony on June 3rd 1692. There is no historical documentation suggesting why Abigail virtually disappeared from the court hearings. In addition, there are no records indicating what happened to Abigail after the events of 1692.

Historians have long pointed the collective finger of blame at the Parris’s slave, Tituba, one of the three women first accused of witchcraft, and the only member of this unfortunate trio to survive the year.  However, the mantle of guilt so eagerly thrust upon Tituba may not be rightfully hers (and at the very least, not hers alone). Later investigations have only raised more questions about the very little verifiable information available on her. Most of the perceptions and understandings of Tituba, today commonly accepted as fact, are actually based on local tradition and fictional literature rather than actual court documents or eye-witness accounts. Admittedly, the legend of Tituba as the “Black Witch of Salem” (a posthumous appellation which immediately suggests interesting racial and class connotations) may be more mysterious and entertaining than the accurate historical extent of her influence on the Salem trials; nevertheless, the ways in which this myth has been constructed are fascinating as well.  Truthfully, Tituba’s story may never be clearly sorted out. Her status as a slave constrains any attempts to uncover official records and papers relating to her. The little glimpse of her life that is available is provided only by the court transcripts themselves. Though Tituba’s words may resonate to us through the court records, she cannot tell her version of the events leading up to the Trials, she cannot share her own history and memory of Salem and life before it.  Nowhere in the court records or contemporary accounts is Tituba said to have taught the practice of fortune telling to the girls in Rev Parris’ house. The fortune telling technique that the girls’ used, as reported by one of them to the Rev. John Hale, was an egg white in a glass of water. This was a commonly known device in New England at the time, and it was condemned by the Puritans as a demonic practice. According to the Rev. Hale, one of the girls saw a “specter in the likeness of a coffin” in the glass, and she and another girl fell into fits. Tituba did not confess to the teaching of fortune telling; she confessed to signing the Devil’s book, flying in the air upon a pole, seeing a cats wolves, birds, and dogs, and pinching or choking some of the “afflicted” girls. She also said she was beaten by her owner, Rev. Parris, and was told to confess to witchcraft, which she did — and what she confessed to was all culturally European, not African or Caribbean.

There is a common theme with all the accusers and that is their life circumstances, these women were subjected to physical abuse and many had seen the violent death of family members as well as the loss of any hope of a better life. They were all empowered and listened to when they became accusers and this power would have been very heady for many of them that were living on the edge of society without hope of a better future.

A recent handwriting analysis of the depositions of the afflicted girls has shown that some 122 of them were written by Thomas Putnam. While it cannot be known to what degree the accusations made in those depositions were influenced by Putnam it is clear that Putnam had the opportunity to shape the words of the young accusers as he saw fit. Further, the similarity in language across these depositions suggests that some of the language might be that of Thomas Putnam rather than that of the afflicted girls themselves.6 In the depositions taken by Putnam, the afflicted often claim to be “grievously afflicted” or “grievously tormented” and “believe in my heart” that so-and-so is a witch. The accused are often referred to as “dreadful witches or wizards” in the depositions taken by Putnam. The frequency with which these phrases can be found in the depositions written by Putnam furthers the theory that they might have been more strongly influenced by Putnam that was previously recognized. Putnam also wrote letters to the judges involved in the trials.

Born in 1653 as the younger son of a London cloth merchant, Samuel Parris began his life in the shadow of others. By his father’s death in 1673 when Samuel was twenty years old, it was clear that he would need to leave England for any chance at financial independence and success. Failing at business in a Caribbean sugar plantation and later in business activities in Boston, Parris eventually decided to join the ministry and look for an appropriate parish in New England. His search culminated at the little village of Salem where the local elders offered the ministry church.  While the trials eventually extended well outside Parris’ control and ability to predict, he undoubtedly holds a position of importance regarding their genesis. Historians Boyer and Nissenbaum in their well-known history, Salem Possessed, define Parris as a “reference point” from which to view the trials and their beginning. He was seen in the village as a dividing line between two groups, in his mind the believers and true Christians of his small congregation versus the suspicious and dangerous people who would not join it. He represented the hatred in the village that enabled people to attack each other so horribly. By naming specific individuals and pushing certain accusations, Parris earns responsibility as one of the most tarnished characters in the history of Salem’s story.

Both Thomas Putnam and Samuel Parris had reasons to level charges at others Thomas Putnam had been disinherited by his wealthy family and through the trials he attacked the family of his half-brother the Porters.  Samuel Parris had also made many enemies that were named during the witch trials. However it was not just the enemies of these men that were named but the most vulnerable and poorest in society.

During the course of the crisis, at least eight children under the age of twelve were accused of witchcraft, and most were indicted.  First, in all of the cases, the only evidence offered against the children was spectral, and came from the “afflicted girls” of either Salem Village or Andover. In no case did anyone accuse a child of maleficium; every accuser was either an afflicted girl herself or someone acting on her behalf. All of the eight children also ultimately confessed to being witches while some, such as Sarah Carrier and Johanna Tyler, went as far as to offer descriptive confessions detailing their initiations into the service of the devil. Most notably however, every one of the eight had an accused witch for a mother. In each instance when a child under twelve was accused, his or her mother had been accused at some point during the previous weeks or months. Some, but not all, of the children’s mothers had been convicted as well.  Dorcas Good was by far the youngest accused child at age “4 or 5,” with the next youngest, Sarah Carrier, being “eight years old in November next.” She was also the only child accused within Salem Village itself.

Ann Dolliver was the daughter of Rev. John Higginson of Salem Town and was unhappily married to Willliam Dolliver of Gloucester. Court records of 1683 show that complaints were made against William Dolliver for being idle and neglecting his family. In fact, he left the Massachusetts Bay Colony, abandoning Ann and her children with no means of support. Ann was forced to leave Gloucester with her children to return to her father’s home in Salem where he and the town supported them. She retained her title of respect (Mrs.), but her social standing was compromised and her mental state soon declined.

Before June 1692 her situation was already on shaky grounds. But on June 6, when she was about 45 years old, she was arrested for “Witchcraft on the Bodys of Mary Warren and Susannah Sheldon.”  While her father was prominent and wealthy, she was a deserted wife and was utterly dependent on her father. Caught between being single and being a widow, her situation was precarious. As such, Dolliver was practically impoverished at the time of her accusation. Her condition made her vulnerable to attack because, as a poor woman, the officials would be less likely to overlook charges launched against her. Also, she did not have a husband to deflect the charges. Basically, she was a poor and therefore vulnerable woman.

Sarah Good was born to a prosperous innkeeper in 1653. However, her father’s estate became entangled in litigation leaving Sarah Good in poverty. After the death of her first husband, she married William Good. The Goods lived a life of begging and poverty in Salem Village. Sarah was regarded as an unsavory person and has come to be regarded through literature as the stereotypical witch, a disreputable old hag. Good was among the first three women accused of witchcraft in 1692 and was the first to testify. She never confessed guilt, but, like Tituba, she did accuse Sarah Osburne, an act that was credited with validating the witchcraft trials and accusations. Good was hanged as a witch on Tuesday July 19, 1692, but not until after the imprisonment of her six year old child Dorcas, also accused of witchcraft, and the tragic death of her infant in prison.

In February of 1692, Sarah Osborne became one of the first three victims to be accused of witchcraft in Salem Village. As the widow of Robert Prince-a Salem Villager who purchased a 150-acre farm next to his friend Captain John Putnam’s, Osborne was required (by Prince’s will) to carry-over their estate to their two young sons. However, by attempting to overtake possession of the property for herself and her new husband, Irish immigrant Alexander Osborne, Sarah Osborne upset social norms that consequently resulted in accusations of witchcraft by the Putnam family. She died in prison on May 10, 1692.

Research done by historian David Green indicates that scholars and writers have confused Bridget Bishop of Salem with Sarah Bishop, a tavern keeper in Salem Village. Bridget Bishop lived on a small piece of property in Salem Town and was between fifty-five and sixty-five in 1692, when she was accused of witchcraft.  In 1666, the widow Bridget Wasselbe married Thomas Oliver and had a daughter named Christian. This marriage was less than idyllic. In 1678, Bridget was accused of calling her husband names on the Sabbath, and both she and her husband were sentenced to stand gagged in the market place for their offenses. In January 1679, Bridget and Thomas were both sentenced to be whipped for fighting. It was not unusual for Bridget’s face to be battered during her marriage to Thomas Oliver. In 1680, she was accused of witchcraft. This accusation could have been facilitated by Thomas’ claim that “she was a bad wife . . .the devil had come bodily to her . . . and she sat up all night with the devil.” (Charles Upham, Salem Witchcraft). This accusation occurred after her husband died without leaving a will, and seems to be the classic case of a vulnerable, propertied woman being accused of witchcraft. She posted bond, and there is no record of any punishment. In 1687, she was charged with stealing brass objects. Her record then remains clean until she is brought up on witchcraft charges again in April 1692.

One of the major factors which made Giles Corey a prime target was not only his relationship with the rest of the community but also his past encounters with the law, including a prior conviction for murder.  By the time of the trials, Giles Corey was already 80, and was married to Martha, his third wife. On March 19, 1692, Martha was arrested for witchcraft. Giles, for reasons unknown to others, decided to testify against his wife, but eventually tried to recant his deposition, which lead to greater suspicion of his involvement in witchcraft because of the stigma surrounding perjury.

Margaret Scott was the only person to be accused of being a witch from Rowley during the Salem trials. This was mainly due to the fact that community members long thought of her as a witch. She most likely was suspected of witchcraft because of her low stature in the community, the number of child fatalities,long widowhood, and begging; all common traits among people accused of witchcraft.

The themes from the Salem witch trials remain with us today, we can compare the attitudes to Native Americans who were seen as Satanic savages and bringers of carnage and death with that held today by many about Islamic Extremists who to some may also be seen as satanic savages and bringers of carnage and death.  We can also compare modern views on the poor and destitute at this time, many have been labeled as good for nothing scroungers who place a strain on the finances of others who can ill afford to keep themselves never mind the work shy; in other words the same demonising of the poorest in society remains with us to this day.  Thus at this time it is important to keep our beliefs about others in check because as history shows once these beliefs begin to run amok and hysteria begins to take control consequences are likely to spiral rapidly.


Posted November 2, 2014 by neptune's Aura Astrology in Long term transits

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