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Preview – Malcolm Gaskill on the Ruin of All Witches

Preview – Malcolm Gaskill on the Ruin of All Witches Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast

Enjoy this special preview of our next episode featuring an engaging interview with Historian Malcolm Gaskill, the author of the book The Ruin of All Witches. This greatly anticipated Springfield, Massachusetts witch trial history book releases November 1, 2022 in the United States. Pre-order yours today. Pre-Order The Ruin of All Witches by Malcolm GaskillSupport the show

Show Notes

Enjoy this special preview of our next episode featuring an engaging interview with Historian Malcolm Gaskill, the author of the book The Ruin of All Witches.
This greatly anticipated Springfield, Massachusetts witch trial history book releases November 1, 2022 in the United States. Pre-order yours today.

Pre-Order The Ruin of All Witches by Malcolm Gaskill

Support the show


Josh Hutchinson: Welcome to Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast. In this special edition, we'll give you the first 10 minutes of our interview with Malcolm Gaskill about his book, The Ruin of All Witches, which you should buy today.
The book releases Tuesday, November 1st, 2022 in the United States. Again, that's Tuesday, November 1st, so pre-order your copy tonight or grab one in the store tomorrow.
Sarah Jack: I am happy to introduce Malcolm Gaskill, Emeritus Professor of early modern history at the University of East Anglia. [00:01:00] He is unquestionably one of Britain's leading experts in witchcraft history. His works include the highly acclaimed Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy and Between Two Worlds: How the English Became Americans. Today we have the fortunate opportunity to spend this episode with him digging into his just-released, unmatched New England witch trial book, The Ruin of All Witches. It has reached the top of the Times paperback nonfiction bestsellers list in the UK and is now number two in the Sunday Times. It will certainly be in equally high-growing demand in the United States.
The publisher describes The Ruin of All Witches as a gripping story of a family tragedy brought about by witch hunting in puritan New England that combines history, anthropology, sociology, politics, theology, and psychology.
You'll be gripped by his telling of our important witch trial history as you are held fast by every page. So let's take advantage of [00:02:00] the time we have with him and jump into this real life fairytale. 
Josh Hutchinson: What drew you to this subject for a book? 
Malcolm Gaskill: I'm a historian of witchcraft. I've been working on the history of witchcraft for best part of 30 years. You're always looking for the next story. And I've done big overviews, and I've done some smaller stories, but there's something about this one, which is it's just such a fine grained detailed story of a witch-hunt.
So it really enables you to get very close to the story and to the characters involved and actually see what the mechanics of a witch-hunt are, the social, economic, cultural mechanics, really up close over a period of time. Because quite often with the history of witchcraft, we get these kind of big overviews, and we can make assumptions about the way that witch-hunts happen, almost automatically. And I think when you look really close at a story like this, and the sources allow you to do that, you can see that people hesitate and for a period of time they [00:03:00] do nothing and they almost contradict themselves. It becomes a very, much more of a human story, I think.
And it's just a very good insight into the way that our ancestors were probably a bit more like us than we think, in that they weren't always terribly sure of themselves. But even so at Springfield, Massachusetts, they do still, in the end, all the factors come together, and they do actually have a witch-hunt.
Josh Hutchinson: We were talking the other day about how intimate this felt compared to those other books we've read, particularly about other Massachusetts witch trials, had been more of a broad survey, and you don't get quite this level of detail, so it's quite refreshing to see that.
Malcolm Gaskill: I think that's, again, that's one of the the things that drew me to the sources is that you really do see the characters, and also they do, through their depositions that they make to William Pynchon, who is like [00:04:00] the landlord and the magistrate, and he runs everything in Springfield, they do tell him how they feel. This is one of the really important things that, so when you're trying to write this like a story, you don't have to kind of invent people's feelings or their nightmares or their dreams or their emotions, because they're actually set down in the record, and that does turn it into something which is much more novel-like, I suppose, much more fictive, more kind of cinematic.
 Those things were always there in all those other stories that you read about in history of witchcraft, but you're just not always able to get down to ground level and actually peer into people's homes and listen into their conversations and really get that, as you said, that very kind of intimate sense of what these people's lives were like and the ways in which they felt vulnerable and the ways in which they felt afraid, and the way that they acted upon those fears.
Sarah Jack: You mentioned the mechanics of it, and now you're [00:05:00] talking about the listening through the walls and hearing the story. I feel like those pieces really need to come together, especially for those interested in understanding and not just following the assumption. So what you were able to do with that is so great for readers and researchers of all levels. I think it's gonna be really important in helping so many individuals get to that next level of understanding their ancestor's experience, how it all comes together. So thanks for doing that. 
Malcolm Gaskill: It's a pleasure.
Thank you very much. I'm glad that it works cuz of course you sit for a long time with the material and writing, and in the end you talk yourself, as a writer, about whether it's really working. But I think the response from readers like yourself so far has been quite gratifying that that does come across, and it isn't just that we are somehow entertained or titillated by the intimacy of these stories. But actually it really does teach [00:06:00] us something about the way that witch trials did take place. And actually also I think why quite a lot of the time they came to nothing. And that's almost a counterfactual, isn't it in the history of witchcraft that it's how do witch trials not happen?
Because actually most of the time there are these preconditions there, but they just don't ever quite come to fruition. And the hesitancy in the characters in Springfield in the middle of the 17th century, I think demonstrates the way that you know, our ancestors are not these kind of crazed, hysterical automata who just naturally blame everything on witchcraft and then accuse the first person they don't like the look of, that it's a much more slow, smoldering process towards an accusation. And even then, it's actually as the book demonstrates, it's actually very difficult to make your suspicions come off, to turn them into accusations and to [00:07:00] turn them into a prosecution and a conviction.
We end up with a picture where almost everybody believes in some level in witchcraft, but the way in which those beliefs translate to a conviction where a witch is actually executed is an extremely torturous and long and difficult path. And that at every stage it's actually quite likely from the perspective of the accuser, it's quite likely to result in failure.
Josh Hutchinson: And you mentioned that this takes place in Springfield, Massachusetts. Can you give us a little background on the community? 
Malcolm Gaskill: Okay, so Springfield is not quite like most other New England Puritan communities. It's a godly town, but it's founded quite deliberately for trade and for profit, so William Pynchon, who is a migrant from England in 1630s is a trader in beaver fur, and he realizes that actually it's one thing to conduct trade on the [00:08:00] Eastern seaboard, but actually what you really need to do is to go a hundred miles west, get yourself into the Connecticut Valley, get high up the Connecticut River, and actually then you can receive the beaver fur from source, from the Native American trappers.
And that's really his skill. So this is a very entrepreneurial town. It's a town which is built up from scratch by Pynchon, attracting the kinds of migrants that he needs in order to make his town function like a middle-sized English town of that time, where you need a division of labor, where you need farmers, but you also need cobblers, and you also need barrel makers, and you need tailors and everything, because everybody needs to be a cog in the machine to make it work. It's a kind of almost artificially constructed community with Pynchon at the head of it. And it's remote from Boston, which is the center of government.
And there's a sense in which this town is [00:09:00] rather isolated. And of course there are other towns up and down the Valley at this time, these people don't seem to like each other very much. There's a lot of conflict and tension between these communities. You certainly shouldn't get the idea that just because they all come from England, that somehow there's some sort of national fraternity between these people. In many ways it's the opposite. It's the fact that they are actually very close to each other and in competition for resources and authority and trade and all those things.
And so that, if you go back to, to commit to John Winthrop and the ideals of the city on the hill, this, the ideas of Christian charity that John Winthrop and the great migration of the 1630s was supposed to transplant in America. Rather ironically, these seem to be rather grasping, selfish, avaricious individuals and communities who are at war with their English neighbors, at war with local Native Americans, at war with the [00:10:00] Dutch, and even within Springfield itself, as we discover in the book, that actually at war with one another within an individual neighborhood. So some of those ideals of Christian love, Christian charity between neighbors are really rather turned on their head, because actually they seem to be rather selfish and actually have a lot of animosity for one another.
Sarah Jack: That makes me think about how Mary Lewis. I was thinking with the turmoil in her first marriage and then, the church body that she was a part of, she was excited about her future, excited about her faith again, and she decides to go to New England. But then, so quickly there is all of this inter fighting and stuff. I was just thinking how she really wanted to turn over a new leaf, but then when you get there and in that situation with all that it was taking to survive and to fight to get, a new life going, it [00:11:00] just it, it came back to that. 
Josh Hutchinson: Come back Thursday, November 3rd for the full interview.
We're gonna fill you up with a rich and hearty episode.
Sarah Jack: Low calorie, very filling.
Josh Hutchinson: A feast of knowledge.
Sarah Jack: From across the sea.
Josh Hutchinson: To your table.
Sarah Jack: If you make sure to pre-order The Ruin of All Witches.
Josh Hutchinson: Go out today. Buy this book. You're gonna enjoy it. Read it before Thanksgiving. Give it to your family. Have a little book club. 
Sarah Jack: Go ahead and pick two copies up. And when you've talked it up and they see that you're not willing to give your copy up, you pull out the gift copy.
Josh Hutchinson: Instead of wine, buy 12 copies of The Ruin of All Witches. Pass them out to your guests before the dinner is served, and you'll have something interesting to talk about.[00:12:00] 
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