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Malcolm Gaskill on the Ruin of All Witches

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

Presenting Malcolm Gaskill, one of Britain's leading experts in the history of witchcraft.  He has authored several highly acclaimed books including: Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy,  Between Two Worlds: How the English Became Americans and The Ruin of All Witches: Life and Death in the New World. Enjoy this interview that will inform your mind and engage your imagination.  Join us now as we discuss the founding community of Springfield MA. including dialog on its founder, colonist William Pynchon, neighbor fallout, and the circumstances around the witchcraft accusations in the community. What will you find out about the real-life fairytale of Mary Lewis and brick maker Hugh Parsons? We look for answers to our advocacy questions: Why do we witch hunt? How do we witch hunt? How do we stop hunting witches?Books by Malcolm GaskillOrder The Ruin of All Witches by Malcolm GaskillBooks by William PynchonSettlement of the Connecticut River ValleyTimeline: Settlement of the Colony of ConnecticutEnd Witch Hunt ProjectsPlease sign the petition to exonerate those accused of witchcraft in ConnecticutLeo Igwe, AfAWAdvocacy Against Witch Hunts, South AfricaSupport the showJoin us on Discord to share your ideas and feedback.Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast linksWebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagramPinterestLinkedInYouTubeTikTokDiscordBuzzsproutMailchimpSupport the show

Show Notes

Presenting Malcolm Gaskill, one of Britain’s leading experts in the history of witchcraft.  He has authored several highly acclaimed books including: Witchfinders: A Seventeenth-Century English Tragedy,  Between Two Worlds: How the English Became Americans and The Ruin of All Witches: Life and Death in the New World. Enjoy this interview that will inform your mind and engage your imagination.  Join us now as we discuss the founding community of Springfield MA. including dialog on its founder, colonist William Pynchon, neighbor fallout, and the circumstances around the witchcraft accusations in the community. What will you find out about the real-life fairytale of Mary Lewis and brick maker Hugh Parsons? We look for answers to our advocacy questions: Why do we witch hunt? How do we witch hunt? How do we stop hunting witches?

Books by Malcolm Gaskill

Order The Ruin of All Witches by Malcolm Gaskill

Books by William Pynchon

Settlement of the Connecticut River Valley

Timeline: Settlement of the Colony of Connecticut

End Witch Hunt Projects

Please sign the petition to exonerate those accused of witchcraft in Connecticut

Leo Igwe, AfAW

Advocacy Against Witch Hunts, South Africa

Support the show

Join us on Discord to share your ideas and feedback.

Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast links













Josh Hutchinson: [00:00:00] " Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live." Exodus 22:18.
Josh Hutchinson: Welcome to another episode of Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast. I'm Josh Hutchinson. 
Sarah Jack: And I'm Sarah Jack. 
Josh Hutchinson: Today we get to talk to Malcolm Gaskill about his new book, The Ruin of All Witches. 
Sarah Jack: Because you love the show, share it with your friends, family and followers.
Josh Hutchinson: Halloween's in the rear view mirror. Thanksgiving's coming up. 
Sarah Jack: Looking forward to spending this month of thankfulness with you through several episodes.
Josh Hutchinson: Even if you're not one to do a big [00:01:00] holiday feast, feast on some knowledge this year with your copy of The Ruin of All Witches, which you will forever cherish.
Sarah Jack: And trade your dessert out for another episode of Thou Shalt Not Suffer. Let your friend have that last slice of pie.
Josh Hutchinson: We're so excited to share this discussion with you today, in this month of sharing. You'll feast on the wisdom of Malcolm Gaskill and learn about a truly wonderful book, The Ruin of All Witches.
Sarah Jack: I'm excited about that too, and I'm also excited about hearing some history from you. 
Josh Hutchinson: The Connecticut Valley settlements of the early to mid 17th century included Saybrook in the South, Wethersfield, Hartford, and Windsor in Connecticut, along with [00:02:00] Springfield located 20 miles north of Windsor and under the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. All of these communities were connected through trade and migration. Especially connected were Windsor and Springfield just 20 miles apart from each other, where the flow of people and information was nearly constant. They had another thing in common too, which was they all had witch hunts around the same time. Between 1647 and 1663, witch hunting was in fashion, unfortunately, along the Connecticut River.
Sarah Jack: Thanks for sharing that, Josh. I'm sure many listeners are finding out maybe for the first time about the witch trials outside of Salem. 
Josh Hutchinson: You're welcome. I know that they will learn something today from our next guest. 
Sarah Jack: I am happy to introduce Malcolm Gaskill,[00:03:00] Emeritus Professor of early modern history at the University of East Anglia. 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 [00:04:00] telling of our important witch trial history as you are held fast by every page. So let's take advantage of 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 [00:05:00] sources allow you to do that, you can see that people hesitate and for a period of time they 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 [00:06:00] they do, through their depositions that they make to William Pynchon, who is like 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 [00:07:00] afraid, and the way that they acted upon those fears.
Sarah Jack: You mentioned the mechanics of it, and now you're 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 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[00:08:00] somehow entertained or titillated by the intimacy of these stories. But actually it really does teach 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 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 [00:09:00] difficult to make your suspicions come off, to turn them into accusations and to 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: 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 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 [00:10:00] in beaver fur, and he realizes that actually it's one thing to conduct trade on the 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. [00:11:00] And it's remote from Boston, which is the center of government.
And there's a sense in which this town is 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 [00:12:00] are at war with their English neighbors, at war with local Native Americans, at war with the 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 [00:13:00] that situation with all that it was taking to survive and to fight to get, a new life going, it just it, it came back to that. 
Malcolm Gaskill: This is a story about hope. It's a story about high ideals. These are, whether these migrants from England or from Wales, from British Isles are puritans who are going for religious reasons or whether they're economic migrants or whether it's a mixture of the two you don't, you just don't get on a boat in 1630 to cross the Atlantic unless you've really got some very high hopes for the improvement in your own future. Now, An almost inevitable consequence of anyone whose hopes are that high is some degree of disappointment. And that actually that this is not a world where there is something for everybody.
And this is particularly true in this era of spirituality and religion because there are those , who feel that they are quite convinced in their own [00:14:00] hearts that they are chosen by God. They are, according to Calvinist theology, they are the elect. They are the ones who will reign as saints with Christ at the millennium. And they believe that implicitly. 
But when they get to New England, they then have to prove themselves all over again before their congregations that actually that God's grace is in their hearts and so on. And actually sometimes the congregations are not convinced. And this causes, I say it's really beyond disappointment.
I think there are certainly, we can see some cases where people suffer really quite extreme depression and maybe even have nervous breakdowns, because that disappointment is so total. They feel totally spiritually broken, and they feel they may never be accepted. And so that there may be something of that in Mary Lewis.
Unfortunately we, one great body of records, we don't have a Springfield of the church records, so it's a little bit difficult to know who's in and who's out and who's struggling. But we know [00:15:00] from other sources that we, that she's definitely someone who's suffering from, not only from a mental illness, but from spiritual turmoil.
And of course at that time, they could be almost one and the same thing, or at least they were fused together, and you couldn't easily separate one from the other. Her personal experience of mental illness I think was as, was in terms of terror and fear of the devil, the fear of her husband, but also a kind of, a real sort of, existential despair with herself that maybe actually she wasn't quite as spiritually worthy as she'd imagined before she went to America.
 There is this history of disappointment, I think, to be written about New England as well as about success and triumph and fulfillment. 
Josh Hutchinson: We've spoken a little about Mary Lewis and William Pynchon. The third main character in this story is Hugh Parsons. What can you tell us about Hugh?
Malcolm Gaskill: Almost everything I can [00:16:00] tell you about Hugh comes from the witch trial against him. His origins are obscure. He is almost certainly, I think English rather than Welsh, and he probably goes over in the 1630s as so many others do. And so many other people in Springfield, he is hired by William Pynchon because he has a particular skill in trade, and that is that he's a brick maker. Now that in Springfield at this time, there are some who have a little bit of disposable income, want to differentiate themselves from their neighbors, want to show off a bit with some conspicuous consumption. And the way that you do that in this kind of timber built town is you build yourself a brick chimney, which is a status symbol, as well as being something that's practical that stops your house being burned down, because the others have wooden and mud chimneys. Anyway, so that he has this particular skill.
So Hugh Parsons arrives in Springfield 1645 with a certain amount of authority and power, and actually that [00:17:00] those who want to order bricks from him and get them to build them a chimney well, you know, they're sort of at his beck and call. And of course he falls out with them. He falls out with nearly all of them and that this is great source of friction in the town, which contributes to an impression of his character, which is let's just say it's more than negative. They despise and fear him, and he threatens people. So he is a, he is someone who doesn't fit into the community ideal. However, by the time really the more repellent aspects of his character become apparent, he has already married Mary Lewis. That's not a spoiler. And they're trying to build a life for themselves, but this is a life which as for so many colonial families was an extreme struggle.
But there's something about the chemistry, this sort of toxic chemistry between their hopes and ideals and ambitions and their kind of underlying character, I think, which means that [00:18:00] they will come to the worst kind of friction with one another as husband and wife, and together as a household will come into the worst kind of friction with their neighbors.
Sarah Jack: And speaking of Mary Parsons, there were two similar names. There's Mary Lewis Parsons, and Mary Bliss Parsons. What do we need to know about that?
Malcolm Gaskill: The first thing you know is it's incredibly annoying and confusing that people have the same names when you're trying to actually set I mean, no novelist would ever do it. It would be madness. But there we are. There are two Mary Parsons. There's Mary Lewis Parsons, and there's Mary Bliss Parsons. Now that actually that, we do need to talk about them both. And I do talk about them both in the book. I talk about Mary Bliss Parsons quite briefly, but she does need a mention. 
So that Mary Bliss has her family come from Devon in the west of England, and she ends up in Springfield. She marries a man called Joseph Parsons who is as say, no relation [00:19:00] to Hugh Parsons that we can determine. And that from about 1649, t's a bit obscure, but about 1649 it seems that actually she starts to deteriorate, has so many women do after her child dies.
We sometimes have this idea that people in the 17th century, women didn't, child mortality was so high that women didn't care particularly, or you know, when their children died. This is quite, this is a complete myth, and that women suffer extremely emotionally, when their children die.
Her behavior becomes erratic and very strange. She starts leaving the house at night, causing her husband incredible consternation and fear and anger actually. She starts being able to find lost and stolen goods. Now, in, back in Old England, this is what you would call a cunning woman, a kind of witch, a white witch, but still someone who seemed to be using powers that were not entirely natural.
Now, her husband locks her in the cellar to try and stop the [00:20:00] getting out, but this just course antagonizes her it tremendously, and she thinks she's locked down in this cellar with spirits. She feels that she's imprisoned in a world of spirits. And she even actually hallucinates. She's washing down by the brook, and she hallucinates this row of rag dolls, this incredible horror film moment where this row of rag dolls comes towards her.
And actually that so far she's not accused as a witch, but she will be, because it's like this world of negative spirits follows her around so that in the end, the Parsons they leave Springfield and they go and live in the fledgling community of Northampton.
And what happens there? They fall out with their neighbors. The suspicions of witchcraft against Mary Bliss Parsons now divides the town. She is finally accused and tried for witchcraft. It goes on right into the 1670s until she is finally acquitted. But you see the way that just [00:21:00] suspicions and feelings of witchcraft. You can follow a person around for their entire lives. And I think in her case almost certainly connected to some kind of psychosis. Which of course within this rather spiritually polarized community is interpreted as some kind of demonic relationship. And so it's, although that there isn't, doesn't seem to be any kind of obvious family connection with between Mary Bliss Parsons and Mary Lewis Parsons, or between Joseph Parsons and Hugh Parsons, that actually that the story of Mary Bliss Parsons does contribute to this sense in Springfield that the devil is hovering around and that there are people in the community who through a kind of frailty in their own hearts is inviting the devil in. And so that successful, I'm successful again, from the point of view of the accuser. Successful witchcraft accusations are ones where there is a [00:22:00] consensus that is at least plausible that people might actually be dealing with Satan. And here we see that cases like this, which are not directly related to the accusations against Hugh and Mary Parsons are part of a climate of opinion, part of an atmosphere where the devil is insinuating themselves into the lives of ordinary people and making it seem that this New England community is under some kind of external demonic attack, perhaps particularly because the people there have been set this task by God to thrive out in the American wilderness and that they just simply can't live up to it. And that sense of shame and guilt that comes with that sort of failure to live up to God's covenant creates the sort of despair that makes the idea of witchcraft absolutely plausible in their lives.
Josh Hutchinson: You said that in addition to suspicion, [00:23:00] there are certain other preconditions that need to be met before someone is formally accused of witchcraft. So I'd like to get into those some now. Did part of the tension have to do with the civil wars going on in England?
Malcolm Gaskill: That's a very good question.
I always try to think about the causes of witchcraft accusations in terms of spheres. You've got this very small sphere at the center, which is perhaps the individual human heart. And then there's one around it, which is the sense of the self. And then you've got the family, and then another sphere out the household, the neighborhood, the community.
So you're always like layers of an onion. So you're always working outwards or inwards. And that actually each one of these layers is connected to the one within it. But they're on different scales. And so that, at the center of this story, we've got really a sense of personal despair, anxiety, terror, and marital breakdown.
But one of the spheres or layers of the onion, whichever you [00:24:00] prefer, which is right at the outside of all this, is the sense of a Puritan trans-Atlantic world, which is being turned upside down. Maybe not actually even particularly Puritan, but the period of the Civil wars is incredibly important because these are, we sometimes think of the the British civil wars as being, you know, it's a kind of this set piece from the past where people wear funny costumes and you know, it's a sort of, you see Reenacters doing this kind of thing in England and actually that the way, that rather belies the fact that at the time the Civil War was experienced as some kind of end of days, some kind of end of time, some moment before Armageddon, where the whole world was being turned upside down. 
Now the Springfield story really takes off in 1649. That's the year in which Charles I, King of England, is executed. Now the execution of the King of England is even for those who were on the the [00:25:00] side parliament during the Civil War. Just for listeners, just in case, just make sure everybody knows that there were royalists versus parliamentarians, those who side with the king and those side with parliament, but even parliamentarians are shocked by the execution of the king. People who are constantly asking themselves, what is God's will, are forced to ask themselves, did God really want the king to be executed?
Now, the likes of Oliver Cromwell and those who signed the King's Death warrant are quite sure that they are doing God's will. But there are many who start to think God put this king on the throne, God ordained monarchy. Are we doing the right thing, getting rid of it? And I think that does contribute to a sense of anxiety and turmoil.
And we should, of course, also remember that those settlers in New England, in Springfield and right across Massachusetts and Connecticut, throughout New England, everybody's got some relatives in England who they're still in touch with. Many of them go back to see them. About one in ten men in New England go back to [00:26:00] fight in English regiments, mostly for parliament. So there is this traffic, physical traffic, traffic of letters and books and ideas that's going back and forth across the Atlantic. So that actually the, just because these New Englanders are might think of as proto Americans, they actually in their emotions and their feelings are still very sentimentally attached to England and still call themselves the English and feel that they are still part of England, so that they are worried and very emotional about the consequences of the fighting in England.
And so that you know that feeling that maybe if you do the wrong thing, that the devil has somehow got the better of you and that the devil is raging and very active, or the devil may even be joyful in the face of these calamities, is an essential backdrop to a community like Springfield thinking that perhaps the devil is watching them and that the devil will [00:27:00] find some chink in their godly armor and get in there and destroy them from within.
Because there is something really important, as I always tell people about a difference between New England and the sensibilities of its people, which is that although that people in England are heartbroken by war and that they suffer all sorts of anxieties, they never feel that England will cease to exist, whereas the New England colonies do have that existential fear hanging over them at all times, that maybe actually if God is disappointed with the results of his experiment by entrusting this covenant to his new Israelites, he'll get rid of them, and there will be some kind of Sodom and Gomorrah reborn in 17th century New England.
And of course by the 1670s when the wars with the Native Americans really take off that that fear does for a while start to feel like it will it will come to fruition. And Springfield itself is almost completely destroyed in 1675 as a [00:28:00] consequence of those wars. So that existential fear is always hanging over these colonists, and I do think that makes their anxieties rather particular and special. 
Sarah Jack: And then along with that, did the witch panics in the 1640s in East Anglia, how did they affect the witch hunting? 
Malcolm Gaskill: Yeah that's another very good point. So the witch-hunt in East Anglia goes between 1645 and 7.
Couldn't really have happened without the Civil War itself. There's a suspension of legal authority. There is disruption of the normal law courts. There are men, in this case the Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne, they come forward because this is a time when Puritan men of action feel that they should take the initiative and that they can, and that they feel that there is a righteous war to be won. So that the English Civil War and the East Anglian witch-hunt really do go hand in hand.
And then of course, that the news of the East Anglian witch-Hunt does go across the [00:29:00] Atlantic so that it's quite obvious that William Pynchon in Springfield knows about what's happened in East Anglian Witch-Hunt, because they start using techniques and methods which have been used in East Anglia and that even during a Boston Witch trial that takes place a little before this, that that before this, the Springfield witch-hunt, that where William Pynchon himself is sitting as one of the magistrates. They say they need to search the suspect and watch her to see whether the devil's familiars come to her.
And they actually say in the record, using the methods as used in England, I'm paraphrasing a bit here, but using the method used in England the surest and the best way. So they're feeling that they're very much of this kind of witch finding moment that's going on in England, and they're going to try to conduct their witch-hunt using similar kinds of quasi-legal methods, but ways in which they feel that they can expose a crime which otherwise was being concealed by the devil.
But [00:30:00] again, I think that all witch hunts, whether they are within New England or whether they are coming across from England, or even news coming from continental Europe, that witch hunts to some extent do breed other witch hunts because they increase the sense, not just that the devil's out there, but that there are actually people who are engaging with the devil and that they are witches and that these witches can be stopped.
So that if for a crime where people naturally lack confidence, success in witch trials gives them some of the confidence they need. It creates fear. So creates a degree of confidence actually that we can do something about.
Josh Hutchinson: So we've addressed some preconditions, some layers of the onion. How did New England's economic and social difficulties impact witch hunting? 
Malcolm Gaskill: One of the things that's interesting about witch hunting is that, I think working backwards from The Crucible and the Salem Witch Hunts of the [00:31:00] 1690s, there's this sense in which Puritans are predisposed to accuse everybody who having the devil in the accused, witches left, right, and center.
But for the first 20 years or so of permanent settlement in New England, there are just about no witch trials at all. There are different theories and different ways of explaining this, but one theory, which is the one that I think speaks most to me, is that if you go back to England and see what creates the kinds of tensions that then make witchcraft accusations, trials happen, they are really about economic conflict between neighbors. They are about competition for resources. They are about overpopulation. They are about anxieties about the poor and difficult feelings about charity. The point about going to America was because England was full, and America had lots of land and all it needed was labor.
And that actually, it didn't always work out this way, but that was certainly [00:32:00] one of those underlying feelings. Somewhere like Boston, originally when they arrived 1629, 1630, there is very little there, there is lots of land they can develop. Boston by 1635 is full, and they have to actually start radiating outwards cuz if you arrived in Boston, you don't get some plum piece of land in the center of Boston. You get moved out, and that's why satellite towns have to be founded. Happens in Springfield, as well, later on. And lots of little towns get formed around it because that particular piece of land gets full up, but before it gets full up, you get social conflict between neighbors, you get poverty, you get problems about poor relief.
You get beggars, you get theft, you get all sorts of crime. And actually these are some of the ways in which New England starts to resemble Old England quite quickly, and not in a good way. But actually you get some of those problems. And when you get those kinds of [00:33:00] economic preconditions, not macroeconomic conditions, but economic conditions within a community, which are problematic, if you've got a belief in witchcraft as well, then you create the kind of tension between neighbors where they start to suspect that maybe someone else is trying to avenge themselves or get the better of them using some kind of demonic power.
And once that seed of an idea is planted, that it is almost inevitable you get witchcraft accusations. So of course you do get these very English type accusations in New England. They just take a little bit of time to develop, because you need the right kind of economic problems to develop within a community to allow them to happen.
Sarah Jack: And what was the situation in Springfield when the witchcraft accusations began there? Had there been enough time for that all to develop? 
Malcolm Gaskill: Yeah, it has. I think that actually Springfield is doesn't need [00:34:00] all that time because it starts off already quite competitive, so that these are, as I said before, this isn't a a transplanted Puritan congregation, which was the nucleus for so many New England communities in Massachusetts during the 1630s. It's built up from scratch in a very small way initially, but it is rather artificially constructed so that the people that go there, or rather the people that are William Pynchon, who attracts there, are I think already predisposed to want land and to want authority.
When you trace the relations between these neighbors way after the 1649-51 witch-hunt, when you go right for into the 1670s and 1680s, you get the same people or you get their children, are in the same kind of loggerheads with one another over issues typically of work and money, authority and [00:35:00] land.
And so that it's, I think it is perhaps a more competitive place perhaps from the get go than some other communities, because it is almost designed that actually that people will fight with each other. And I think that, this isn't a godless place of saying, this is a place where Christian charity and Christian worship or Christian piety are extremely important.
But that creates its own kind of friction because for individuals that inevitably, if you are grasping avariciously for your neighbor's land, In your heart and in your mind, you are already at odds with the ideals that have been set down for you. And they are actually ideals, I think, that people take very seriously. And so that the consequence of there are feelings of guilt and shame, as I've said, and that they're exactly the kinds of emotions that the devil would revel in and [00:36:00] maybe actually encourage and exploit and so on. So I do think there is something about Springfield which is unusual. And for that reason, I think it does. If there, it hadn't been a witch-hunt in Springfield, but I'd known everything that I know about its economic and social and religious conditions, I'd be asking myself, why not? Because it's just the conditions I think are ripe. 
And particularly, as happens at Salem later on, the fact that there is a sort of a wobble or a wavering about the their legal authority and William Pynchon is, becomes a slightly less I think, reliable natural leader than maybe actually people thought that he was. And that does, for people who feel themselves out on a limb anyway to lose that faith in their strong leader is actually a rather destabilizing thing.
Josh Hutchinson: In the book, you say that witchcraft is an expression of disorder. How was that? 
Malcolm Gaskill: Witchcraft is [00:37:00] lots of things. It is a belief and it's a fear, but it's also an ideological emblem, and you get sermons, and you get political tracks, and you get poetry and plays and all sorts of literary forms that draw upon the idea of witchcraft as an ideal world inverted, so that you get witch trials, as we've discussed during the English Civil War.
But that's not just a crime which is generated within communities, which results in legal trials, but it's actually stands for, it feeds into propaganda, for example, that, oh, of course in Puritan East Anglia or in Puritan New England, you're gonna get witch trials, because the people there are so hypocritical. All the puritans will say of course we are going to get witch trials here, because we are so holy and so pious this is where the devil will try and do is damnedest. So that actually you get this kind of toing and froing about witchcraft as an emblem, an [00:38:00] idea of perfect disorder in gender relations, in social relations within a church, within a community, within a state, and so on.
So it always has that ideological function when they're actually real witchcraft trials. Then they become illustrations of that disorder as if, wow, look what's happening to this land. It's going to hell in a handcart. So the Bible teaches rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, in the book of Samuel. So this idea of rebellion and of political chaos and of revolution are tied ideologically to this image of witchcraft. And the communities that have witchcraft accusations, like Salem, find that actually the trials themselves were become much more socially disruptive than the witchcraft that the trials actually set out to get rid of.
Is this tragic, cruel irony and that the Salem and many [00:39:00] other places severe what witch hunts do come to realize that it's almost really losing your temper and saying things you don't mean, and then calming down and looking back and slightly objectifying yourself and thinking I lost control, and I'm sorry.
Exactly that happens at Salem, but 20 people are dead. And so that this sense of a, kind of these emotional volcanoes that then burn themselves out is very much at the heart of the idea of witch hunting. So that witch hunts sometimes when I say feel like a good idea, I'm not even sure people are that consciously thinking about it.
I think they can feel righteous. They can feel like a purge. They can feel like a correction to some kind of corruption within a community, but they never quite deliver that sense of purification and of correction at the end of it. On the contrary, they often leave a sense, a feeling, a feel of queasy, feeling of [00:40:00] regret and of remorse. And to set it in its religious framework, perhaps actually the devil was in us, perhaps actually that when we thought we were fighting the devil, we were the ones who were being manipulated by the devil. And that's what I think happens when your thoughts, when all your actions and all your motivations are keyed to some kind of supernatural superstructure where you feel that your thoughts and your deeds are constantly in a very direct way keyed to the devil's temptations or to god's providential impulses.
Sarah Jack: What was a witch to New England settlers? It was that person that was getting manipulated by the devil.
Malcolm Gaskill: Just that question, what is a witch? It's such an incredibly multifaceted and mutable concept.
So again, you have the biblical witch, and you have the legal witch. The witch is someone who forms a covenant with the devil. But how do you [00:41:00] prove that? But in the community, the witch is somebody really who is trying to harm you, your household, your domestic interests, your livestock, your crops, and very particularly, and this is really important for the history of witchcraft, your children.
Children are so often at the center of witchcraft accusations. That the fear of parents towards their children is that most intense emotional experience. The parent who thinks, as I think many parents would, I would die to protect my children. If you take that intensity into a situation where people really do believe that someone is trying to use black magic, in effect, to murder their children, you get the most vicious kind of defensive response.
And that vicious defensive response often translates into witchcraft accusations. Because witchcraft, the suspicion of witchcraft is often based upon the belief that someone else is jealous [00:42:00] and envious and therefore can't have what you have and therefore will just destroy it, and spoil it. You know that anxiety is very common.
 This is part of the Springfield story, as well. There's a lot about children, a lot about women becoming pregnant and about the anxieties around childbirth and about infant mortality. And that sense that in some pregnant women, that Hugh Parsons is there. He's watching them or tormenting them when they're giving birth. We might be apt to think, oh, this is just these women just blaming things they didn't understand or Hugh Parsons. They understand perfectly well about the birth pangs of giving birth. They just think that in this case, that this man is responsible for it.
And that, that genuineness, that authenticity of that belief, that sincerity of belief, I think is something which we have to at least accept, might be possible in this story. So that we don't just explain it all the way and dismiss it as people so often do and say, oh it [00:43:00] was just because they didn't like someone, or it was just because they couldn't explain some natural phenomenon.
Whereas actually all those kind of evasions from the historical truth ignore the thing that's at the center of it, which is for these people, the belief in witchcraft was a real thing and that witchcraft was a real power, albeit one that they found very difficult to identify specifically and even more difficult to prove at law.
Josh Hutchinson: You spoke about them needing to be in covenant with the devil. What was the 17th century New England Puritan view of the devil? 
Malcolm Gaskill: There's so much about the New England law code departs from English common statute law because they stick very closely to the Mosaic code. They stick very closely to the Bible.
And this is true about Puritans in England as well. The message which they really wanted to get across was that the devil is a malign spirit. The devil is a fallen angel, [00:44:00] but is the instrument of God, because if you start saying that the devil is the enemy of God, you get into kind of heretical grounds that the devil isn't some negative equivalent of God. God is supreme. And therefore, that God uses the devil as an instrument, as a kind of chained servant, in order to to tempt the sinful to their own destruction. That's really what they wanna teach, and they wanna teach, therefore, that the covenant that you have with Satan is in your heart, but these are, both in England and in New England, these are rather abstract theological ideas that are, whether they can be grasped or not, I don't know. Maybe people don't want to believe them, but a lot of ordinary people whose religion is also attached to their sense of folklore. And the stories of the woods and the wilds and the wilderness they've grown up with.
This is a world where actually supernatural beings like fairies and devils and ogres [00:45:00] are tangible. They are actually real monsters that lurk out there. And so that it's very difficult, say particularly for a child. These children grow up in these communities who are told about the devil. Children first of all understand about monsters. They understand about creatures. They don't understand about abstract ideas, about ethereal spirits that might infect your heart. And so that some people, I think, don't necessarily move on from that idea that the devil is some kind of lurking creature. So there is a tension between that theological idea and what we might call a kind of folkloric idea about the devil. Of course, in New England it's given particular kind of an even stronger tangible sense, because of a certain kind of illision between what the Puritan settler see as godless Native Americans, who many feel that they have tried to bring the gospel to and failed.
And they would say the Native Americans don't realize it, but actually [00:46:00] because they don't worship a Protestant God, they're actually worshiping the devil. And particularly when there are political and economic tensions over land and so on, that as I say erupt in the 1670s, you can get this kind of illision between this idea of demons out there in the wilderness and these demonic Native Americans, who really will come into your remote homestead at night and kill people, because of course that's exactly what happens.
And those stories are terrifying and I think do terrify children. There's certainly some evidence, but the fear of adults at Salem in the 1690s stems from traumas that they experienced as children during those native wars of the 1670s.
Sarah Jack: I just wanna say that one of the quotes that you had in your book when you were discussing some of that was, "let the devil rage." And I just thought that was like, put in there perfectly. I loved that thought put in there with the [00:47:00] other.
Malcolm Gaskill: I think the thing about the devil raging is that the devil really rages when he feels he's being fought, when he's being faced down. So he said really at the early days of the Reformation that, as soon as Martin Luther and the other early Protestants in Germany in the 1520s exposed the Pope as antichrist, then the devil had to start raging, because he'd had a free ride. If you can install antichrist as the head of the Christian Church, then the devil doesn't have to do anything. But the Protestant reformers and the Puritans who go to New England, particularly, they feel that there is a shape to this battle that they're fighting. They feel it has a beginning, middle, and an end. And the end will be their righteous victory over antichrist and, and they will get their heavenly reward. And so to think of it in those terms of this being this series of battles as part of a drawn out war, then actually we feel that they really do feel, and this is probably true of the witch [00:48:00] finders of East Anglia, they feel like they're fighting Satan in the way they can.
They can't fight Satan literally hand to hand, but they can fight those who have truck with Satan. And that is sometimes difficult for us to grasp, because all we can see is barbarism and cruelty and persecution. But if we're to try to, rather than to judge it, but if we as historians to try and understand it, which is not at all to, as I say, to exonerate or make excuses for, but if we'd actually try and understand it, I think that sometimes that motives which seem barbaric to us were more sincere, because they took very seriously the idea that there was a war, not just that they could fight, but that they actually felt it was their duty to fight.
Josh Hutchinson: In their fight, they took action against suspected witches. What was the penalty for witchcraft in Massachusetts Bay Colony, and what was that based [00:49:00] upon? 
Malcolm Gaskill: Okay, so the Massachusetts Bay does follow English common law. The penalty is hanging. Now hanging in this world was extremely unpleasant. It didn't break the neck. This is where you were basically, you strangled to death. At the end of a rope, we are much more familiar with the the mass kind of bonfires, the burning of witches, which was certainly true in Scotland and was also true in most continental inquisitions, but you get different legal systems, they have different consequences. But the witch hangings are sensational events, where mass crowds would turn out to see them.
But they were comparatively rare because the legal process didn't hurry people. Again, this is a sort of a myth that we have, where as soon as somebody suspected, they're hurried hung to their execution. The legal process actually more works to towards acquittal than it does towards conviction.
And this is one of those surprising facts, [00:50:00] but that even those people who you know, did find themselves being acquitted, it wasn't necessarily the case that they just then slotted back into the community. I think that we there's a whole history of witchcraft that isn't very well documented, which is actually what happens afer unsuccessful trials, after acquittals. Where do people go? How do they go? How do people treat them after that? Are they sorry, are they shamed? I think a lot of the time the people actually do have to go, because it's just too awful and awkward to live amongst the people who actually tried to have you executed and failed.
How can you look someone in the eye, who was actually very happy to see you executed the day before? So I think that, and of course in the Springfield story that people were like, Mary Bliss Parsons, that they don't stay in Springfield. They do go to Northampton, but, as so often the case, your past follows you around, and it's much harder to make a clean start than maybe they think, because actually that the [00:51:00] rumors begin.
And of course this happens to one of the other characters in the Ruin of All Witches, woman called Mercy Marshfield. And she arrives in Springfield for family reasons from Windsor further down the Connecticut Valley. And it's not long before the rumors start, Mary Parsons starts saying, "oh, she's brought the devil with her."
Now this all massively backfires against Mary Parsons. In this case, interestingly, it doesn't mean that everybody starts whispering about Mercy Marshfield. And then Mercy Marshfield is accused of witch. Actually, on the country, it all blows up in Mary Parson's face. It works against her. But the, just that insinuation of the idea that somebody might be bringing the devil with them, I think shows us that it's very difficult just to arrive in a new place from somewhere else and for nobody there to know nothing about you whatsoever.
Sarah Jack: You said in your book, "witches are paradoxically everywhere and nowhere, which made prosecuting them so urgent and so difficult." [00:52:00] 
Malcolm Gaskill: So there's some very interesting anthropological work about this, about the way that witchcraft exists in tribal communities today or in, certainly in, in recent years.
And they have this idea, too, this idea that everybody believes in witchcraft. People everyone's afraid of witchcraft. Witchcraft is all around, but nobody can quite pin it down on anybody. It's always glimpsed out of the corner of your eye. It's always a feeling about somebody that you can't, you wouldn't quite like to translate into a pointing the finger at somebody.
And that, that's really what I meant by that. It's, the idea is absolutely all around. But that doesn't mean to say, and again, this is one of those cliches, I think of witchcraft, that witchcraft is all around. That mean everybody's always pointing at somebody else and accusing them cuz they don't understand or explain things, they don't like people, and so on. Actually, most of the time they do nothing, and the problem with doing nothing in history is it doesn't leave a [00:53:00] lot of records. We don't have records of people doing nothing that I think we have to assume a lot of the time, that's what happens in the history of witchcraft, because it stays as a kind of ethereal abstraction.
Not just as an idea, but even something that you feel about somebody. Because witchcraft is always about fear as well. If you are frightened of somebody in your community, you don't stand on a box and point the finger at them, you stay out of their way. And so that it's an important thing with the history of witchcraft, I think, just to use our imagination about what we would do, how would we be?
Now we are not absolutely the same as them, of course we are not. But there is a degree of common sense. Actually, what I'd probably do is just be polite, stay outta their way. Keep your mouth shut. Try not to antagonize them, but try not to ostracize them either. I think that is almost certainly what most people do most of the time.[00:54:00] 
It's only really when the suspicions against someone reach a kind of critical mass, and something happens to trigger it. And quite often that is the fear of a mother to about her child, because that's when you know the all caution's thrown to the wind and they feel actually they're consumed by this kind of rage and fear that means that they will actually stand up in public and say, "I think that person is a witch, and I think that person bewitched my child." But behind that's the tip of the iceberg. And the submerged 99% of the iceberg is all the stuff that often doesn't leave much of a trace in historical record, because actually, it's that part of the iceberg that doesn't actually amount to anything in the end, because accusations just go nowhere, or people just keep them private.
I think we've covered an awful lot of ground, but I think I'd just say just one concluding remark is that it's that when we look at the the [00:55:00] documentation, the evidence we have for the history of witchcraft of many different types, I think we have to remember, it's important to remember that it's what makes that all stick together in a witch hunt is emotion, toxic emotions of envy and fear and anger and rage. And these are, of course, these, this is where we can bring something of ourselves into the past, because although we apply these emotions to different situations and in different circumstances, and maybe we're better at restraining them, who knows? Really this, these are things which are, we can identify within our own lives, and they're things which I think are absolutely central to making witchcraft accusations happen.
So really my final remark really is just a, kind of a plea for some imagination history. And that imagination really in witch hunting is to think what part of these emotions play. Because once you get the emotions in action within a story, I think it makes a lot more sense than it [00:56:00] might do otherwise. 
Sarah Jack: I feel like I know what this book is gonna mean to American readers. How is it different than what it means to the U.K.? 
Malcolm Gaskill: I suppose that would be interesting to see what the response to the American audience is. But for the UK response to it so far, I think that a lot of people have responded to it in one of the ways which I've pitched it, which is a kind of a real life fairytale. And the thing about fairytales is they don't really exist anywhere, and they don't actually always exist in a set particular time. They feel like the distant, but not too distant past. And they feel like a distant but not too distant place. But still you can identify with it. And I hope actually the American readers will respond to it in the same way rather than just seeing it as a piece of American history.
Because I think actually that many of the themes in it, the human story behind it are universal, although obviously it will have, I think, interest to people in New England and Connecticut and Massachusetts and [00:57:00] perhaps even particularly in Springfield as well. We'll have to wait and see what Springfield does make of it.
Sarah Jack: It has that fairytale feel and when Josh and I were reading through it and talking a little bit as we read, when you go through a fairytale, sometimes you read a chapter or two chapters, and then you know, the next day you come to it again, and you thought it was very much like that for me, I had to take breaks.
I had to process the emotion of what I was feeling. I would send Josh messages or turn to whoever was near me, and I'm like, "I feel enraged, I feel scared, I feel the desperation of these women". And you do, you, you picture the surroundings and all of it. It was just phenomenal.
Malcolm Gaskill: That's great to hear. Obviously, I don't wanna manipulate anybody, anyone has emotions. But I'm obviously pleased that you had that kind of visceral response to it, because that's really what I was hoping for. One of the worst [00:58:00] things, isn't it about history, the history of witchcraft, or any history, is that people feel that it's dead, and that it's gone. And I think by, like I say, by putting the emotions back into the store, you can understand it. But also equally, we can make these stories live in the present, because after all, they are dead in the past. They only exist for us. History only ever really exists in the present, doesn't it?
Where else could it be? So that it should, I think, mean something to us. I think we should, and maybe even we learned something about ourselves, and witchcraft is one of those things where we feel very different from our ancestors. But actually, when you look at the emotions that lead to witchcraft accusations, I hope there's a perhaps there's a chasing effect that actually we're really not so different from them. And maybe we are prone to some of the same paranoia and the same persecuted impulses as our ancestors 3, 400 years ago were. 
Sarah Jack: It's also a handbook as your book has so many [00:59:00] parallels in it. For me, it's has those two parallels. It's the fairytale, a narrative, but it's also a handbook for understanding.
Malcolm Gaskill: That's great. Thank you so much. 
Josh Hutchinson: Now here's Sarah with another important update on witch hunts happening now. 
Sarah Jack: Witch Hunt Happenings in Your World. Here at Thou Shalt Not Suffer Podcast, along with the Connecticut Witch Trial Exoneration Project, we have prioritized remembering the stories and names of innocent witch hunt victims in North America. These victims are from the seventeenth century. We have the benefit of time passing and can look back at past history and write some wrongs. 
But on the continent of Africa, South African Pagan Alliance's Advocacy Against Witch Hunts is in the living situation of real witch hunts. It's not a historical situation. The families of those killed for witchcraft are still living in fear within those communities where killings motivated by superstitious fear are active threats, and have harmed their loved ones. The witch [01:00:00] hunting is intending to stop evil, but the murdering is the evil, and rural South African community members are not safe from it. 
Podcast listener Damon Leff of the Alliance, legal professional and witch hunt advocate, has kept a record of reported cases. That project is called Remembering Their Names: Victims of Witch Hunts in South Africa, 2000 to 2021. 
We recently spoke with Damon Leff of the Alliance, who has informed us of the Advocacy's progress and work with South African leadership. We are so appreciative that he reached out to help us bring awareness to all witch hunts. His advocacy brings the matter of the living situation of witch hunts in African countries to us, and we must respond. His advocacy brings the matter of the living situations of the witch hunts in African countries to you, and you must pay attention. Stay tuned.
As you've seen, we are highlighting art that stands against the witch hunt. Art is a powerful and special message, and I am so thrilled to see it working to educate [01:01:00] the right message about witch hunting being a crime. However, some art is still not sending the needed message. Witch hunt murders are happening on our planet, yet some American singing and baking artists use the witch burning image lightheartedly to further their art. This choice perpetuates the acceptance of persecuting other. It has a clear message, and that message is that the witch was real, she was to blame, and we killed her. It's a murder message. Those men and women represented on a burning were innocent, not in a devil pact.
Yes, this sounds strong, and maybe it sounds inflexible, unimaginative. It most certainly is a strong and inflexible request I am making to stop witch fear. Many art forms are making efforts to educate against witch hunts, and it's now out of touch to continue ostentatious use of the image of a witch burning in the flames.
We have witch hunting to stop. We still have the flames of witch fear to stomp out. So citizens of the USA, I urge you now that you know what's happening. If you get out your [01:02:00] frosting and ganache for a witch interpretation, think twice about what you're saying with her image. Performers, put your microphone all the way up, and stand against witch killing, instead of drawing a crowd with a witch burning theme.
Harm is happening to innocent humans while we educate. Listeners, let's support the countries in Africa and across the world where innocent people are being targeted by superstitious fear. Support them by acknowledging and sharing their stories. Please use all your communication channels, including your art form, to intervene, not disregard the victims. Stand with them.
Talk about what you have learned here.
Josh Hutchinson: Thank you, Sarah, for that informative segment.
Sarah Jack: You're welcome. 
Josh Hutchinson: And thank you for listening to Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast. 
Sarah Jack: Join us next week, or Dr. Danny Buck. There's something for people on both sides of the Atlantic, something for William and Joan Towne descendants and we'll be comparing Great Yarmouth to Salem. [01:03:00] Dr. Danny Buck studied under Malcolm Gaskell. 
Josh Hutchinson: Like, subscribe, or follow wherever you get your podcasts.
Sarah Jack: And visit us every week at 
Josh Hutchinson: Remember to tell all your friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors about Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast. 
Sarah Jack: Goodbye for now.
Josh Hutchinson: Have a great today and a beautiful tomorrow
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