Katherine Howe on the Salem Witch-Hunt – Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast
Presenting New York Times best selling author Katherine Howe. She discusses how we should view the individuals from the Salem, MA witch trial history. Katherine gives us an exciting preview of her current fiction book project on 17th century female pirates:: A True Account of Hannah Masury’s Sojourn Amongst the Pyrates, Written by Herself: a novel. We continue the conversation inquiring with our advocacy questions: Why do we witch hunt? How do we witch hunt? How do we stop hunting witches?
University of VA, Salem Witch Trials Documents and Transcriptions
Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England by John Putnam Demos
In the Devil’s Snare by Mary Beth Norton
Witchcraft Belief by Boris Gershman
Islandmagee Witch Trial News
Leo Igwe, AfAW
Advocacy Against Witch Hunts, South Africa
Please sign the petition to exonerate those accused of witchcraft in Connecticut
Join us on Discord to share your ideas and feedback.
Listen in Your Favorite App
Listen and subscribe wherever you enjoy podcasts:
[00:00:00] Josh Hutchinson: " Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." [00:00:03] [00:00:24] Josh Hutchinson: Welcome to another episode of Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial podcast. I'm Josh Hutchinson. [00:00:31] Sarah Jack: And I'm Sarah Jack. [00:00:33] Josh Hutchinson: Today's guest is the extraordinary author Katherine Howe. We'll speak with her about the causes of the Salem Witch Hunt and about her new book on pirates. I'm excited to talk about Salem Witch Hunt again and really curious what her book is about. [00:00:56] Sarah Jack: Yeah, it doesn't matter what time of year. [00:00:59] Josh Hutchinson: [00:01:00] It's always Christmas for pirates. [00:01:02] Sarah Jack: Just like Katherine's other books, you are going to be delighted by the characters and the adventure. Fun getting to hear about it, and it's gonna be hard to wait for the publishing. [00:01:17] Josh Hutchinson: She has wild swashbuckling shenanigans. But first, on a more serious note, we talk Salem, Witch Trials, what caused them, what didn't cause them, why Katherine Howe it gets fired up about certain topics. [00:01:37] Sarah Jack: We get to a lot of layers. [00:01:40] Josh Hutchinson: Peeling that onion. [00:01:42] Sarah Jack: We just take Katherine right into the depths of the mechanics. [00:01:48] Josh Hutchinson: We talk about the different spheres that Malcolm Gaskill spoke about that are nested in each other and how each of those [00:02:00] spheres contributed to the witch-hunt. [00:02:03] Sarah Jack: We talk about what kind of perspective do we need to be using when we look back at the individuals that were in a different time in history. [00:02:12] Josh Hutchinson: Oh yes, we do that, don't we? Wow, this is gonna be one hell of an episode! [00:02:19] Sarah Jack: Aren't they all? [00:02:20] Josh Hutchinson: Yes, but I have a good feeling about this one. It's gonna be something special. [00:02:26] Sarah Jack: It's another dynamic conversation with a phenomenal author and researcher, and she does not hold back. [00:02:36] Josh Hutchinson: She does not. The emotions come out. Be ready. [00:02:43] I'm going to talk about the before the Salem Witch Trials, what the conditions were in Massachusetts Bay Colony and Salem Village and Andover. [00:02:56] Colonies used to have charters, so they [00:03:00] were officially recognized by the English government to govern themselves without direct supervision from the Crown and Parliament. Massachusetts Bay lost its colonial charter in 1684, when King Charles II revoked it because they had been naughty boys. And when the witch hunt began in early 1692, they still didn't have a charter, so they were in legal limbo. [00:03:34] In addition, they were fighting King William's War and still recovering from King Philip's War, which was the costliest and bloodiest of the colonial wars, occurring between 1675 and 1678. In fact, the Massachusetts economy did not recover to pre-war levels [00:04:00] until the 1800s, after the Revolution. [00:04:04] Economic hardship resulting from the wars and the collapse of land speculation were also contributed to by an influx of refugees from the frontier in Maine and New Hampshire, and Essex County, where Salem's located, was especially impacted, due to its proximity to that frontier, being the northernmost county in Massachusetts. Many of the settlers of Salem had moved on to Maine and New Hampshire, only to be forced to return when their villages were burned to the ground. [00:04:50] Beyond these issues, in Salem, the town had recently gone through a bit of a separation, [00:05:00] where Salem Village was allowed to begin its own church. In 1689, Salem Village hired the fourth in a series of unpopular ministers, and there were disputes over his contract, so there was a lot of tension in the area. [00:05:23] There was also tension in Andover, which was the hardest hit by the witch trials, with some 45 individuals being accused. There, there was a dispute between two ministers, Francis Dane and Thomas Barnard. Francis Dane was an older gentleman with health issues, who was no longer performing full duties as minister. So they had brought in Thomas Barnard, a younger man to take over some of [00:06:00] his duties, but were still paying both men in 1692, leading to tensions within the community that may have fueled some of the allegations there. [00:06:13] We'll get into these issues further with Katherine Howe, and specifically we'll be discussing Andover in a few weeks with author Richard Hite and get into more of whether the dispute over the ministers did or did not contribute to witch-hunt fever in that community. [00:06:35] Sarah Jack: That was good, Josh. Thanks, Josh. [00:06:39] Josh Hutchinson: You're welcome. It was a fun one to do, and we're going to dig into that stuff some more with our guest. [00:06:48] Sarah Jack: I am excited to introduce author Katherine Howe, whose works include The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, Conversion, [00:07:00] The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs. She's an editor of The Penguin Book of Witches and co-author of Vanderbilt. [00:07:09] Josh Hutchinson: We've read that you're actually connected to somebody accused, which is an interesting connection. So can you tell us about who it is that's your ancestor? [00:07:22] Katherine Howe: It's a little bit of a funny story. So my last name is Howe, like, how are you? But with an "e" on the end. And one of the witches who was accused towards the beginning of the Salem panic and who was put to death was Elizabeth Howe. And she was from the same broad region that my family was from also. So it wasn't a huge surprise when my aunt, back in the nineties, she was doing some genealogical research, and she figured out that that Elizabeth Howe is, I think it's like my eighth great aunt. So it's a lateral thing, rather than a direct thing. But at the time, she discovered that Elizabeth [00:08:00] Howe was related to us that way and also that Elizabeth Proctor was also a eighth or ninth great aunt, as well. [00:08:07] Just not all that surprising given that those communities were pretty small, and there were lots of intermarriages between different family groups and things like that. So it was in the nineties when I first learned that and thought, of course, it being the nineties and me being a grunge kid, and I thought was like, "oh, that's so badass. That's so metal." thought that was the greatest thing ever. [00:08:27] I didn't give it much thought beyond that, until I was actually living in that region of New England, because my family left New England in the 1930s. I grew up with this sense of it as like the motherland, but I didn't actually grow up there myself. So I arrived in this region with this kind of funny twin consciousness of, oh, this is home, but I'm also a stranger here. And so it was being a stranger in this place that I felt this kinship that probably contributed somewhat to my getting started [00:09:00] writing fiction. [00:09:00] My first book was The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, which was something I started working on when I was in graduate school at Boston University and just trying to think about the humanity of people living in this time and the, maybe a funny little detail. So one of the historians of witchcraft who I really admire the most is a woman named Mary Beth Norton, who wrote a book called In The Devil's Snare, which anyone is interested in Salem has to know Professor Norton's work, cause she's just like the kind of detail that she can bring to it. And she writes in a novelistic sort of way. It's just like the most gripping account of Salem ever. And Professor Norton has said that the more you work on witchcraft, the more superstitious you become. And I have to say that this is true. As evidenced by the anecdote I'm about to tell you. [00:09:54] So my first book was The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. It asked, "what if one of the Salem witches the real [00:10:00] thing?" But the real thing the way the colonists believe, which is to be not in that pointy hat fantasy, Harry Potter Sense. [00:10:07] And I built that story around a woman named Deliverance Dane who's a real person. And she was a minor person in the Salem Witch crisis. She was accused towards the end of the panic. She was not put to death. She really, like, was a footnote, I think, in the real history of Salem. And so I felt like it was okay to build a more fantastical story. [00:10:30] Physick Book is a magical realist story, so I wanted room to have kind of a fantastical story around a real person. And so I picked her because of her obscurity, but also because of her name. Her name is so evocative of this particular moment in time of this like subculture that she was living in, Puritan New England, Deliverance Dane. Just amazing. So that is why I chose to write about her. [00:10:59] That book [00:11:00] came out in 2009, and so several years later I was futsing about on a genealogy website because of course, for people who are interested in family history, life's gotten a lot easier. Over the last couple of years, with the advent of digital humanities and so many more ways of doing research online. Like, when my aunt was doing research in the nineties, it was really hard to do, and now it's actually much more accessible, which is a huge gift. [00:11:25] So I'm messing about, point, click, point, click, and I come upon Nathaniel Dane, which is actually the name of a character in the book that I wrote, and I was like, "huh, that's a weird coincidence. Who knew?" Point, click, point, click, point, click. Lo and behold, I learned that it turns out Deliverance Dane, the real one, is my eighth great-grandmother. And so she's more closely related to me, genetically speaking, than Elizabeth Howe, even though Elizabeth Howe and I have the same last name. And I had [00:12:00] zero idea, no idea whatsoever, and I'd written an entire novel about this person and found that there she was, just hanging out, waiting for me. So I definitely have gotten more superstitious the longer I've worked on witchcraft. [00:12:11] Josh Hutchinson: That's a very strange thing to have happen to you. But it turns out that Deliverance Dane is actually my like eighth or ninth great grand aunt, and Elizabeth Jackson Howe is also an aunt, and Deliverance Dane, in her confession, says that she worked with Mary Osgood, and that's my grandmother. I connected to a lot of the people you're connected to. [00:12:39] Katherine Howe: So we're cousins, Josh. [00:12:40] Josh Hutchinson: And Sarah's my cousin through Mary Esty. [00:12:44] Katherine Howe: Wow. [00:12:45] Josh Hutchinson: Yeah. It's a small world when you get back to those little towns back there. [00:12:50] Katherine Howe: Yes. It really is, for sure. It's still pretty far back there. It's a long time ago. It was very funny. I once did a book event, and someone came out to me very emotional, [00:13:00] and they were, turns out, a descendant of a judge from the Salem trials. And this person wanted very much to personally apologize to me. And I was like, " no, it's really, it's okay". Like he's, this is not something that you need to feel badly about. This is, everything's fine, cool's fine. But it is interesting to me how close people can feel to people who are living in such a distant time period. [00:13:26] Josh Hutchinson: We definitely feel connected to our ancestors, and we talk to a lot of descendants of which trial victims, and they have an emotional bond with those ancestors, but that was so long ago. Did you get interested in Salem because of your connection with Howe and Proctor? [00:13:51] Katherine Howe: Partly. I went to graduate school for American and New England studies, which is like interdisciplinary American history. And I actually came to it from an art history [00:14:00] background. I have a background in visual culture, and it's a where for grad school visual culture and also material culture, which is to say, stuff, objects. On a whim, my husband and I moved to Marblehead, Massachusetts, which is a small town on the water close to modern-day Salem. [00:14:19] We're having this conversation in October, and there was just an article on Boston Globe about how like a hundred thousand people came to Salem for Halloween and running streets. Salem is a town of 40,000 people. I can't even wrap my head around how many people they cramming in this season. And a lot of people come to Salem for Halloween. It's like Halloween Central, and understandably. [00:14:41] But it was interesting to me while I was living in Marblehead and I was studying history. And I was living in a house that was built in 1705. And so one thing I have to say is people associate me so closely with Salem, because I've written so much Salem fiction. I grew up in [00:15:00] Houston, Texas. Okay. So the oldest building extant in Houston, Texas is a wine bar that was originally built as a bakery, and it's from 1856. So the oldest building in the entire city that I grew up in is six years younger than the new edition of the house that I was living in in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Earlier, when I was talking about having a sense of being home but being a stranger there. I brought my new south eyes to this incredibly old environment, because Marblehead has the biggest collection of century houses in the entire country. They even have more than Colonial Williamsburg, for instance, except that in Marblehead, the houses have been continually occupied. [00:15:46] On the second floor of the house was an apartment, but the house had been a single-family house, been carved into apartments. Pine floors were like foot wide, and the ceilings were incredibly low. Like, you couldn't stretch your arms over your head, cuz [00:16:00] the ceilings were so low. And this is actually when I learned for the first time, talking material culture, that bed headboards actually have a function. They're not just decorative. And I discovered this, because we were so broke in grad school that we would turn the heat down as far as we could manage. [00:16:16] And so the room that we used as our bedroom, ice would form on the inside of the windows, because it was so cold, and we were so broke. And so when we were first living there, we had this futon I'd brought with me from Texas, of course. And there was no headboard on the futon. And so we were freezing, just like having your head up by this wall with ice on the window. We were freezing cold. And it wasn't until we got like a bed with a headboard, we like, "oh, this is a lot warmer. This is great." We just only then did I discover that a headboard really is important, at least if you're living in New England. [00:16:48] And in this room, the bedroom that we had was tucked under the eaves of the lean-to part of a house. So if you're familiar with colonial architecture, houses tended to be built in stages. You'd have room here and a [00:17:00] room here, and you have maybe you'd add a second floor and you might add a lean-to in the back to add some extra space. So we were in what had been the lean-to, and there was a little door that went into the back stair, and over the back stair, there was this little horseshoe-shaped charm over the back door that had been painted over. And of course, horseshoes are something that I think all over the country, we all recognize what they mean, and they mean that they're there for luck or for protection. And you see this all over the place. This is a piece of folk magic belief that is incredibly widespread, such that we don't even really notice it, as evidenced by the fact that you can buy horseshoe necklaces at Tiffany's, wherever. We don't even think about it anymore. But it was interesting to me to see this little remnant piece of magic. It wasn't a real horseshoe. It was clearly there. It was tiny. It was a charm. It had been made as a charm, sold as a charm. [00:17:54] And so then I started looking around and noticing horseshoes wherever I went. And it got me thinking [00:18:00] between the fact that there was this little remnant magic shred, that there was that and also the fact that I was in this physical space that people had been moving through, who had been present when the trials were happening. Like we were only one town over from Salem, and, of course, when the trials were happening, people were traveling from towns all over the place to come and see, because it was a huge spectacle. People were talking about it. [00:18:26] So there was one day when I was sitting and thinking, like, "someone's foot has been on this board, this actual board under my hand. The same foot was standing and watching what was going on." And something about that tangibility or that proximate tangibility was really moving to me, and it got me thinking about the humanity of people who were living through that very strange moment in time, cuz I feel like much of the time their humanity is elided by our presentist biases or what have you. I feel like in [00:19:00] highly fantasy versions of witchcraft, the humanity of the people in the past is elided, and in, certainly in Arthur Miller, the actual humanity of people is alighted. [00:19:12] I started thinking about what became the story in Physick Book from that perspective, from like occupying this very weird, specific physical space as a stranger and trying to think about what it meant to be in that space and like how it felt to be in this space, over this incredible span of years, and how, in one sense, the early modern period is this incredibly alien and remote time. Their understanding of how reality worked is very different from our understanding of how reality works. But at the same time, there are certain common elements of common humanity that persist, like lying in bed and being freezing cold, unless you have a headboard at your head, and so a lot of my fiction, my desire to write fiction came [00:20:00] from thinking about these common points of humanity across really wide, gaping spans of time. [00:20:06] Josh Hutchinson: Can you give us a little background on what the situation was in Massachusetts Bay, when the witch trials started? [00:20:17] Katherine Howe: A few things were happening. A question that I get a lot is, what is the proximate cause o f the Salem Witch crisis, what caused it? And the thing that I think is interesting about that question is that it suggests that it would be so much easier if there were just one cause, if we could just point to the thing, and be like, "oh, that's the thing." [00:20:36] When we were corresponding, Josh, you mentioned the ergot hypothesis, that back in the seventies, somebody floated the idea that maybe all the afflicted girls had eaten moldy bread and were suffering from ergotism, and they were all tripping outta their mind. And that hypothesis was actually dismissed, I think, six months after it was first floated. But it still bubbles up periodically in [00:21:00] documentaries and popular discourses about Salem, because, and I think the reason that it doesn't go away is because it's so simple. It's so tidy to be like, "okay, that's the thing." [00:21:11] And the truth of the matter is there isn't one thing. The way that I sometimes talk about it is that it's like a Venn diagram, and Salem is the point of the intersection of all the overlapping circles. [00:21:24] So one overlapping circle is the very specific kind of religion that everyone in Salem adhered to. It was a world view that did not hold that there was anything outside of Christianity. So, for instance, the indigenous population that was already living in Massachusetts at that time, by virtue of not being adherents of Christianity in their very specific puritan worldview, that which is not Christian is by definition devilish, and it was actually Mary Beth Norton who's made the point that a lot of the language that the [00:22:00] people at Salem use to describe the devil is language that is used to describe indigenous people. So, one big Venn diagram circle is the specific religious and cultural moment that they're living in. [00:22:15] Another diagram circle that we could point to is the weather, that the first panicky behavior that erupts with Betty Parris and with Abigail Williams, it starts in January, January, super cold in Massachusetts, cold, dark. The sun sets at 4:30 in the afternoon. And I'm not exaggerating, like it is dark AF. And and that's true in the 17th century, as it's today. And also in 1690s, North America was in miniature ice age. It was even colder and more bitter than it is now in Massachusetts. [00:22:50] Another piece is pretty relentless class and gender context. The girls who first experienced symptoms that they describe as [00:23:00] fits are Betty Parris, daughter of Samuel Parris, who's the unpopular minister in Salem Village, Abigail Williams, who's his 11-year-old, she's described as being his niece, although that had a different meaning for them than it does for us today, but she was bound out to service. [00:23:17] So can you imagine living in a culture where when you can't afford to feed your 11-year-old, you just give her to somebody to live with, for her to work for them? You just give her away. And so Abigail was this lonely, impoverished, starving, freezing child whose job it was to obey everyone all the time. [00:23:42] Oftentimes, I think with great sympathy about Abigail Williams, poor Abigail, who, by the way, in Arthur Miller is turned into a 17-year-old temptress. She's a child. She's a child. And if you look at the descriptions of her behavior that are described as her being in her fits, a lot of her behavior sounds to me like playing, [00:24:00] like running around in circles and flapping your arms and saying, " whish" and saying that you're gonna fly at the chimney. [00:24:05] Is that devilish possession, or is it an 11 year old girl being silly? And I feel like that is a, that is something that's worth thinking about. So there's the kind of class and gender politics, that's another big. [00:24:16] So there are a number of different aspects, but you were asking about the politics and the charter. So this is another pretty big circle. So, typically in the early modern period in the colonies, if someone was accused as a witch, they would be accused and have a trial, and if they were found guilty, by the way, it's hard to find people guilty. They actually had a pretty high bar for for evidence at that time. Believe it or not, you could be tried and found guilty, and if you're found guilty, you could be put to death, and that could happen within a matter of weeks. Salem, the panic begins in January, the first hangings aren't until June. That's like a huge long span of time. And the reason for that long span of time is because the Glorious Revolution was unfolding. [00:24:57] Back in England at that [00:25:00] time, Massachusetts Charter had expired, so they didn't have the legal wherewithal to hold a trial. That's why the Salem trial trials are conducted by a special Court of Oyer and Terminer. They basically had to convene like a special tribunal to deal with this problem that had come together. In fact, there's some historians who wondered if the Court of Oyer and Terminer didn't just deal with witchcraft. They were supposed to deal with all the rest of the backlog. But we just don't know what that backlog was, cause the records of the witch trials are what have survived. [00:25:28] And then there's another piece of the Venn diagram, and we have to consider it. At the very beginning, the very first person who's accused as a witch is accused by Abigail and Betty and she's the only person who has less social and cultural power than they do. And they accuse Tituba or Titube Indian, who is an enslaved woman in the Parris household. [00:25:50] So she's basically the only person who has less ability to protect herself than these children themselves do. And so Tituba's accused. She [00:26:00] has two confessions, and there's some evidence that she is beaten in between the two confessions. And in one of the confessions, Tituba introduces the idea of a conspiracy. She says that there is a group of witches at work in Salem Village. She doesn't know who they are or how many. [00:26:20] And so at one point early on, there's actually a sermon is preached in Sermon Village that I'm gonna man the title, but it's something along the lines of "Christ Knows How Many Devils There Are." And so you have this idea of an unknown number of conspirators, who must be discovered. And when you have this undefined, invisible threat and also no legal relief, there's no like pressure valve that this tension could be released by, because of the like, unfortunate timing of the expiration of the charter. [00:26:58] So you bring [00:27:00] all of these circles in the Venn diagram together, and that is why Salem gets as big as it does. And by the time Salem was over and done, 19 people were put to death and hundreds had been accused, hundreds in a period of time when a given town would only have a couple thousand people. [00:27:16] Josh Hutchinson: That was a great, thorough explanation of how it took all these different factors to create the situation. It wasn't something, a single bullet theory, that you can put to rest. [00:27:32] Katherine Howe: But I think one reason that, that we keep craving for simplicity is because with a simple explanation for why than it's easier to consign, to history. It'd be so much more encouraging or it'd be such a relief to be able to say, "Oh, it was air got poisoning. No big deal. That's all." But like the fact that it, what really was at stake was this intersection of circumstances and that everyone who was a participant in [00:28:00] Salem pretty much believed that they were doing the right thing. Not only the right thing, but the necessary thing to save their community. That to me is also a moving but also terrifying thing to remember and to realize. [00:28:13] Because certainly we all, we've all lived through moments where we are convinced that we're doing the right thing, only to see ourselves perpetuating horrors, and that is I think that's one of the reasons we as a culture are never really able to let go of Salem. [00:28:25] Sarah Jack: You said, " as a culture, we're never able to let go of Salem." Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, " shall we never get rid of this past? It lies upon the present like a giant's dead body." I'm wondering what you think you would write now about that. [00:28:43] Katherine Howe: Hawthorne in particular is someone who, like he personally, so felt the weight of Salem's past in a very personal way, because he was a descendant of Judge Hathorne, obviously. And because he was living there himself, and for many [00:29:00] generations, in fact, much during much of the time period when Hawthorne was living in Salem, the witch trials were not discussed in polite society. This was true into the 20th century, actually. They were not discussed. It was not something that was brought up. It's certainly something my family never talked about until this is something that my, my aunt uncovered. There was a sense of embarrassment attached to it, I think. [00:29:23] But I'm also intrigued by the fact that when Hawthorne has tried to grapple with it, and he has tried to grapple with it, he took the line from he, he knew what had happened. Like he took a line from Sarah Good and put it in the mouth of Matthew Maule, in The House of the Seven Gables. [00:29:39] Was it Hawthorne who grumbled about "damn scribbling women?" I think it was. I think it was. And so this is me tweaking his nose a little bit, but Sarah Good. Sarah Good was a beggar. Okay. She was destitute. She was one of the first people accused, because she was in no position to defend herself. She was thrown into jail. She has a baby on her and like [00:30:00] toddler, essentially with her, the baby dies while they're in jail. The toddler, whose name is Dorothy, ends up losing her mind and has to be like supported by the town after the trials are all over. So like this person is in absolutely dire straits and is and suffers mightily at the hands of the community where she lives and who's supposed to be helping them. [00:30:23] And when she's on the scaffold, she says the most badass thing anyone has ever said in history of time, my unbiased opinion. She says, "I'm no more than a witch than you are a wizard, and if you take away my life, God will give you blood to drink." And I wish I had that kind of wherewithal, because who has that kind of wherewithal under in those circumstances? [00:30:45] And so Hawthorne takes this line, Hawthorne knows it's happened, and he puts this line in a guy, in a guy's mouth. I understand that he's writing in the 19th century. I get it. But at the same time, I think it's impossible to [00:31:00] look at Salem and not consider gender politics in place. The fact that virtually everyone who's accused and put to death was a woman. Any man who was accused cuz he's associated with a woman who was already accused. Giles Corey was crushed to death between stones. He's accused cuz his wife, Martha's accused first, but also the accusers are initially children, but then also women. So there's a really intense gender politics in place here. [00:31:28] So your question was, the past lying with the weight of the giant and what would Hawthorne say today? And I'm actually curious what Hawthorne would say about it today. I think he would sympathize with, or maybe be aggravated by the fact that we're still having the conversation that he was having a hundred and fifty years ago. But at the same time, I feel like we're talking about different things from what he was concerned. And and also I think he would be really annoyed because I write novels. I'm a woman. [00:31:58] Sarah Jack: I [00:32:00] love that you brought up that he took Sarah's words and gave them to a man, because it just dawned on me very recently that Ann Putnam didn't read her own apology. I just assumed, and I think that possibly other descendants, we read that, we think I don't know what we really think about it. We're evaluating what it says anyways, but we're doing that with her voice in our head, and no, it was not. [00:32:30] Katherine Howe: One thing that, that continues to interest me, as a history person, about Salem is that it's one of the rare instances when regular people are at the center of the store. So much of history, especially the further you go into the past, the vast majority of people who've been alive in history of ever, have left no record of themselves. They weren't literate, they weren't of sufficient note to have their burial place noted, [00:33:00] and so much of history, even academic history, as it's gotten more serious about excavating stories, just by the nature of the way that archives come to exist, there's still going to be a bias towards power. [00:33:13] There's gonna be a bias towards privilege and a bias towards power, and, when it comes to Salem, that is one of the rare instances where the bias towards power falls away, because the people who are at the center of the drama are regular people, and where historians have put the work in to try to excavate what is able to be excavated of these lives that otherwise would've been invisible to us. [00:33:40] Would we have known Abigail Williams ever existed, if she hadn't been part of the Salem Witch Trials? We would not have? And in fact, even with her central position at the beginning of the panic, we don't know what happened to her. We don't know where she went. We don't know how old she was when she died. Nobody actually knows for sure. [00:33:56] And so particularly talking about people who are not literate, Anne [00:34:00] Putnam had her confession read. If I remember correctly, Anne Putnam wasn't literate. And so you're right in saying here's this apology that she delivered in front of everybody and that it was read on her behalf. To what extent was she the author of her own apology? And it's impossible to say. It's impossible to know. [00:34:19] And it's one of the reasons that you've touched on one of my rant buttons, I'm sorry to report, but as a writer of historical fiction, like I have so little patience for historical fiction about kings and queens. I don't give a damn about kings and queens. Who cares? They get enough attention, they have enough records, they're all literate, everyone documents every single thing that they do. And I do not give a damn, because history pays them enough attention, and I'm so much more interested in trying to excavate the history of people who would otherwise be forgotten. [00:34:54] Sarah Jack: I caught that from you reading Conversion, because [00:35:00] your main character, Colleen, she's getting to give us the firsthand experience like no other afflicted person was able to do. [00:35:09] Katherine Howe: Thank you for saying that. I confess I haven't looked at Conversion in kind a long time. You're making me think I should look at it again, cuz there's actually a group of high school students who are reading it right now and I'm gonna talk to next week. I should read that book. [00:35:22] But I appreciate you saying that, because I feel like, like one question I sometimes wrestle with as a history person and someone who's a novelist is what does historical fiction have to offer that nonfiction doesn't have to offer? Like, why not just write a really good history of something? [00:35:38] And I feel like in many instances, in the cases where a story cannot be recovered, that's where historical fiction can be a really wonderful intervention. If you can build a credible world with credible material culture, and credible details, and credible politics, and credible ideology, and then [00:36:00] people it with people who are credible people, it is a way of accessing history that otherwise is not extant, where it doesn't exist. [00:36:11] Is there going to be some imagination involved? Obviously, but it is, I feel like that's where the opportunity lies. And I realize we've gotten off Salem a little ,bit and I apologize, but it's something that I think about a lot. Like, particularly for some, a story that's as revisited as often as the Salem story is, what does fiction have to offer? Like why tell a fictional version of this story? I feel like fiction gives you permission to fill in and shade in stories that where there just is no other shading available. And that to me seems like the real area of opportunity for storytelling. [00:36:52] Josh Hutchinson: I wanted to ask you about the afflicted girls. Do you think it's plausible that conversion disorder could [00:37:00] explain some of the fits? [00:37:01] Katherine Howe: Yes and no. I'll explain that hedge of an answer. For one thing I find it always a little bit tricky to apply contemporary psychoanalytic categories to people in the past. Like on the one hand, I believe very urgently in, the shared humanity of people in the past, but at the same time, like we take as natural so many habits of mind that are actually very historically contingent. The fact that you and I might casually talk about what our dreams mean or what our subconscious motivations might be for something like that is indicative of post-psychoanalytic. And I think it's tricky to try to access the interior light of people who are living in a different moment, especially a moment like the early [00:38:00] modern in Massachusetts. It's even hard for a scholar of that time period to really grasp the extent to which Christianity informed every, single aspect of existence. [00:38:15] So for my second novel I was working on. No, it's Physick Book. I was reading up about alchemy, and like we know about alchemy as this pseudoscientific practice in early modern practice in which someone tries to turn that into gold. Okay, fine. But that's actually not what it was. It is actually a way of understanding the order of the universe that took as scientific fact the perfectability of the human soul. [00:38:41] There's this tense layering of religion and materiality and mirroring of structures and images like, like as soon as I would get close to thinking I understood alchemical thought, it would slither out of my grasp. And I would realize this because I'm just [00:39:00] too much of someone born in the 20th century to, to I will never actually really understand that intellectual landscape. [00:39:09] So when you ask can conversion disorder explain the girls' behavior? Like in a way yes. But in another way I don't know that we can actually really understand their selfhood, the way that these girls thought about themselves or understood themselves as individuals. [00:39:28] It's just very different from the way that we think. It's very different. So that there's that qualification. With that qualification in place, I would say that, so conversion disorder is where you are under so much stress that your body converts it into physical symptoms. And then mass psychogenic illness is when a group of people experience strange behavior together. [00:39:56] And there are many examples of mass psychogenic illness [00:40:00] or mass psychogenic illness expressions of conversion disorder, and many examples of it across cultures, across time, across continents, across ethnicities. And it very often happens among adolescent girls, for whatever reason. Maybe cause we are conditioned to be more like socially engaged with other people. Who knows? You can try to explain it a number of different ways. [00:40:22] But it's not only adolescent girls. I think that it is, this is gonna be a controversial thing to say, but like the recent incidences of Havana Syndrome are pretty clearly an example of mass psychogenic illness. Now it's important to say that mass psychogenic illness is real. It counts as a real thing. It's not just people like, it's not all in your head. You know what I mean? Like the fact that it is, that it has its origin in mental disorder doesn't make it any less real to the body. Conversion disorder is a disorder. It is your body being sick. It's just that the sickness originates [00:41:00] from inside your own organism. That doesn't make it count less. You know what I mean? [00:41:03] All of which is to say, did a group of girls start exhibiting strange behavior? Yes. Did it spread from girl to girl on networks of kinship and friendship? It did. But at the same time, their behavior, when you say "fits" today, that has a very specific connotation. And it sounds like a epileptic seizure or something like that to, to us today. If I say, "Oh my gosh, I just saw this person have a fit." You'd be like, "Oh no." And you'd imagine that they fell down twitching and foaming at the mouth, but that's not what they were doing. [00:41:32] What they were doing was behaving out of the ordinary. So like earlier we were talking about Abigail running around flapping her wings and saying, her arms, and saying, "whish, whish, whish." That is her in her fits. Or like another instance of Abigail in her fits is when she challenges Deodat Lawson to name his text. She like gets up in the middle of church and like mouths off to this very famous divine and rolls her eyes about how boring it's gonna be when he reads his text. That's [00:42:00] not her having a fit. That's her misbehaving. [00:42:02] But her behavior was such a challenge to the gender and economic power structure that was in place while she was living. It was so out of the ordinary that her community could only chalk it up to devilish influence because it was that unimaginable that she would behave this way. [00:42:20] So was there a social illness aspect to the afflicted girl's behavior? I feel certain, yes. So that, that's my long and qualified example about or discussion of conversion disorder. [00:42:34] Josh Hutchinson: Do you think that they were really afraid of witches and that the fear of witches might have also translated? [00:42:43] Katherine Howe: Sure. Oh, for sure. Yeah. I think the fear was real. I think it is a mistake to either chalk it up as craven opportunism or as naked stupidity or superstition. One of [00:43:00] the things that I think is important, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt who live in the past and that is that like absolutely they were afraid. [00:43:08] Can you imagine, what does it feel like to live in a world where you really, actually, honest to gosh believe that the devil can go walk about on the earth, as a real person and that he can disguise himself as people you know and love and trust? That at any given time, I could be talking to you right now, Josh, and you could be the devil in disguise, and I wouldn't know it. [00:43:30] That's a and if you really believe that, you really do believe that, and you actually really believe that hell is a real place that you can go there if you make a mistake. That there is no, this is another like aspect of puritan belief, that like they believed in the elect. The idea that you have no way of saving yourself. That your being saved was only up to God, and you had no control [00:44:00] over it whatsoever. Like what? You couldn't go to confession. You couldn't do penance. You could try your best to behave, but it was ultimately just up to God. [00:44:10] What an existentially dreadful way to live your life, to have no certainty. It's a little, a really hard life, first of all, and to believe that there was such a thing as paradise after death, but to have no idea whether or not you got to go there and that nothing you did made any difference. And that everywhere, at every turn, the devil was waiting to trip you up. Like that would be a difficult and impossible mental landscape to occupy. [00:44:44] So yes, if your question was did they really believe in witchcraft and was that fear, could not fear contribute to their behavior? Like absolutely. What a terrifying way to live, and also what a relief. Like one of the reasons that I think witches [00:45:00] was such a persuasive idea for so many people at that time was wouldn't it be great if something was going bad in your life, to be able to not try to see it as a sign of God's Ill favor, but instead to have someone to blame for it? To be like, "it's not me. I'm not messing up here. Someone's doing this to me." [00:45:20] I think that's also very human, that human feeling. It's not just bad luck or misfortune or like the luck of the draw, and it's so much more of a, "no, this person doing something to me. They wish me ill, and that's why my life is hard." I think that's a very human way to be. [00:45:39] Josh Hutchinson: Yeah. We talked a little about Anne Putnam, Jr.'s apology earlier, and she still does that in her apology. "The devil made me do it." [00:45:49] Katherine Howe: And Samuel Sewall does the same thing, like the two big apologies that come about after Salem is over after everything's done are Ann Putnam's and [00:46:00] Samuel Sewall's apology. But Samuel's apology, too, is weird where he like, first of all, he comes to it. It's not that he stops believing in witchcraft or stops believing that there is an invisible world. He comes to it after a series of wonders and marbles, including, if I remember correctly, like his house being tilted with stones. Who knows what really happened? And maybe there was like a passing hailstorm is how it took it. [00:46:22] But he comes to it after a series of wonders and marvels, and he comes to believe that the devil tricked them all. That it wasn't that that the devil wasn't luring people into witchcraft. Instead, the devil obscured the minds of the people who are supposed to keep the community safe. And but also what a horrifying thing to, to come to believe about yourself. To look back at your actions and think you're doing the right thing, and think that you are saving your community from the most threatening presence that your imagination can come up with, and instead to conclude that, no, what happened [00:47:00] was that threatening presence tricked you. That you were so weak that you were fooled. Like what a, what a heinous thing to believe about yourself. It's a very punishing worldview that they subscribe to. [00:47:16] Josh Hutchinson: Do you see any modern parallels to the Witch hunt? [00:47:20] Katherine Howe: Sure. A few years ago a historian of witchcraft named John Demos published a book about witch hunting, in which he has a chapter about the 1980s daycare satanism thing that happened, much of which I was only dimly aware of, being a small person in 1980s myself. [00:47:41] But what happened was, a group of people were put on trial, actually put on trial and actually convicted of having you run a daycare center and used the children in satanic rituals. And at the time that it was happening, and this is preposterous, like I, it's actually just like on the surface of it, I [00:48:00] think preposterous. I think, taken out context, any of us looking at this would say, "this makes, this is ridiculous. Obviously this did not happen." And at the time that it was unfolding, John Demos saw it unfolding and he was like, "Oh my God, it's Salem all over again." Like the same pieces are in place, like the idea of a conspiracy, the idea of trusted people that you cannot trust, the idea of children being at risk. [00:48:24] And I think that you see some of the same hysteria and language. I don't like using the word hysteria, cuz it's such a specific word, but you see some of this in like contemporary corners of the conspiracy internet, where I try not to spend any time, but Isn't that Pizzagate? Isn't there some like thing not too long ago about worrying a particular pizzeria was like putting kids at risk in this same kind of way? Like you see the same kind of like at any time that someone worries that children are at risk, there will be a lot of open-mindedness about it. [00:48:55] But of course, here's me getting political. Like, of course, children actually literally are at [00:49:00] risk by, by school shooting, right? Like the one thing that would really keep children really safe in places where they're supposed to feel safe and trust people around them, is if they restricted access to military assault weapons. That's my opinion. My opinion is that if we really care about keeping children safe, we take those guns off the street, right, full stop. But feel free to send me hate mail. I can be reached to KatherineHowe.com/contact. [00:49:21] Sarah Jack: So I think asking the question about are there parallels, we have these modern parallels that are popping into our heads. We have our strong feelings, but what can the understanding of the Colonial Witch trials and those before do to help us with these parallels? Can it help us? Will it help? [00:49:43] Katherine Howe: I'd like to think that it can. One of the things that I like to say when talking about Salem is that I feel that one of the reasons we can't let Salem go. As a culture, like we come back to it and we, like we can't let it go.[00:50:00] [00:50:00] And I feel that the reason that we can't let it go, among the many reasons, but I think one of the big reasons is that it forces us to confront how fragile our ideals really are. We are an unusual country in that in many respects, we are, notwithstanding those of us who were brought here against our will, which is many of us, but broadly construed, you could argue that we are something of an intentional community. [00:50:26] That the only thing that really holds us together is this set of shared ideals, and that some of our shared ideals include religious freedom. They include a social safety net. That we value people who are different from us, that we value people who are vulnerable. " Bring us you're tired, your poor, your huddled masses." Like that, that arguably this is an ideal that we hold in common. This is an organizing principle of the culture in which we live. [00:50:52] And yet Salem is this instance where everybody, believing they were doing the [00:51:00] absolute right thing, instead put to death, the state put to death 19 people. That, in the course of doing the right thing, the state did the absolute wrong thing, and they also put to death people who were, many of them were vulnerable in their community. People who were more likely to be accused were those who were at the most vulnerable, who were the most out step vulnerable in community. And so I feel like Salem is an instructive moment for that, because here's this moment where, in the course of being convinced of our total moral authority and correctness, a huge miscarriage of justice took place. [00:51:41] And I think that's a really difficult thing to reconcile. And I think especially for a country like ours, where also so many of us are brought up to look to the colonial period for our origin, that we're told, rightly or wrongly, that we are taught to look into the 18th, and to a lesser [00:52:00] extent the 17th century, and see in it the seeds of the country that we would become. [00:52:04] Maybe that's another way of thinking about it. Like another way of thinking about it, is it more productive to think about what we want the future to look like than it is to try to think about what the past has to tell us? That's a question. That's a question that I think is interesting. One, particularly for an intentional community like ours. We have, we get to reinvent ourselves as a country, and we get to decide, and what kind of place do we want to be? Do we want to be the kind of place that protects vulnerable people? Do we want to be the kind of place that protects people who are at risk, who are different from us, who are angry, who are grumpy, who read too many books? I would prefer to live in a place that protects those kinds of people. But we get to choose We choose who we protect. [00:52:47] Sarah Jack: We can make that choice, and not only is it going to stop suffering here, there are places in this world that are still totally captured [00:53:00] by doing the wrong thing, thinking they're doing the right thing, witch hunting. This discussion it is about us here, but it's about us there. [00:53:10] You have referred to time so much. That is such a strong piece of this. Even in Conversion, one of the simple quotes you have says, "any number of things could happen in the time it took to go down the hall." You like go right to the time thing. And today when you started talking, you talked about time. And I look at the history, I look at us now, how do we all get caught up on this witch-hunting mentality and start looking out for humanity and protecting other? [00:53:42] Katherine Howe: It's a hard thing. It's a really hard thing. And I wish I had easy answers for it. I think simply the act of reflection and awareness is an important one. Stopping to interrogate what our assumptions are. [00:53:56] Josh Hutchinson: We've talked about a lot of heavy things. [00:54:00] I wondered if we could switch and discuss your new book project. What can you tell us about it? [00:54:06] Katherine Howe: Oh, so many things. So I'm obsessed with pirates, who isn't? Hopefully, the answer is everyone is obsessed with pirates. [00:54:13] So I have a book coming out in fall, and I think they're gonna let me keep the title. And you. Okay, Josh, Sarah, you guys have to tell me what you think of the title. You ready? So get comfortable, here it is: A True Account of Hannah Masury's Sojourn Amongst the Pyrates, Written by Herself. That's the title. It's a mouthful. [00:54:30] It starts in Boston in 1726 at a very real an actual pirate trial that really did happen. Like most of my stuff, it's, it is grounded in actual facts and then becomes what I'm describing as a little bit like Gone Girl meets Treasure Island. And I had so much fun with it, and I'm really excited about it. And it is a little bit of a departure from what I've done, but it is about a girl, Hannah Masury, who has to disguise herself in order to escape some pretty heavy circumstances. And [00:55:00] she ends up basically stealing away on what turns out to be a pirate ship. And we have to follow her on her adventures. [00:55:06] And I have so much fun with some basic pirate tropes. There is treasure, there is a parrot. It's so much fun, and there's also some, a little bit of romance, and I have the most fun ever. [00:55:18] Josh Hutchinson: Sounds like a fun one to read. [00:55:22] Katherine Howe: I really hope so. [00:55:24] Sarah Jack: I'm so delighted by what I just heard. [00:55:28] Katherine Howe: That makes me very happy. Makes me very happy. It's weird because it's one of the, it's probably the most violent book I've written. If y'all have read my stuff, then you know I'm a teensy bit squeemish and shy away from. So there's some violence in this book, but what's strange about it is, I didn't invent any of it. It is actually all from historical record. I take no responsibility whatsoever for any of the stuff that happens in this book, because it all ripped from the headlines. It all really happened. [00:55:55] Josh Hutchinson: And was Hannah herself based on a real person?[00:56:00] [00:56:00] Katherine Howe: Hannah is based on a couple of people. She's inspired in part by real accounts of Anne Bonny and Mary Read, who are two working-class women, who ended up disguising themselves as men and going raiding in Jamaica at the end of the 17th century. They were real people ,and there was a real Hannah Masury ,who I talk about a little bit in the author's note of the book. She was a 19th-century person, and she ended up, I was inspired when I came across her. She was the wife of a ship captain. She was married to a ship captain, and she ended up putting down a mutiny by herself, armed only with a pistol, in the Pacific Ocean. [00:56:39] And so I read about her, and she didn't have any children, and I was like, "oh my gosh, I am obsessed with you." And so I decided to name my awesome pirate after her. Hannah, Hannah comes from a couple of different sources, but I really like her as a person. She's a tough character . [00:56:56] Josh Hutchinson: Sounds like it. You said that it's set [00:57:00] around a pirate trial in Boston? [00:57:03] Katherine Howe: Yeah, it starts, the action starts in Boston in 1726, and in 1726, it's the end of the golden age of piracy. It's actually funny that the Salem period, like the witch craze, the end of the witch craze and golden age of piracy are at the same time period, which I think is interesting. And a guy named William Fly was tried as a pirate, and the person who ministered to him and preached about him was none other than Cotton Mather . [00:57:32] So Cotton Mather by then was this like hugely famous, successful cleric. He was really rich. He was, like, had a very popular ministry and so he had taken it upon himself to crusade against piracy. So he tries to bring William Fly and his compatriots back to God, and he's there when they're hanged. William Fly was hanged, and then he was gibbeted. He was, his body was hung in chains on a tiny island in the Boston Harbor Islands and [00:58:00] left there to rot. He was really avid as a warning to other people who might go out on the account, which is a way of describing going, turning pirate. [00:58:09] And so I was fascinated by this. It was only a hundred years later that excursion boats are starting to leave Boston. Like steam boats are going from Boston to Nahant. This is no time all. To think that you could go by Nixes Mate, which is where William Fly was hanged and chained. You could go by there and to see you remnant oft remain dangling there. [00:58:29] So that's where the action begins at William Fly's trial, and things even crazier. [00:58:36] Josh Hutchinson: Sounds like a fun ride. . [00:58:38] Katherine Howe: I'm excited for it. I'm not sure when it's coming out. I think it's gonna be November, 2023. So it's coming up. [00:58:46] Josh Hutchinson: Here's Sarah with an important update on what's happening now in your world. [00:58:51] Sarah Jack: Thank you for listening a few minutes longer to hear End Witch Hunts World Advocacy News. How many innocent world citizens [00:59:00] is it okay to accept as suffering from violent brutalization, due to harmful practices related to accusations of harmful witchcraft and ritual attacks? These attacks are happening now to thousands of innocent people, who are not causing supernatural harm but are being punished by their community, as if they are the ultimate explanation. [00:59:20] They are innocent, not dangerous witches. These attacks are happening across countries of Africa and Asia. Please see the show notes for links to read about how some countries have advocacy groups working to intercede. When there is not an answer for unexpected bad luck, unfortunate death, or personal misfortune, blaming others for supernatural malevolence is the actual crime. This witch fear is still causing unfounded, violent attacks against women, children, and sometimes men. Listen and watch for the reports. These attacks are reported on. [00:59:55] The Northern Ireland borough of Larne wants to [01:00:00] commemorate eight Witch trial victims from the Islandmagee Witch Trial that took place on March 31st, 1711. A borough counselor raised questions very recently of whether the eight women and a man who were found guilty of witchcraft were actually innocent. In the trial era, using witchcraft was a covenant with the devil against the victims. When this counselor questioned if it is within the counsel's capacity to say they were innocent, he's questioning if the accused were indeed working with the devil himself to cause harm. [01:00:32] Is it within human capacity to not assign witch harm guilt onto others? I want to answer that question right now. Yes, it is within our capacity to stop questioning other people about their status as a supernaturally harmful witch. It is our duty to stop questioning accused witch innocence, past or present. These accused people were not, and today's accused witches are not, causing the supernatural harm that is feared of them. [01:00:59] [01:01:00] This week, academic research was published that is "a new global data set on contemporary witchcraft beliefs ." It has determined that witchcraft beliefs cut across sociodemographic groups, but are less widespread among the more educated and economically secure. Country-level variation in the prevalence of witchcraft beliefs is systematically linked to a number of cultural, institutional, psychological, and socioeconomic characteristics. Altogether, the resulting data set covers more than 140,000 individuals from 95 countries and territories and 5 continents. Over 40% of all survey respondents claim to believe in witchcraft. Stay tuned for a discussion on this research outcome. Find a link to the report in the show notes. [01:01:48] While we watch and wait, let's support the victims across the world where innocent people are being targeted by superstitious sphere. Support them by acknowledging and sharing their stories. Please use all your communication channels to be an [01:02:00] intervener and stand with them. The world must stop hunting witches. Please follow our End Witch Hunt movement on Twitter @_endwitchhunts. And visit our website, endwitchhunts.org. [01:02:11] Josh Hutchinson: Thank you, Sarah, for that eye-opening update. [01:02:16] Thank you for listening to Thou Shalt Not Suffer: The Witch Trial Podcast. [01:02:21] Sarah Jack: Join us next week for a special Connecticut witch trial victim descendant episode. [01:02:31] Josh Hutchinson: And join us in our efforts to end modern witch hunts. Go to endwitchhunts.Org. [01:02:38] Sarah Jack: Subscribe to our podcast wherever you listen. [01:02:41] Josh Hutchinson: Visit thoushaltnotsuffer.com. [01:02:44] Sarah Jack: Remember to tell your friends that you love what you've been hearing on Thou Shalt Not Suffer, so that they will not miss out. [01:02:52] Josh Hutchinson: Have a great today and a beautiful tomorrow. [01:02:56] [01:03:00]