WITCHCRAFT AT SALEM by Chadwick Hansen


Email this review


Why another book on the Salem witches? The story is well enough known, in all its unedifying details, from innumerable works ranging from Deodat Lawson's original telling in 1690 to the more recent studies of Kittredge, Morison, et al. Still, Professor Hansen (Penn. State) tells the story piece by piece, and examines it with one singular difference: he believes that witchcraft in New England was not a hoax, and that the ""witches"" (first burned and then exonerated) were hardly the self-deluded victims of ignorance that they have been made out to be. To the contrary, ""witchcraft actually did exist and was practiced in seventeenth-century New England at the time."" This is not the sympathetic, and perhaps disguised credulity of that master historian of witchcraft, Montague Summers. It is the hard-headed conviction of a scholar, to the effect that witchcraft ""worked through psychogenic rather than occult means, commonly producing hysterical symptoms as a result of the victim's fear, and sometimes. . . even producing death."" It is an original thesis, against which the witches, their persecutors, and the trial itself are all measured, with a minimum of conjecture and a maximum of research. And it is a fascinating book which, although its basic appeal is somewhat special, should stir some general interest.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1969
ISBN: 0807611379
Publisher: Braziller