WITCHCRAFT IN AMERICA by Clifford Lindsey Alderman


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A reasonably substantial, unsensationalized survey of legends, customs, beliefs, cases and trials, geographically arranged and spanning pre-colonial to present times. Alderman kindly limits his summary of the widely exploited Salem delusion to a reiteration of ""bare details,"" reporting instead on a number of separate, lesser known New England withcraft trials and tales. Other regions are represented by the hex marks of Dutch Pennsylvania where belief in witchcraft was rampant yet Massachusetts-style executions were avoided; the early Virginia belief (surely less universal than Alderman implies) that the Indians were witches and devils, and, on the other hand, the common sense of Virginia courts which began to punish malicious or trifling accusers; the notorious Bell witch of Tennessee; Georgia's black conjurers; and New Orleans' voodoo queens (Marie Laveau, who is fast becoming as well known as Tituba, has a chapter all to herself). Alderman does little with the material he has culled from old records, folklore journals, etc., except to organize and rewrite it, and the commentary he does add is less than edifying. (""It is more likely that the leak in the [supposedly hexed] ship was caused by the storm than by withcraft,"" and ""the power of the evil eye is so widely believed that there may be truth to it"" though' ""the victim probably suffers because of his own belief that he will."") Still Alderman does refrain from spooking it up, his reportage is generally straightforward, and he has dug up a more extensive pile of authentic material than young readers find in the hasty compilations of Daniel Cohen and others.

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 1974
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Messner