The Devil in Massachusetts by Marion L. Starkey

devil

I picked this book up in a second hand bookshop in Strathpeffer almost 5 years ago and it has been sitting on my shelf ever since. The undertaking of a psychology qualification prompted me to read it and what I found was an intriguing, though provoking and informative account of the most famous witch hunt in the world.

Starkey presents the period without bias in the form of a novel with the recorded testimonies and evidence from the trials inserted throughout. Analysis is blended seamlessly with anecdote and makes for a captivating read.

I found it amazing how a group of high spirited girls who lacked an outlet for their energy in the ridged confined of Puritan New England were able influence an entire community into condemning innocent men and women to death. If anyone didn’t take them seriously they just accused them as well. It is clear that they did it for attention but the fact that they didn’t see the severity of the consequences of their actions.

The admission in the court room of spectral evidence (saying that someone’s shape had abused them) meant that the accused had no chance and that the girls could say whatever they wanted.The whole legal system of the witch trials centered on that the accusers couldn’t prove that the the person was a witch but neither could the victim prove that they weren’t.

The most surprising part is the ease at which ministers and lawyers were taken in by them. In this I found interesting parallels with the Spanish Inquisition and it seems like the more people said something then the more it was seen as fact. Like the Inquisition the severity of the movement died away as quickly as it had started but only after it had set the whole community against each other with accusations and counter-allegations. The conclusion centers around the reconciliation of the community in the following 20 years and the revelation by one of the chief accusers that she had indeed made it all up.

I have to admit that I read this book with a rather incredulous attitude but I was completely fascinated by it. The style of the commentary is pacey and engaging and completely absorbs the reader from beginning to end.

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