319 years ago today, the last of the 20 innocent people accused of witchcraft (in what would become the US) were hung, by their own neighbours, with the full authority of the colonial government of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, under “direction” of God. “Witch-hunt” would enter the American lexicon, and the premise of theocracy in American government would prove itself destructive, once again.
This would be a tragic footnote in history if we had not succumbed to religious zealotry so many times in our brief history on the planet. Indeed, we have excused these atrocities away time and time again. We cite bad apples or individuals that “pervert” the true meaning of religion, or false prophets, even supernatural demons at work among men. For every documented instance of barbarism in the name of God, we invent another excuse for Him so that we do not have to challenge our own worldview, or the myths we tell ourselves.
At any rate, religious fundamentalists wielding the levers of the state is always a bad idea. In Salem, not even those that were accused and murdered were safe, though all were Puritans (except perhaps Tituba, a slave from Barbados). As far back into history as we have records, people have used the mantle of God to justify the most horrible acts imaginable against each other. Where science and reason, observation and thoughtful consideration, flexibility and compromise are absent, irrational superstition fills the gap. Church-state separation is as much a protection from religion as it is a protection for whatever religious beliefs you may hold.
Since I doubt that this story will see much exposure elsewhere, I am posting pictures that I took of each of the 20 Salem Witch names inscribed in the only monument to this tragedy of justice. It is in a small stone-walled area right next to the old Salem cemetery constructed in recent times. Because the bodies were “thrown into cracks in the Earth” rather than buried in the Christian cemetery, this is the only place where these victims of religious fundamentalism are honoured.
The moral of this story is simple, believe whatever you want, but don’t use your “faith” to lord over your neighbours who believe differently. If the myths that we tell ourselves in history books about the Puritans are your idea of the “Christian Foundation” we built this great nation on, you should look deeper. Be careful what you wish for, the next window they look into may be yours.
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For more information take a look at: law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/FTRIALS/salem/salem.htm