Jane Kent was a 60-year-old woman tried for witchcraft on June 1st, 1682. She was accused of making a young girl sick, an oldwife feel a little bloated, and some horses turn over a carriage after being caught in a bad deal involving some pigs. In other words, she had plans for world domination.
Fortunately, she was brought to trial just in time to stop this merciless heathen from completely conquering our souls with her diabolical dabbling of the dark arts.
Oh yes, there was plenty of evidence. Somebody heard some yelling when she was near. As if this were not enough, the woman had “…teat on her back!” Yes my friend, a teat, a nipple, a bosom with which to milk her demon children and blackest cats!
(this is the total recall pun if you aren’t familiar)
But what’s this? Not guilty? How can this be? The woman has a back-boob!
Oh, I see. She goes to church. Yes, a solid defense indeed. This woman and her three-cupped bra go on to live another day because she was and honest woman who “…went to church…” She was saved by the church bell. Not guilty. How could she be? She was a Christian.
This ridiculous trial is just one drop from the pool of anecdotal evidence that proves how quickly witch accusation would get thrown around for personal gain, grievances or passing suspicion. Luckily, for Jane Kent, this trial did not contribute to the senseless and brutal deaths that plagued this dark era of the “enlightenment.”
A True Ghost Story, or Three Nights in a Haunted House and a Brief Sketch of Superstition by Hazel Lewis Scaife, dismisses this kind of superstition and all the negative results of believing in such magic. However, there is a problem here. This also removes any positive result that superstition may have.
Citing poems and personal opinions as proof, Scaiffe accuses superstition of being the poison ivy that wraps around the tree of knowledge. Nobody can get near the truth until they uproot the ‘poison’ that corrupts it. She argues that superstition must be completely eradicated in order for any real knowledge to thrive. I argue just the opposite.
Superstition does not restrain science; it inspires it. Man believes in cures that science has not yet proven to exist. We search for impossible cures because we believe we will find one, not because we have scientifically proven that it exists. Nearly all of us spend our lives looking for ways to become figuratively, if not literally, immortal. We try to heal every disease and secure our place in history and lives around us before we die. If we did not dream of this or any other kind of immortality, (which Scaiffe scoffs at) we never could imagine a God.
Scaiffe begins her essay by explaining that superstition, “dominates the life of the savage to whom nature presents, as he thinks, one continual display of supernatural effects.” (42) What she fails to recognize is the fact that many Christians (and perhaps herself included) look toward everyday natural events as proof of God. There is an irony at play here that is hard to ignore. She has the right to believe in God but nobody else has the right to believe in bad luck.
Thomas Hobbes would have none of this. He placates to the Christians in interest of his own career but denounces all superstition that will not automatically label him as a heretic. Or so he thought.
He attributed, “The opinion that rude people have of fairies, ghosts and goblins and the power of witches’…to ignorance of how to distinguish dreams from sense” (197) and suffered an immediate backlash from peer and politician.
The message of the enlightenment was simple. Doubt everything. Just not witches.