SHE’S A WITCH! BURN HER!

While looking over http://www.oldbaileyonline.org, I came across a trial of a 60-year-old woman accused of witchcraft after a trade agreement is not met and the man who she bargained with befalls tragedy. The man’s swine become “bewitched” as he says because ill apparently falls upon them after a trade is not struck between the man and woman. The man’s daughter then becomes ill with swelling of the body and discolored over a strange rate. After the death of his daughter, his wife becomes ill and upon doing as the doctor advised, recounts that he hears the woman scream at his door and that his wife the next day had become swollen and bloated. The man also recounts of an incident where a coachman refuses the take the woman and her goods has his carriage overturned. The woman pleaded that she was a God-fearing woman who went to church and was otherwise a model member of society which the jury then found her not guilty of the crimes presented upon her. The man was obviously angered by the tragedy which befell him and his family which led him to find a scapegoat to pin such horrible events. He provides only verbal evidence and because of this is unable to defend his allegations.

The trail is shrouded in superstition that one action of denying the woman anything can result in dark arts being used to punish those who did not do as she wished. The True Ghost Story states that “Few things have influenced and controlled the destiny of man so largely as superstition” (Scaife). The man believes that bad things are befalling him because of such ideals. The woman is a witch because it is the only way he can justify what has happened to him and his family. The fact that witchcraft was such a hot topic of debate and trails of the times gave him the avenue to pursue such allegations towards the woman, but I would go as far to say that without witchcraft as an outlet, the man would have fallen to other means of explaining such events through phenomenon nonetheless. In the article by Ankarloo and Clarke, they state that “The opinion that rude people have of fairies, ghost and goblins and the power of witches’ was attributed in his Leviathan to ignorance of how to distinguish ‘dreams’ from ‘sense'” (Ankarloo and Clarke). The man in the trail he puts his faith in the blissful ignorance of witchcraft instead of accepting the fact, we now know, that modern medicine of the time was ill-suited to treat individuals and that illness was quite common due to many factors ranging from environment to hygiene. The fact that an individual would believe that a doctor “who advised him to take a quart of his Wives water, the pairing of her Nails, some of her Hair, and such like, and boyl them” would heal their ill wife proves that ignorance (now known through our modern medicine) was abundant and that it sounds more life voodoo or witchcraft than an elderly woman screaming at your door.

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