Enough with the Superstitions already!

Richard Derderian

Group #6 Assignment

            For this assignment, I chose to examine the grand larceny trial of Mary Poole from the thirteenth of December, 1699.  In this trial, a Gypsie by the name of Mary Poole was indicted for allegedly stealing seven Pounds ten Shillings from Mr. Richard Walburton on January 12th, 1699.  The details of the case are quite comical.  Mr. Walburton claimed that Poole somehow teleported his money out of his pocket and into her own.  She lied to him and told him that his servants were going to “put him out of his place”, and that if he gave her six-pence, she would make sure he had a good way of living.  She obviously did this as a means of getting him to give her more money, something she does several more times.  Mr. Walburton simply spent all his money to watch something as mind-numbing as juggling.  Another man claimed to have been robbed by Ms. Poole, but was simply the victim of a simple coin trick.  The last of the witnesses claims that she bewitched his horse.  He says this because his horse happened to fall forty yards after he had Whipped Ms. Poole, which naturally, would lead anyone to assume that this simple girl is a witch.  Other than these three main witnesses, there were a number of others that claimed to have been “juggled” out of their money.  Since she had little to say for herself, the Jury found her guilty and she was branded.

            The allegation featured in this trial suggests that people projected much of their own stupidity onto people that were simply more clever than they were.  I don’t want to sound too harsh, but if you get cheated out of your money by a coin trick, you probably deserve it.  These people believed in a sect of witchcraft that remained within the laws of physics.  If juggling is a form of witchcraft, I fear that the word gullible is just not strong enough to describe the complexity of ineptness that the people involved in this trial were suffering from.  As far as connecting this trail to the readings, I found several places where this case could be applied.  From Scaife’s True Ghost Story, I found a quote that is very interesting when it is related to the court system rather than the religious institutions:  “The temples of antiquity, in whose shades and recesses the priests were supposed to do wonders, were prostituted to superstition, the Hebrew race alone keeping its religion pure.”  (Scaife Pg. 45)  I found this interesting and relatable because if you think of this quote as referring to the court system, you can see how the notion of witchcraft had lowered the high standards of justice down to superstition and here-say.  As far as the historical survey from Ankarloo and Clarke, we need look no further than the following to gain a new perspective on the trial I am exploring.  “With confidence rising amongst opinion-makers as to the orderliness and controllability of nature and society, it is no surprise that the wits and literati of post-Restoration England should disparage those mired in ‘superstition’.” (Ankarloo and Clarke Pg. 205)  This quote, referring to the criticism of the Alice Molland witch-trial of 1685, sheds light on the changing opinions regarding the trial process of witches.  I think this quote can be seen as the start of a change of thinking regarding witches.  This quote is saying that we have understand nature, and since we can understand nature we can come to reasonable conclusions about certain acts instead of just assuming that they are supernatural happenings, the likes such acts are always committed by a witch.  This article helps us to understand that there was a change in rationale occurring during this time period and that not everyone was stuck on the supernatural notions we find in examining my trial.


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