Witchcraft at Salem
by Chadwick Hansen
Paperback, 252 pages
Much has been written about the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692, and much misunderstood. “The more I studied the documents of what actually took place in the community,” writes Chadwick Hansen, “the more I found myself in opposition to the traditional interpretations. It seemed to me that a serious consideration was in order.” He argues, for instance, that witchcraft actually was practiced in seventeenth-century New England, as it was in Europe at the time. Moreover, the behavior of the afflicted persons was not fraudulent, as some have claimed, but pathological: these people were hysterics in the clinical rather than the popular sense of the term. Further still, the clergy did not inspire or take advantage of the witch hunts as has been charged; on the contrary, they were among the chief opponents of “mass hysteria.” In Witchcraft at Salem Chadwick Hansen provides a necessary and thoughtful reappraisal of this turbulent episode in American history.
Praise For Chadwick Hansen
“Chadwick Hansen may be one of the few historians who have studied the surviving reports as an objective account of what actually happened, and from this rare historical purchase he tells a story that departs significantly from the traditional version….It undermines the work of generations of American historians who could make sense of the witchcraft trials only by seeing evidence of fraud, malice, and the harsh moral politics that marked Puritanism at the end of the 17th century. It is a thoughtful and important contribution.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“This is the most important scholarly contribution to the literature of witchcraft to appear in many years. It is revisionist history in the finest sense, a wholly new interpretation of the sources, setting forth in incontrovertible argument a refutation of nearly all previous considerations of the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century….This book provides an interpretation that at last makes the whole pitiful affair in Massachusetts reasonable to the serious student of witchcraft and sorcery.”