Karlsen, Carol F. The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New
England. New York: Vintage, 1987.
The Devil in the Shape of a Woman by Carol Karlsen takes a closer look at the females being accused of witchcraft in colonial New England. American history has few subjects as interesting as witchcraft, because it confronts us with many different ideas about women. It confronts us with fears about women, the place of women in society, and with women themselves. Also, it confronts us with violence against women and how the problems of society were often blamed on women. Even though some men were executed during periods of witch hunting, witches were generally thought of as women, and most who died in the name of witchcraft were women. In the United States, witchcraft took place among too educated of people to dismiss it as mere "superstition." (P.10) Karlsen tells the stories of some of the accused and executed which are discussed below.
The first person that was actually executed as a witch, in America was Margaret Jones, in 1648. Jones was a midwife and lay- healer, she was accused of several different practices. Minister John Hale, who witnessed Jones's hanging in Boston when he was a boy, later said that she "was suspected partly because that after some angry words passing between her and her Neighbors, some mischief befell such neighbors.”(p.20) Hale also suggested that the crimes Jones was accused of had to do with her medical practice. She was accused of having a "malignant touch," Hale noted, and her medicines were said to have "extraordinary violent effects." When people refused to take her medical advice, he added, "their diseases and hurts continued, with relapse against the ordinary course, and beyond the apprehension of all physicians and surgeons."(P.21) Hale also mentioned that Jones was believed to possess psychic powers: "some things which she foretold came to pass accordingly; other things she could tell of ... she had no ordinary means to come to the knowledge of."(P.20) Hale's writings showed that stealing, and other crimes such as fornication and infanticide, were regularly associated with witchcraft, by both the clergy and the larger pop...
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... deaths of fathers, husbands, brothers, or sons. This would happen because these women were part of a society with an inheritance system designed to keep property in the hands of men. Decade by decade this pattern continued. Most of the women who were accused committed no real crimes. They were simply the victims of their society, who stood in the way of the
orderly exchange of property from on generation of males to the next. Sadly, all the factors that lead to the deaths of many innocent people were all fictitious. They were simply an attempt by the Puritans to regain the control that they were slowly losing.
Overall, witchcraft effecting women and some men in colonial America was portrayed rather effectively in The Devil in the Shape of a Woman in many ways. The stories in her study were absolutely fascinating. I think what made these stories more fascinating to me was the fact that all these stories are true. This book made me realize just how much women have achieved in our society since the days of the witchcraft accusations. Also, it gave me an insight into what it would have been like to live through this tough and shameful era in our history.
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