A Witch’s Brew Of Fear And Fantasy

For the pious Puritans of early America, witchcraft was a crime of the highest order.

Back then, the term “witch hunt” was not just an expression: In 1692, 19 women and men were hanged and one pressed to death with stones after being found guilty of witchcraft.

In her book The Witches, author Stacy Schiff follows the build-up of fear and outrageous tales of consorting with the devil. The witch trials were set in motion by two young Salem girls in the grip of strange and disturbing symptoms.

“Their limbs are paralyzed, they contort, they’re going into trances, and they’re screaming — night and day screeches,” Schiff tells NPR’s Renee Montagne. “And one of their first acts after the witchcraft has been diagnosed is to interrupt a minister in meeting. And you can imagine how that went over in a place where women were meant to be submissive and meek and silent.”

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