Between fibromyalgia and the high, humid heat here in Massachusetts this week, I have been really having a tough time. The lack of energy from the fibro is bad enough – the “dish rag” feeling. But when you add the heat and humidity, I become a lethargic, inert human. Actually, inertia is the best concept I can think of to describe it. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the laws of physics, inertia says that an object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object that moving tends to stay moving (as long as nothing interferes with it). When it gets as hot and humid as its been, and my energy is low to begin with, all I want is a cool place to sit or recline. Give me a fan or an air conditioner, a relatively comfortable chair and a book. But don’t expect anything more from me. I won’t be moving very soon and only for something seriously important. Barring fire or flood, I will be an inert, non-moving object tending to stay that way.
So you can imagine that my husband, who has no problem with any health issues or weather conditions, has become rather frustrated with me. He likes to be on the go, even when it’s hot. My spirit might be willing but my body makes the decisions at times like that.
Today the humidity had dropped significantly and the temperatures weren’t as bad as they have been, either. I decided that I really owed my husband for the inertia he had tolerated as well as the work he’d done around the house (well, someone had to do the work). I suggested that we take a Sunday drive, something I know he loves to do. I even suggested a destination – Salem, MA.
I’m not much into witchcraft but I am into history and this was a particularly troubling period in our country’s history. We went to the Salem Witch Museum, which told the basic story of the times. It was very simple and probably better suited to younger persons (read: kids), but it was informative.
The Puritans were pretty brave to head here when they did, but they weren’t a fun bunch. Even the kids had to work all day. There were no schools, just learning the tasks of everyday life. For girls, this meant all that cooking, cleaning, sewing, child care, candle making, food preserving, etc. No play, no outbursts. And a very angry, punishing God. Pretty scary for kids.
Apparently one little girl had a mother who was, to be kind, less than stable. She had lost a number of close relatives including her children and wanted to learn about contacting the dead. In the middle of winter, she took her daughter to the parson’s home, where along with a number of other young girls, they listened to stories told by an old slave woman. The slave woman told stories of the occult and such from her home in Barbados. That was certainly unusual entertainment for Puritan children!
One of the girls in the group was the parson’s daughter. She began to act strangely, having wild outbursts and hysterics (lots of daughters do that around 14 – I thought it was hormones). Two of the other girls also began to act strangely – barking like dogs or rolling around on the ground. The parson’s daughter got so bad that her father called the doctor. The doctor could find no physical reason for her behavior (I’ve heard that one before and so has anyone else with fibromyalgia). He decided that she must be bewitched.
During one of her “fits,” when they were grilling her about who had done this to her, she called out to the old slave woman. Of course, no one assumed the logical – that she was calling to the person who cared for her and nursed her when she was sick. The old slave woman was accused of being a witch and thrown in jail. Fortunately for her, she was eventually cleared. Many others were not so fortunate.
These girls accused many persons, both male and female, before the civil authorities put an end to the lunacy. No one knows what made these girls ill or why they got carried away. I suspect that, whatever the original cause, the pressure from the God-fearing Puritan adults made it difficult to back down. The witch trials were always civil proceedings and not Church proceedings. British Law, from which Massachusetts Law was derived, stated that those who were accused/convicted of consorting with the devil were considered felons who had committed a crime against their government. The punishment was hanging.
While those who were hanged (no “witches” were ever burned at the stake in this country) paid the ultimate price, those who were accused may have paid a more difficult one. Those who were put in prison in those days had to pay for their food and care themselves. Many lost everything they owned because of it. Family and friends deserted them. Many were forgotten in prison. They could not afford to pay what they owed “for their care” and so could not get out of prison. (Imagine if we expected those who go to prison today to pay for their own food and care – interesting but disturbing idea). I wonder how many of those “accused” maintained their contact with sanity.
The museum made clear that the Puritans lived in a climate of constant fear. They feared a wrathful God. They feared the Indians. They feared being unable to meet their needs for food and shelter. They feared the country they had come here to escape. That made them prime targets for the “witch hunt” that resulted from illness they could not understand.
The museum gave this formula for this type of occurrence as: fear + trigger = scapegoat.
- fear of God/devil + the young girls’ illness/bewitching = persons accused of being witches who caused the bewitchings
- World War II + Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor = Japanese-Americans being interned in camps as possible enemies of the state
- fear/lack of knowledge of AIDS + Gay men being the initial population significantly afflicted = Anti-Gay prejudice and persecution of openly gay persons
While we chuckle at the poor medical information available in 1692 and perhaps even chuckle at the gullibility of the Puritans, we have to be careful not to dismiss their actions casually. That’s why this time in history is important to learn from. There will always be something to fear and there will always be some event that seemingly occurs as a result of the feared person/item. Thus there will always be a scapegoat – someone to blame for something that can’t be fully explained at the time. You know how I feel about the “blame game!”
So when you hear about events springing up from fear, be very wary. Watch who accuses whom. Watch who claims to be the afflicted. Watch who is getting the blame. Test the theories with facts. Think of the 20 who died as a result of charges that young girls had no proof of and ultimately recanted. Think of those 20 who had no good choice – if they claimed innocence, they could not prove it and would be found guilty and hanged; if they admitted guilt, they would be hanged as well. No proof, no choice, no options. Their fate was cast as soon as they were accused.
As you can see, this was a thought provoking Sunday drive. In the end, it made me grateful that we have, for the most part, come to understand that God is a forgiving and reconciling God. He is not happy when we fall short, as all we humans must, but he had found a way to bring us back into the fold. There is hope, which we have and the Puritans did not. Hope saves us, I pray, from any more “witch hunts.”
Next time we do a Sunday drive, I’ll suggest a location that is not quite so heavy with moral issues. Maybe Old Sturbridge Village or Plimouth Plantation. Or maybe I just take a book and folding chair and sit on the beach while my husband hunts for shells and rocks. Being eclectic gives us a lot of latitude in where we go and what we do. Just don’t expect us to ignore the moral issues that crop up when we don’t even expect them.