Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England

Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England

Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England

Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England

Synopsis

In the first edition of the Bancroft Prize-winning Entertaining Satan, John Putnam Demos presented an entirely new perspective on American witchcraft. By investigating the surviving historical documents of over a hundred actual witchcraft cases, he vividly recreated the world of New England during the witchcraft trials and brought to light fascinating information on the role of witchcraft in early American culture. Now Demos has revisited his original work and updated it to illustrate why these early Americans' strange views on witchcraft still matter to us today. He provides a new preface that puts forth a broader overview of witchcraft and looks at its place around the world--from ancient times right up to the present.

Excerpt

An old New Yorker cartoon shows a Puritan woman, in long dress and pointed hat, turning with evident exasperation toward her husband, who has somehow been changed into a pig. “Witchcraft, witchcraft,” she says, “that’s all you ever think about!”

And occasionally I wonder: might the same be said of me? Though not (I trust) of piglike form, I do seem unable to shake free of witchcraft. Was it mere happenstance that brought the subject to me in my very first graduate school essay assignment? And was it only because of my slowness that twenty years had to pass between that moment and the publication of Entertaining Satan? And is it simply a matter of fate that now, almost (not quite) in my dotage, I have come back to witchcraft history yet again? No matter; the reissue of this book in a new edition seems a singular boon—whatever occult forces may have helped to make it happen. And it does prompt some over-the-shoulder reflection: on witchcraft study as a whole, and on my own particular involvement therewith.

In the 1960s witchcraft was marginal—indeed was discounted—in the minds of professional historians. I can recall some bemusement, and concern, on the part of my teachers as my own interest began to point that way. Witchcraft, as a subject, seemed fatally “popular”—the province, in short, of hucksters and cheap-thrill seekers, not serious scholars, Puritan New England had been perhaps its most famous historical venue; yet academia’s foremost authority on Puritanism, Professor Perry Miller (of Harvard University), gave it only the back of his hand. Take witchcraft out of the record, Miller said, and New England’s history would look just about the same.

Young and timorous as I then was, I needed to declare—to myself . . .

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