The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England

By Carol F. Karlsen | Go to book overview

TWO
The Demographic Basis
of Witchcraft

MOST WITCHCRAFT SUSPICIONS in colonial New England orginated in conflicts among people who knew one another. No one could be certain that an angry encounter with a neighbor would not elicit an accusation. Still, not everyone was equally vulnerable to the accusation of witchcraft. More importantly, not everyone was equally vulnerable to trial, conviction, and execution. For the process by which the community identified the witches in its midst was quite selective. It was informed not only by the witchcraft beliefs described in the first chapter—these could be applied to almost anyone—but also by several widely shared if largely unspoken assumptions about the kinds of people likely to align themselves with Satan.

Some New Englanders were likely witches, others were not. People who did not fit the shared image of the witch could certainly be accused, but except during outbreaks they were almost always vindicated early in the process. Sometimes people in the community simply ignored such accusations or refused to lend them public support. In some cases local authorities prevented further action by dismissing the charges as insubstantial or by punishing accusers for defaming the

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The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Devil in the Shape of a Woman - Witchcraft in Colonial New England *
  • Contents vii
  • Tables ix
  • Preface xi
  • One New England's Witchcraft Beliefs 1
  • Two the Demographic Basis of Witchcraft 46
  • Three the Economic Basis of Witchcraft 77
  • Four Handmaidens of the Devil 117
  • Five Handmaidens of the Lord 153
  • Six New England's Well-Ordered Society 182
  • Seven Brands Plucked Out of the Burning 222
  • Epilogue 253
  • Afterword to the Norton Paperback Edition 259
  • Appendix 267
  • Notes 273
  • Index 353
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