IT WAS NOT simply as Puritans that New Englanders drew on witchcraft beliefs in the seventeenth century. Their need for witches also grew out of their experience as settlers. New England may have been a religious commonwealth, but its people were nevertheless colonizing a land and creating a society—an enterprise as much individual and secular as collective and spiritual. It was an endeavor that generated contradictions of its own.
To locate witchcraft in its structural as well as its ideological context is to raise issues that so far we have discussed only sporadically, most notably the relationships between the witch and her accusers. For though the witch was a creation of Puritan belief, she was also the creation of the neighbors who denounced her, and the story of witchcraft is as much theirs as hers.
The relationships between accuser and accused were so complex that sorting them out completely is an impossible task. Where community consensus concerning a woman's witchcraft was strongest, as many as twenty, thirty, or forty people might come into court to explain how their suspicions had