Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/21

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
11
NEW CHAPTERS IN THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE.

new complications arising from the assumptions of Parris. There were innumerable wranglings and lawsuits; in fact, all the essential causes for satanic interference which we saw at work in and about the monastery at Loudun, and especially the turmoil of a petty village where there is no intellectual activity, and where men and women find their chief substitute for it in squabbles—religious, legal, political, social, and personal.

In this darkened atmosphere thus charged with the germs of disease it was suddenly discovered that two young girls in the family of Mr. Parris were possessed of devils; they complained of being pinched, pricked, and cut, fell into strange spasms and made strange speeches; showing all the signs of diabolic possession recognized in the works of experts or handed down by tradition. The two girls, having been brought by Mr. Parris and others to tell who had bewitched them, first charged an old Indian woman, and the poor old Indian husband was led to join in the charge. This at once afforded new scope for the activity of Mr. Parris. With his passion for magnifying his office, he immediately began making a great stir in Salem and in the country round about. Two magistrates were finally summoned. With them came a great crowd, and a court was held at the meeting-house. The scenes which then took place would have been the richest of farces had they not led to events so tragical. The possessed went into spasms at the approach of those charged with witchcraft, and when the poor old men and women attempted to attest their innocence they were overwhelmed with outcries by the possessed, quotations of Scripture by the ministers, and denunciations by the mob. The mania spread to other children, and one especially—Ann Putnam, a child of twelve years—showed great precocity and played a striking part in the performances. Two or three married women also, seeing the great attention paid to the afflicted, and influenced by that epidemic of morbid imitation which science now recognizes in all such cases, soon became similarly afflicted, and in their turn made charges against various persons. The Indian woman was flogged by her master, Mr. Parris, until she confessed relations with Satan; and others were forced or deluded into confession. These hysterical confessions—the results of unbearable torture, or the reminiscences of dreams, which had been prompted by the witch legends and sermons of the period—embraced such facts as flying through the air to witch gatherings, partaking of witch sacraments, signing a book presented by the devil, and submitting to satanic baptism.

The possessed had begun with charging their possession upon poor and vagrant old women, but ere long, emboldened by their success, they attacked higher game, struck at some of the foremost people of the region, and did not cease until several of these