When the word “witch” comes up in people’s minds, they normally picture an old woman with green skin, warts, a pointy hat, and long fingernails who wears black clothes, flies on a broom, and casts harmful spells on others. However, this stereotype is made up by the imaginations of humanity. It all started when religion conflicts began to rise. This was the clash between Christianity and the old religion. Christian leaders began asserting that witches were devil worshippers and savages.
In the year 1233, Pope Gregory IX instituted the Roman Catholic tribunal, known as the Inquisition, in an attempt to suppress heresy. At the request of Pope John XXII in 1320, the church officially declared witchcraft and the old religion of the Pagans as a heretical movement and a “hostile threat” to Christianity. Witches had now become heretics and the persecution against all Pagans spread like wildfire throughout Europe. Therefore, the persecutions, murders, and the torture of innocent people who are claimed as “witches” began (“How Did it Start? ”).
This history and the idea of witches lead to the Salem Witch Trials in 1692 and Katherine Howe’s motivation to write her novel, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, which is based on the Salem Witch Trials. Katherine Howe was born in Huston, Texas and she holds degrees in Art History and Philosophy from Columbia and in American and New England Studies from Boston University. She is a descendant of Elizabeth Proctor, who survived the Salem Witch Trials, and Elizabeth Howe, who did not. She first learned about her ancestors when her aunt was doing some family research.
Due to this discovery, Howe became more interested in this specific time period and she began to wonder how life would be like living as a Puritan in the 1600’s. Her book, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, which is about the Salem Witch Trials, debuted at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list and has been translated into more than 20 languages. Howe moved to Marblehead from Cambridge in summer of 2005 with her husband and she was scheduled to take her Ph. D. qualifying exams that November.
So, while trying to relax from her studies, Howe began to think how vastly the popular account of the witch trials differs from the historical understanding of them. As she was walking in the woods, she began to think: “What if magical were real, but not in the fairy-tale way that we now imagine it? ” (Howe “Question and Answer”). So, as Howe was trying to imagine what magic would have looked like to the colonists of Salem, she was inspired to write her novel. Howe’s writing style is very attractive to readers. The vocabulary is not very difficult and she writes in a way that keeps the reader wanting to read more.
As the reader explores the novel, they can feel the emotions that the characters are feeling and so they are able to relate to them. Also, she writes her flashbacks to the late seventeenth century in the diction that they would have spoken in. This catches the reader’s attention and it shows her dedication and research for this novel. In the 17th century, the church was the cornerstone of life in New England. Most people in Massachusetts were Puritans-colonists who had left England seeking religious tolerance. The Puritan lifestyle was restrained and rigid and it was against the law not to attend church.
Since the Puritans were expected to live by this strict moral code, they believed that all sins-from sleeping in church to stealing food-should be punished. They believed that God would punish sinful behavior. When a neighbor would suffer misfortune, such as a sick child or a failed crop, the Puritans saw it as God’s will and did not help. In addition, the Puritans believed that that Devil was as real as God. Everyone was faced with the struggle between the powers of good and evil, but Satan would select the weakest individuals-women, children, and the insane-to carry out his work.
Those who followed Satan were considered “witches”. To the Puritans, witchcraft was one of the greatest crimes a person could commit and it was punishable by death. A strong belief in the Devil, factions among Salem Village families, and rivalry with near by Salem Town combined with a recent small pox epidemic and the threat of attack by warring tribes created a fertile ground for fear and suspicion of witchcraft (“Salem Witch Trials”). In 1692, children were expected to have under the same strict code as the adults-doing chores, attending church services, and repressing individual differences.
Any show of emotion was discouraged and disobedience was severely punished. Children rarely played and so toys and games were scare. While girls had to cook and clean, the boys had to hunt and explore. The children of this time period also had to learn how to read. However, most households owned only the Bible and other religious works (“Salem Witch Trials”). This was the childhood of Abigail Williams and Elizabeth Parris. Their strict way of life that they had to live was probably the reason why they were interested in Tituba’s, the Parris’ slave, magical stories and fortune telling games.
On January 20th, 1692, Reverend Parris’ daughter, Elizabeth, age 9, and niece Abigail Williams, 11, started having “fits”. Ann Putnam, 11, experienced similar symptoms later on. They screamed, uttered peculiar sounds and contorted themselves into strange positions. Doctor Griggs, who attended the afflicted girls, suggested that they were bewitched. In that time, a dog was believed to be a “familiar” of the Devil. So, Tituba baked a “witch cake”, which contained the urine of the afflicted girls, and fed it to the dog. This was considered an old English folk remedy (Linder, “Salem Witchcraft Trials 1692).
In late February of 1692, the afflicted girls were pressured by ministers and townspeople to say who cause their odd behavior. The girls accused Tituba, Sarah Good, a homeless beggar, and Sarah Osborne, an elderly impoverished woman. Arrest warrants for the three women were issued and magistrates John Hawthorne and Jonathan Corwin examined them for “witch teats”. Osborne and Good claimed their innocence, but Tituba confessed, “the Devil came to me and bid me to serve him” (Blumberg, “A Brief History”). She described elaborate images of black dogs, red cats, yellow birds and a “black man” who wanted her to sign his book.
She admitted to signing the book and said that there were several other witches looking to destroy the Puritans. All three of them were put into jail. Soon, the group of afflicted girls began to accuse many people such as Martha Cory, Rebecca Nurse, Dorcas Good, Elizabeth Proctor, Sarah Cloyce, etc. Subsequently, prisons were filled with more than one hundred fifty men and women from towns surrounding Salem. On May 27th, 1692, Governor William Phipps ordered the establishment of the Special Court of Oyer (to hear) and Terminer (to decide) to hear the cases of witchcraft.
Bridget Bishop, an older woman who was known for her gossipy habits and promiscuity, was the first case. On June 10th, she was the first person to be hanged on Gallows Hill. As the trials went on, five people were sentenced and hanged in July, five more in August and eight on September. On October 29th, 1692, Governor Phipps released many accused witches and dissolved the court of Oyer and Terminer. He eventually pardoned all the people who were in prison on witchcraft charge (Blumberg, “A Brief History”). Therefore, the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 was ended.
Due to this event, nineteen innocent men and women were hanged for witchcraft, Giles Corey was pressed to death under heavy rocks for refusing to stand trial, and four other died in jail as they awaited trial (“Salem Witch Trials”). After the trials were over, many people, such as Ann Putnam, felt guilty and wrong for taking away the lives of over twenty innocent people. In 1697, the General Court ordered a day of fasting and soul –searching for the tragedy that happened five years ago. In 1702, the court declared that the trials were unlawful.
Finally, in 1711, the colony passed a bill restoring the rights and good names of those accused during the trials and 600 pounds were granted in restitution to their heirs. It was not until 1957 that Massachusetts formally apologized for what had happened in 1692 (Blumberg, “A Brief History”). On the 300th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials, a witchcraft memorial designed by James Culter was dedicated in Salem. However, the problem of witchcraft still remains today. On March 15th, 2012, there was a conviction of a London couple for a death of a fifteen year-old boy whom they violently abused because they believed him to be a witch.
This is not the first time that this has happened in the U. K. Scotland Yard told BBC that they have investigated over eighty-eight faith based child abuse in the last decade. UNICEF reported that in 2010, twenty thousand children were accused of witchcraft were living on the streets in the capital city of Kinshasa. In addition, the Nation Crime Bureau in India states that over 2,500 women have been killed for being suspected for being suspected of practicing witchcraft (Rojas, Witchcraft-Related Violence”). Violence against people accused of being witches is a growing problem in the U.K. , India, and Africa.
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane follows Connie Goodwin’s adventure in trying to unravel the truth about the past. Also in her novel, Howe also allows the reader to explore the life of Deliverance Dane, who is included in the Salem Witch Trials in the story. In the novel, Deliverance Dane, a mother who makes tinctures for the sick, is accused of being a witch. Although she posses magical powers, she does not use them for evil. During the time that she is accused, many other women and men are accused along with her.
The truth is that “the people accused in Salem were just regular, everyday people” (Howe 141). No matter how they try to clear their names, the “witches” are all sent to prison. In prison, their feet are clamped with “a heavy iron cuff, attached with a short length of nautical-grade chain” (295). Deliverance Dane, Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne, and Rebecca Nurse are some of the women that are accused and hanged on Gallows Hill in the novel. Even though this book is fiction, due to Deliverance’s magical powers, the novel contains many people who were convicted during the Salem Witch Trials and their deaths.
Deliverance Dane, who was really in the Salem Witch Trials, does not have a lot of information about her, except for the fact that she had a husband named, Nathaniel, and that she survived the trials. Because no one knows Deliverance’s story during the Salem Witch Trials, Howe uses the lack of information to create a story for Dane, which is portrayed in the novel. Because people are so fixed on the idea that witches are not real, Howe shows a surprising twist in her book by giving Deliverance magical powers. Even though the colonists claimed that the accused were witches, there is no exact proof of witchcraft.
But, maybe the accused did have magical powers, which could explain the weird fits that the girls wee experiencing. This makes the reader question whether magic truly exists or not. The Salem Witch Trials is not very well known by the people of our nation. So, with the help of this novel, more and more people can be informed about this tragic incident that took place in 1692. Also, this novel shows that witches are not how people in our society imagine them. This books shows to the people that witches are not harmful to the human race and that people should not be wrongly accused for such a ridiculous stereotype.
As the critiques of this book are read and compared, they are very mixed reviews. Some readers love the book from the beginning to the end and some people have problems with the way Howe wrote her plot and her characters. Laura Bliss from the Library Journal wrote, “This enjoyable novel is too slow-paced to be considered a thriller, but it’s a solid selection that may appeal to readers who enjoyed recent novels about Salem’s witches. ” Although Bliss thought that the book could have gone a little bit faster, overall, she recommends that the book will be a good read.
Unlike the Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly states that “her [Howe] voice is pleasing, her pacing and emphasis good and her diction clear”. However, they also say in their review that “the characters are thin and the plot is predictable”. According to Publisher Weekly, Howe’s plot in her novel is too original and not exciting. So, because the plot is too easy to guess, it does not leave suspense for the reader, which causes them to get bored when reading the book. They also said that the characters are not built very convincing either.
The characters in her novel seem to be missing uniqueness and they lack personality. Even though Howe has received some complains about The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, she has been praised as well for her extensive research that she had to do to write it (“Editorial Reviews”). For her first debut novel, Howe has done an extraordinary job of bringing the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 back to life. Even though Katherine Howe did not directly experience the Salem Witch Trials, the life of her ancestor, Elizabeth Howe, was taken away because of this event.
This gave her the inspiration and maybe some responsibility to let the world know about this event. These trials went on with solely by accusation and without the use of actual evidence of witchcraft. The lives of many innocent people were taken away, which leaves people wondering, “Why did this ever happen? ” This answer to this question will always be a mystery because there could have been many reasons why the colonists reacted like the way they did. Whatever the reason may be, the lives of the people that were taken away will always be in remembrance.