Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England

In the seventeenth century New England Puritan culture, the discourse of depravity can mainly be applied to women.  During this time, women were looked on more as being sinful in mind and body, more of an internalization of themselves; whereas men’s sinful natures were more external and easier to forgive.  Women’s sinfulness was in their nature and inherent, supposedly predisposed to sin.  Due to the fact that women were naturally sinful it was much harder for them to prove their innocence in the witch trials because even convincing the court that they had not signed the devil’s black book did not mean that they had not committed a sin which entailed being lead by the devil’s influence.  Also, due to the fact that women were innately sinful most of the convicted and accused witches were women.

It is also interesting to note the specific powers between the genders that witnesses accused the ‘witches’ of having, given to them by the devil.  Men were supposedly given supernatural strength so that they could do harm to men and women alike in trying to recruit them to the devils side.  However, women were limited in the power that they were given and very rarely were able to inflict harm physically upon a male.  Instead, women used their powers mostly to inflict harm on children and other women or let the devil take their shapes so that he could torment other people into conforming to his whims instead of those of god.

During the time of the Salem witch trials the people that actually confessed to being in league with the devil were not killed because the court thought that they could gain more information out of them and also be able to find out if there were more witches about.  Women, who were accused more frequently, confessed to being witches so that their lives would be spared, “If [women] publicly affirmed their depraved nature, their lives were spared.  Those who failed to conform, those who denied and therefore hanged, cast themselves not only as witches but as rebels against the entire order” (163).  If a person confessed to being a witch and then renounced their claim, they were still considered associated to the devil because they committed the sin of lying.

Throughout this time the gender roles greatly differ which is blatantly seen through how the court choose to judge women.  It is even seen in how women were falsely accused and could be accused for practically anything from making someone’s cows runaway to making beer jump out of a barrel.  Some of the ideas the witness’s came up with to charge the so-called witches were absurd and in very few cases could substantial evidence be provided.

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~ by wolfangel87 on January 31, 2011.

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