In the spring of 1692, the lives of every resident in Salem Village, Massachusetts were dramatically changed as a small group of young girls and women claimed to be afflicted by evil spirits and openly pointed to their neighbors as the individuals responsible for their fits and unusual behaviors. According to the afflicted it was due to the illicit midnight romps with Satan that enabled these Witches to vex them.
Tituba, a slave from Barbados that lived with and served the Parris family; Sarah Good, a short-tempered beggar; and Sarah Osborne, an elderly bed-ridden woman scorned for her romantic involvement with her indentured servant, were the first to be accused by young Elizabeth (Betty) Parris and her “cousin”, Abigail Williams. Initially these three women claimed to be innocent, though Sara Good readily accused Sarah Osborn, but following repeated examinations by the magistrates, Tituba provided them with a signed confession. She admitted to making a pact with Satan by writing her name in blood in his book where she claimed to have seen not only the names of Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne, but the seven unreadable names of other Village residents.
With this confession the wave of hysteria mounted within the colony and other girls and young women (Ann Putnam, Jr., Mercy Lewis, Elizabeth Hubbard, Mary Walcott, and Mary Warren) began experiencing similar fits and accused not only outcasts and misfits of the community, but began pointing to the upstanding members, the families of prominence and power, such as Rebecca Nurse. As the number of the accused rose, the local justice system became overwhelmed, forcing the newly appointed governor, William Phips, to order the establishment of a special Court of Oyer (to hear) and Terminer (to decide) to rule on the pending witchcraft cases.
As a result of the Court’s rulings nineteen individuals were convicted of witchcraft and hanged; the first being Bridget Bishop, who was hung on June 10 at Gallows Hill. Five more people including Rebecca Nurse and Sarah Good were hanged on July 19, five more on August 19 and eight on September 22. In total one hundred fifty women, men, and children, were accused over a span of several months. Seven of the accused died while awaiting trial in jail, including Sarah Osborne. Giles Corey was subjected to peine forte et dure (strong and hard punishment) and pressed beneath heavy stones while repeatedly being asked to enter a plea for his arraignment. He refused and died after two days of this torture.
On October 29, 1692 Governor Phips’ wife was accused of witchcraft; in response he dissolved the Court of Oyer and Terminer and replaced it with the Superior Court of Judicature, which was instructed not to admit spectral evidence, which had been the predominate evidence in the proceeding cases. Subsequently during the months of January and February fifty-six individuals were indicted, but only three of them were convicted and by May they, along with all others still being reprimanded in custody on witchcraft charges, were pardoned and released. Unfortunately by this time the damage inflicted to the families of the accused and condemned as well as the community at large had already been done.
Daniel and I listened as Elizabeth Bennet, the owner of the shop, Luminosity, shared with us her remarkable knowledge of the Salem Witch Trials. Mr. Stokes added clarifying details to her narrative when he deemed them necessary. Though I was familiar with the history, the events became more real and personal as Elizabeth spoke them aloud. This was a part of my story, my family history no matter how dreadful it was when viewed with the modern perspective of morality and basic human rights.
“Hold up,” interrupted my brother as he shook his head and waved his hand, “So are you telling us that Sarah Osborne, one of the first women accused, is your great-great-great-great … however many times, Grandma?”
Elizabeth nodded. “Yes.”
“And she was accused by Betty Parris and,” Daniel looked to me, “Abigail Williams?”
He was now just making the connection that I had already made.
“Yes,” confirmed Mr. Stokes with a nod. “She was.”
“Man, now that’s fucked up,” sighed my brother, shaking his head as he lightly tapped the counter top with his fingers.
It was curious to me that I was intricately tied to multiple people in my life in ways I was unaware of until that moment. We were becoming fused in some manner that I hadn’t consciously intended. It seemed that it was as if someone or perhaps something was continuously drawing our bloodlines together, manipulating the circumstances and events of our lives so that we would meet and form relationships, but to what end and for what purpose?
Was it possible that I had the power to do such a thing or was this all Syn’s doing? The goddess seemed to be the obvious source of such a manipulation, though I wasn’t convinced it was her because Chloe didn’t even recognize her name when I mentioned it. Was it possible that her family bloodline was indebted to a goddess that was unknown to them in modern times?
I contemplated my uncomfortable interactions with The Ancestors and quickly concluded that their actions seemed to be in servitude to Syn and not in a position to demand anything from her so if this was the agenda of either spiritual entity, I would wage my bets on Syn … and yet, something just didn’t feel right with the seemingly obvious conclusion. So then what was it that possessed such power to manipulate the lives of so many human beings?
Maybe Elizabeth could provide some insight on the situation.
“I am friends with a girl named Chloe Putnam,” I offered.
The woman’s eyes widened. “Oh?”
“She told me that she’s the descendent of Anne Putman,” I explained as I traced the stitching of the leather bond diary that sat on top of the others on the counter in front of me.
“Gerald, have you verif –“
“I believe her,” I interrupted, recalling the eerie appearance of Chloe’s eyes vacant of pupil and iris when she gazed at me that afternoon in my bedroom. I had no doubt that the story she shared with me about the Pickman sisters and her claim of heritage to Anne Putnam, Jr. weren’t true.
“I do,” I raised my gaze to meet hers with the knowledge that with this simple nonverbal exchange I would convince her to believe my words. There was a connection present between us that I was unable to fully grasp. I couldn’t determine where it originated and it made no logical sense that it should exist, but I felt it and with each moment that passed it grew more palpable.
“Then I fear for our future,” lamented Elizabeth with a frown.
“Give it a break,” sneered Dan.
My brother was afraid of what this all meant; the past events, this connection we had with not only Elizabeth, but Chloe, too. There was a tension that surrounded the two of us since he arrived home and the energy of it was becoming intolerable for him.
“I can’t listen to her bullshit anymore,” he scoffed as he turned and walked toward the shop entrance. “I’m going to wait for you in the car.”
“I think you know this isn’t bullshit,” Elizabeth called after him as he passed a tall display case holding a variety of unique items. “What about the missing memories?”
My brother stopped midstride without turning around. As Elizabeth shifted her attention to me, I felt like my dirtiest secrets had been revealed.
Mr. Stokes; how dare he! It was presumptuous of my tutor to share that information with this … this woman. Even if it was obvious that she was well educated about the occult and might conceivably possess abilities herself, beyond reading portents, I was uncertain as to how much I wanted to reveal to her about my own experiences. I didn’t know if I could trust her, and here my tutor took it upon himself to make such a decision for me without my consent or my brother’s. Who the fuck did he think he was?
I should’ve realized that he would tell her things about me and maybe even about Aunt Rachel because it seemed from the brief interactions I witnessed between the two of them, they had some sort of “thing” going on, a relationship of some sort. I wondered what Aunt Rachel thought of it, if she even knew about it. How did that affect his obligation to our family, to me? Wasn’t he in servitude to us?
I was agitated with the thought that he was sharing our secrets with a woman that I barely knew even if there was some unseen bond between her and me. I would decide what she would know and when she should know it.
I glared at him.
He said nothing, but shook his head as he removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose with the fingers of his right hand.