Thursday, November 4, 2010
The main character of Dark Time is Susannah Layhem, a healer in the 17th century. Susannah is an uneducated female just starting her life as a wife and new mother. In the final leg of her pregnancy Susannah is accused of witchcraft and ripped from her home. Because of the villager’s prejudices and fears they quickly turn from the innocent women as she is condemned and ultimately burned at the stake.
The first chapter of Dark Times is quite intense and horribly gut-wrenching as it chronicles Susannah’s imprisonment, trial and subsequent burning.
Was this a common occurrence in the 17th century?
Unfortunately it was a very common occurrence. From the 14th to 18th Century it is estimated that thousands (estimates put it at about 40k to 100k) of people were burned, hung, drowned and even pressed to death for the crimes of witchcraft. This has been dubbed The Burning Times.
Most of these deaths occurred in Europe, specifically France, Germany and Switzerland. Only a handful actually occurred in North America – most of those deaths taking place in a town that still resonates to this day – Salem, Massachusetts.
There are about thirty (wiki cites 32, 12 before Salem, 20 at Salem) known victims of The Burning Times in American history. These occurred between the years of 1647 to the final culmination in Salem in 1692. All but three occurred in Massachusetts.
The main belief behind why these deaths occurred mainly had to do with the people of the communities at the time. Massachusetts was settled by a group of people called the Puritans. The Puritans were a political and religious group that sprung into existence during the time of Martin Luther and his opposition to the Catholic Church. The Puritans emigrated to the New World in a time of great upheaval, war and persecution. This led to a group of people that were deeply religious and politically paranoid. They desperately wanted freedom, yet as soon as the settled into their new home they ruled themselves with an iron-hand.
The Puritans absolutely forbade all forms of entertainment, including dancing, music, celebrating and holidays. Women were expected to be subservient and children were second-class citizens. Playing, toys and idleness was considered a waste of time and strictly forbidden. Forced church services and education in only religious doctrine further restricted the people of the early Massachusetts.
Otherness wasn’t tolerated. If you operated “Out the Box” in the early days of our America you risked being accused of being a witch.
In our modern society we would like to think this form of mass hysteria and persecution could never occur. We are more enlightened than these more primitive humans. But, are we? I can think of a few accusations that have people pointing fingers first and asking questions later after their names are smeared all over the papers and their lives ruined. Rape. Child Molestation. Terrorism.
If you were accused of one of these unforgiveable crimes and your family turned their back on you, believing the masses instead of you, could you recover from that betrayal?
Don’t forget to enter to win Dakota Bank’s series, The Mortal Path (Details at the top of the post) – the books that inspired this post.