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Book review: A Delusion of Satan by Frances Hill

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I want to visit Salem, Massachusetts. I want to visit all of New England, but this small little town with it’s heavily religious – and dark – history seems fascinating to me. I didn’t know much about the Salem Witch Trials until I read A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials by Frances Hill. And now I want to read it all.

Know before you read

This story is SAD. If we accept the idea that no one was REALLY a witch and that the accusers were suffering from some sort of vindictive hysteria or delusion, then a lot of people’s lives were ruined for no reason at all. It’s just heart-breaking.

And absolutely made me excited to learn about our 20th-century ‘witch hunt’ – the McCarthy hearings. I’ll get to the 20th century eventually.

That said, I really did enjoy this book. I found it well-researched and well-written.

Salem witch trials

First of all, I would never have been one of the crazy ones to sail across the Atlantic to settle in America. Second of all, I am sure that America of the seventeenth century was pretty frightening – especially with the fire and brimstone taught every Sunday and the hostile native peoples (can you blame them?). Only a small (white, propertied, male) portion of the community having any power. The uncertainty of daily life, health, and safety? The perfect environment for a panic.

According to author, Frances Hill the community of Salem and nearby towns was a “characteristically New England Puritan mix of smugness and fear.”

She tends to focus on factional conflict between families as an explanation of who were victims and who were accusers. It seems like a lot of the book was speculation, but Hill is articulate in what evidence she is using to speculate upon and what that means within the social context of seventeenth century Puritans.

This book does a great job at demonstrating how religion can be used to control and shape social hierarchy.

Overall, I haven’t really found many books that focus on JUST the Salem witch trials, and this was a great book to start with.

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