Home » Books »  Comprehensive account of Salem witch trials offers lessons for today

Comprehensive account of Salem witch trials offers lessons for today


This is the cover of "A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience" by Emerson W. Baker. The book is reviewed by Nancy L. Roberts. (CNS)

Help us expand our reach! Please share this article

"A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience" by Emerson W. Baker. Oxford University Press (New York, 2014), 400 pp., $29.95.

Autumn's hard frosts and shortening days invite contemplation of our mortality. But for our 17th-century Puritan forebears, the veil between this world and the next fluttered in the slightest breeze. This was, after all, an age when people still believed in magic.

But it was a gale-force wind that tore through the colonial Massachusetts village of Salem, when an outbreak of witchcraft started there in January 1692.

Victims, mostly young women, told of being tormented by unseen demonic spirits that made them scream as if bitten or stuck with invisible pins and contort their bodies seemingly without cause. Some also attested to being haunted by specters.

The community soon began an extensive hunt to find those responsible for such horrors, and when the Salem witch trials ended, 19 villagers had been hanged, five had died in prison, and one, Giles Corey, had been pressed to death.

In this comprehensive account of the witch trials, Emerson W. Baker, a professor of history at Salem State College, demonstrates that Salem was "a perfect storm": It offered "a unique convergence of conditions and events that produced what was by far the largest and most lethal witchcraft episode in American history."

Help us expand our reach! Please share this article

Submit a Letter to the Editor