The Enemy Within

The enemy within is a nonfiction historical account of the development of witch hunts both in Europe and in the American colonies. The author is John Demos who is a professor of history at Yale University and is the author of several articles and books on American history.

The early European development of witch craft started in local cult activities beginning in the middle ages when there was a great deal of superstition. Many of these thoughts had been passed down from pre-Christian times and typically focused on crop fertility, weather, love, sex reproduction, health, property and many other human relationships. With time three highly charged images would gain strength those being the Devil, the heretic and the magician in which each or all three would become the image of the witch.

Witchcraft gained momentum due to environmental factors such as civil wars, religious wars, famine, plagues, political turmoil, harsh climate change which resulted in dislocation and dispossession of large elements of the peasant population.

Typically the witch would be a middle aged or elderly widow who had lost the protection of her male counterpart. It appears that menopause and the loss of reproduction played an important role in the definition of the witch. Many of them were impoverished and could become targets of suspicion and resentment.

There seems to be three elements in which witchcraft became evident. The fist was distress caused by epidemic disease,floods, earthquakes, droughts, or clusters of house fires or shipwrecks. The second was remarkable events such as the appearance of comets,eclipses and meteorites.The third was caused by human affairs such wars, community division over religion or controversy of ownership of property.

With time witchcraft served to explain painful and baffling communal experiences. Disappointment and failure could be explained by witchcraft such as crop and livestock failures. butter that would not churn and could even include loss of love and broken friendships.

In Puritan American, the typical village lived with a fear of disorder and thus they found within their faith strength, hope and the promise of a new life. They believed that intense and unrelenting discipline would be able to control disorder. Thus, when disorder such as crop failure occurred in the village, they had to have an explanation for the cause. And the scapegoat was the witch. It is interesting to note that when the offending witch had been removed such as through a conviction, the village would feel a surge of unity as the process of removal of the witch seemed to be restorative and amazingly the crop failures would reverse.

In Salem, probably the most famous witch hunt, it appears that the whole scene was one of fraud and imposture, begun by young girls who at first wanted to be pitied and indulged and then continued by adult persons who were afraid of being persecuted themselves. It has been further stated that witchcraft frenzy was a matter of superstitious fanaticism promoted by the ravings and goadings of the clergy. The result in addition to shedding the blood of numerous innocent victims created lasting political and intellectual damage to the village.The Salem courts were led by the same men that led the community in politics and the military.These men failed to stem attacks on visible enemies and to shift the responsibility to the demons of the invisible world.

Why do we use this expression? Why is the college degree called a “bachelor’s” degree? Originally a “bachelor” was a soldier not old or rich enough to lead in battle under his own banner. Thus bachelor meant a person of inferior rank. It was applied to the college degree to differentiate it from the higher degree of “doctor”.


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