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There were 21 witnesses, including the schoolmaster who had written letters for Katharina when Johannes was in Prague. He now suspected that the wine she had thanked him with was poisoned. The same year, Kepler published Harmonices Mundi , a treatise on the structural beauty of creation and the sublime relationships between its every aspect. Famously, it includes his third law of planetary motion; less famously, it contains a passage in which Kepler opened up about his mother.

This is less incongruous than it sounds. At a deep psychic level this ambiguity between blood and breeding vexed him; but his reputation was at stake. He identifies in her the same restlessness that propelled his scientific investigations, while regretting that her ignorance provides only negative outlets for such energy.

Meanwhile, depositions taken for and against Katharina had formed a disharmonious body of material, full of contradiction and confusion. In January the file was sent to the chancellery at Stuttgart for consideration. People in Leonberg strove to make ends meet; begging and crime escalated; there was a flood of counterfeit coins. And, after a three-year lull, Einhorn resumed torturing and executing witches.

Early one morning in August , Katharina was woken by her daughter Margaretha and told to hide. They found her lying naked in a trunk and took her to prison, first in Stuttgart, then in Leonberg. For a second time, she was questioned in the presence of her accusers. A report was sent to the chancellery, which authorised Einhorn to torture her if she refused to confess.

Margaretha had written to Johannes as soon as their mother was arrested. The trial was a protracted affair, lasting many months, the sessions episodic and inconclusive. Kepler often visited the noisy jail where his mother, now in her early seventies, was chained to the floor. As she had no teeth, she used a broken knife to cut food into morsels she could swallow whole. Whatever pity he felt for his mother, he was also repelled by her appearance, the marks of age as well as privation, and understood it might have contributed to the suspicions — along with the fact that no one had ever seen her shed a tear.

The defence case that Kepler put together in began by insisting that all evidence had to be available in writing, a pre-trial procedure enshrined in Roman Law.

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He grappled with the detail and volume of the witness statements, undermining them one by one. It was the sort of thing he was formidably good at. Soon Kepler was ready. He laid into the opposition: the witnesses were too young, too hasty, too vehement. They were factious, blinded by hate, subjective.

They were malicious and superstitious and immoral. The principal accuser, Ursula Reinbold, was wantonly deluded. Previously damning evidence dissolved back into the mundane contexts it had come from. And his mother, whose herbal cures had so spitefully been called sorcery, re-emerged as a God-fearing citizen who helped others. Her incantations were prayers, her spells pious rituals. Her interview with the torturer gave Katharina another opportunity to deny the charges against her. And this time she protested so dramatically — falling to her knees and beseeching God to intervene if she were guilty — that the confrontation not only failed to prove her guilt, but confirmed her innocence.

After 14 months in chains, and six years in a harsh legal spotlight, Katharina was free. But she never recovered from the ordeal, and died the following spring. Kepler never paid much heed to witchcraft, but not out of a desire to play down the charges against his mother or because he was a modern scientist at odds with the supernatural. Rather, he believed in a divine universe whose perpetual unfolding left little room for demons.

His heliocentric scheme came from observation, but also formed an image of the Holy Trinity with God as the sun, Christ as the stars and the Holy Spirit as the intervening space.

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A providential spirit inhabited all things, from geometrically exquisite snowflakes to soap bubbles blown by children to the mathematics of peasant dance steps. Fossils were discarded experiments in design. And not only had God created these cosmic wonders, he had blessed mankind with the power to decode and explain them. Worship was directed from the laboratory as well as the pulpit. The years and , terminal points of the early modern period, are joined not by a neat upward curve of progress but by a swirling pool of thought and feeling. For Kepler to wonder whether an alpine hailstorm was a sign that he had angered a mountain by climbing it, or to see a cruciform bruise on his foot as an omen, was not a madcap aberration but an essential part of who he was, spiritually and intellectually.

Both stemmed from the desire to reach into a world of invisible forces to change the present and foretell the future. And yet the meticulous assembly and analysis of data to confirm or confound hypotheses was a legal practice developed by inquisitorial tribunals at the same time as, or even before, the great strides made by Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and others.

Empiricism made witchcraft possible as an actionable crime before it made it an impossible one. It was a trick he had honed in his early years as an iconoclastic astronomer, when it was crucial to maintain consistency in debate, and to anticipate objections so that they could be neutralised before they were even raised. Had he used the same methods to make the opposite case, he would have been the most prolific and terrifying witch-hunter that ever lived. Log In Register for Online Access. Contact us for rights and issues inquiries.

The second was witchcraft. Blasphemy came next, followed by murder, poisoning, and bestiality. In the years since, New England had indicted more than a hundred witches, about a quarter of them men. The first person to confess to having entered into a pact with Satan, a Connecticut servant, had prayed for his help with her chores.

An assistant materialized to clear the ashes from the hearth and the hogs from the fields. In , four exemplary Boston children, the sons and daughters of a devout Boston stonelayer named John Goodwin, suffered from a baffling disorder. The Goodwin children flew like geese, on one occasion for twenty feet.

They recoiled from blows of invisible sticks, shrieked that they were sliced by knives or wrapped in chains. Jaws, wrists, necks flew out of joint. Parental reproof sent the children into agonies. Chores defied them. To observe her symptoms more closely, Mather that summer took Martha Goodwin into his home. She read and reread his pages on her case, lampooning their author. The sauciness astonished him. The witch was the mother of a neighborhood laundress. She was hanged in November, , on Boston Common. The girls cried that they were being stabbed with fine needles.

Their skin burned. One disappeared halfway down a well. Their shrieks could be heard from a distance. Through February, Parris fasted and prayed. He consulted with fellow-clergymen. With cider and cakes, he and his wife entertained the well-wishers who crowded their home. They prayed ardently, gooseflesh rising on their arms. They sang Psalms. In plasters or powders, snails figured in many remedies. Salem village had one practicing physician that winter. He owned nine medical texts; he could likely read but not write.

His surgical arsenal consisted of lances, razors, and saws. The doctor who had examined a seizing Groton girl a generation earlier initially diagnosed a stomach disorder. On a second visit, he refused to administer to her further. The distemper was diabolical in origin. Whoever examined Abigail and Betty arrived at the same conclusion.

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The diagnosis likely terrified the girls, whose symptoms deteriorated. It may have gratified Reverend Parris. Witchcraft was portentous, a Puritan favorite. Never before had it broken out in a parsonage. A creature had followed her home from an errand, through the snow; she now realized that it had not been a wolf at all. The girls named names. They could see the culprits clearly. Not one but three witches were loose in Salem. What exactly was a witch? Any seventeenth-century New Englander could have told you.

As workers of magic, witches and wizards extend as far back as recorded history. The witch as Salem conceived her materialized in the thirteenth century, when sorcery and heresy moved closer together. She came into her own with the Inquisition, as a popular myth yielded to a popular madness. The western Alps introduced her to lurid orgies. Germany launched her into the air. As the magician molted into the witch, she also became predominately female, inherently more wicked and more susceptible to satanic overtures. Though weak willed, women could emerge as dangerously, insatiably commanding.

The English witch made the trip to North America largely intact. She signed her agreement with the Devil in blood, bore a mark on her body for her compact, and enchanted by way of charms, ointments, and poppets, doll-like effigies. Continental witches had more fun. They walked on their hands. They made pregnancies last for three years. They rode hyenas to bacchanals deep in the forest. They stole babies and penises. The Massachusetts witch disordered the barn and the kitchen.

She seldom flew to illicit meetings, more common in Scandinavia and Scotland. Instead, she divined the contents of an unopened letter, spun suspiciously fine linen, survived falls down stairs, tipped hay from wagons, enchanted beer, or caused cattle to leap four feet off the ground. Witches could be muttering, contentious malcontents or inexplicably strong and unaccountably smart.

They could commit the capital offense of having more wit than their neighbors, as a minister said of the third Massachusetts woman hanged for witchcraft, in Matters were murkier when it came to the wily figure with six thousand years of experience, the master of disguise who could cause things to appear and disappear, who knew your secrets and could make you believe things of yourself that were not true. He turned up in New England as a hybrid monkey, man, and rooster, or as a fast-moving turtle.

Even Cotton Mather was unsure what language he spoke. He was a pervasive presence, however: the air pulsed with his minions. Typically in Massachusetts, he wore a high-crowned hat, as he had in an earlier Swedish invasion, which Mather documented in his book.

Mather did not mention the brightly colored scarf that the Devil wound around his hat. By May, , eight Salem girls had claimed to be enchanted by individuals whom most of them had never met. Several served as visionaries; relatives of the ailing made pilgrimages to consult with them. They might be only eleven or twelve, but under adult supervision they could explain how several head of cattle had frozen to death, several communities away, six years earlier. In the courtroom, they provided prophetic direction, cautioning that a suspect would soon topple a child, or cause a woman to levitate.

With their help, at least sixty witches had been deposed and jailed by the end of the month, more than the Massachusetts prisons had ever accommodated. Those who had frozen through the winter began to roast in the sweltering spring. On May 27th, the new Massachusetts governor, Sir William Phips, established a special court to try the witchcraft cases. A political shape-shifter, Stoughton had served in five prior Massachusetts regimes.

He had helped to unseat the reviled royal governor, on whose council he sat and whose courts he headed. He possessed one of the finest legal minds in the colony.

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The court met in early June, and sentenced the first witch to hang on the tenth. It also requested a bit of guidance. During the next days, twelve ministers conferred. Cotton Mather drafted their reply, a circumspect, eight-paragraph document, delivered mid-month. Acknowledging the enormity of the crisis, he issued a paean to good government.

In the lines that surely received the greatest scrutiny, Mather reminded the justices that convictions should not rest purely on spectral evidence—evidence visible only to the enchanted, who conversed with the Devil or with his confederates. Mather would insist on the point throughout the summer. Mather wondered whether the entire calamity might be resolved if the court discounted those testimonies.

A month later, Ann Foster, a seventy-two-year-old widow from neighboring Andover, submitted to the first of several Salem interrogations. Initially, she denied all involvement with sorcery. Soon enough, she began to unspool a fantastical tale. The Devil had appeared to her as an exotic bird. He promised prosperity, along with the gift of afflicting at a glance. She had not seen him in six months, but her ill-tempered neighbor, Martha Carrier, had been in touch on his behalf.

She worked her sorcery with poppets. There were twenty-five people in the meadow, where a former Salem village minister officiated. Three days later, from jail, Foster added a malfunctioning pole and a mishap to her account. The justices soon learned that Foster had failed to come clean, however. It seemed that she and Carrier had neither flown nor crashed alone on that Salem-bound pole: a third rider had travelled silently behind Foster.

So divulged forty-year-old Mary Lacey, a newly arrested suspect, on July 20th. Foster had also withheld the details of a chilling ceremony. The Devil had baptized his recruits, dipping their heads in water, six at a time. He performed the sacrament in a nearby river, to which he had carried Lacey in his arms. On July 21st, Ann Foster appeared before the magistrates for the fourth time. She did not, and seemed taken aback. Warren shared with the court what a spectre had confided in her: Foster had recruited her own daughter. The authorities understood that she had done so about thirteen years earlier.

Was that correct? At this, Mary Lacey was called.

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How shall we get clear of this evil one? Her mother, Lacey revealed, rode first on the stick. Mary Warren fell at once into fits. At first, the younger Lacey was unhelpful. Asked to smile at Warren without hurting her, Mary Lacey failed. Warren collapsed to the floor.


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She could only agree, although she seemed to be working from a different definition: a recalcitrant child, she had caused her parents plenty of trouble. She had, she insisted, signed no diabolical pact. The ideal Puritan girl was a sterling amalgam of modesty, piety, and tireless industry. She was to speak neither too soon nor too much. She read her Scripture twice daily.

Fourteen was the dividing line in law, for slander among other matters. The father was the master of the family, its soul, the governor of all the governed. He was often an active and engaged parent. He sat vigil in the sickroom. A roaring girl wrestled aloud with the demons who would assault her the following year: she was well aware that she was fatherless—how often did they need to remind her as much?

But she was hardly an orphan. The justices reminded Mary Lacey, Jr. She was more profligate with details than her mother or her grandmother had been. It was a hallmark of Salem that the younger generation—Cotton Mather included—could be relied on for the most luxuriant reports. It appeared easier to describe satanic escapades when an adolescent had already been told, or believed, that she cavorted with the Devil.

The older woman had so often scolded that the Devil should fetch her away. Her wish had come true! She prayed that the Lord might expose all the witches. Officials led in her grandmother; three generations of enchantresses stood before the justices. Why did you persuade me and, oh, grandmother, do not you deny it. You have been a very bad woman in your time. By the end of July, it was clear that— with the help of a minister mastermind—the Devil intended to topple the Church and subvert the country, something he had never before attempted in New England.

Certain patterns emerged as well. It bordered on heresy to question the validity of witchcraft, the legitimacy of the evidence, or the wisdom of the court. The skeptic was a marked man. It could be wise to name names before anyone mentioned yours. It was safer to be afflicted than accused. Increasingly, you slept under the same roof, if not in the same bed, as your accuser. Bewitched women choked with fits, whereas men—who stepped forward only once the trials had begun—tended to submit to paralyzing bedroom visits.

Imputations proved impossible to outrun. The word of two ministers could not save an accused parishioner. Neither age, fortune, gender, nor church membership offered immunity; prominent men stood accused alongside homeless five-year-old girls.

No one ever suffered afflictions without being able to name a witch. Many braced for a knock at the door. The court met again early in August, when three men were convicted: George Jacobs, an elderly farmer; John Willard, a much younger one; and John Proctor, the first village man to have been accused.

Tipping his hand a little, he called once for compassion for the accused, twice for pity for the justices. They were, after all, up against the greatest sophist in existence. They labored to restore the innocent while excising the diabolical; it made for a hazardous operation. The following day, Mather wrote excitedly to an uncle in Plymouth. God was working in miracles. They identified their ringleader, who came to trial that afternoon. The demonic mastermind was a minister in his early forties named George Burroughs.

He had grown up in Maryland and graduated from Harvard in , narrowly missing Samuel Parris. He was in his late twenties when he first arrived in Salem village, where he spent three contentious years. He was never ordained. Before and after that tenure, Burroughs served on the vulnerable Maine frontier. During a raid, he had joined in a seven-hour battle, waged in a field and an orchard.

A veteran Boston militia captain lauded the Reverend for his unexpected role. The assault cost the settlers dearly; two hundred and fifty of them were killed or taken captive. Twice widowed, Burroughs retreated down the coast to Wells, eighty miles north of Boston.

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From a lice-infested garrison, he several times in the winter of appealed to the colonial authorities, who had withdrawn troops from the frontier, for clothing and provisions. The enemy lurked outside. They could not hold out for long. He nearly tore her to pieces, bragging afterward that he outranked a wizard—he was a conjurer.

He had murdered several women and—evidently a secret agent, in the employ of the French and the Indians—dispatched a number of frontier soldiers as well. Nearly twice as many testified at his trial. Mather provided the sole surviving account of the trial, although we have no evidence that he ever entered the courtroom. He had attempted to lift a shotgun that Burroughs had fired but, even with both hands, could not steady the seven-foot weapon.

Asked to account for his preternatural strength, Burroughs said that an Indian had assisted him in firing the musket. Lurking behind the testimony was what may have been the most pertinent charge against the former village minister: he had survived every Indian attack unscathed.