The Millions

Kathleen Kent and Laird Hunt on Witches and Wickedness in American History and Literature

The concept of the witch has figured prominently, not only in American history but in American literature as well. From Cotton Mather’s cautionary essays to Nathaniel Hawthorne to Arthur Miller, readers have been held in thrall by accounts of accused practitioners of dark magic, primarily women. Vilified and persecuted, “witches” were often portrayed in earlier novels as confederates of the devil—evil, ugly and terrifying. In more modern-day novels the witch has been transformed into a powerful, often majestic figure, capable of both creative and destructive magic, and unmoored from patriarchal judgement and censorship. She is a force of nature, and the possessor of ancient healing arts.

Laird Hunt: What was your earliest encounter with witches?

Thanks to my maternal grandmother, I had a unique introduction to the history of “witches” and, in particular, the Salem Witch Trials. When I was quite young I was told that I was the 10th-generation descendent of , one of 19 men and women hanged in Salem for the crime of witchcraft in 1692. My only perspective before that had been what was usual for most children exposed to the Halloween-ish parodies of the supernatural: scary, unwholesome, devil-worshipping women who flew around on broomsticks, frightening peasants and livestock alike. When I asked my grandmother if Martha Carrier had truly

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

Related Interests

More from The Millions

The Millions8 min read
About Brooklyn, All of Brooklyn: The Millions Interviews Thomas J. Campanella
Deep‐south Brooklyn is the flyover country of New York City. I want to make people think again, and more deeply, about Brooklyn, all of Brooklyn. The post About Brooklyn, All of Brooklyn: The Millions Interviews Thomas J. Campanella appeared first on
The Millions4 min read
Ten Haunting Ghost Stories for Halloween (and the Rest of the Year, Too)
Kick off this month's frightfest with Jac Jemc's list of 10 books that investigate "what it is that unsettles us most and why." The post Ten Haunting Ghost Stories for Halloween (and the Rest of the Year, Too) appeared first on The Millions.
The Millions3 min read
I’m Very Bad at Being Secular: The Millions Interviews Nathan Englander
I feel like my wife’s afraid she’s going to come through the door and I’ll be koshering the kitchen or I’ll turn Hasidic while she’s out picking up our kid. The post I’m Very Bad at Being Secular: The Millions Interviews Nathan Englander appeared fir