I'm just getting started with the pleasant little tome A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials (Doubleday, 1995) by Frances Hill, with an introduction by Karen Armstrong, noted author of The Battle For God (which I read earlier this year and talked about here). I understand that Satan is something of a touchy topic in polite conversation--I myself have never watched The Exorcist or The Omen (although I did manage The Witches of Eastwick and Meet Joe Black). And the topic of Satan is certainly a flashpoint in fundamentalist religions like Mormonism that hang a lot of doctrinal baggage on the Satan peg. A quick word check, for example, shows the word "Satan" appearing 26 times in the Book of Mormon and "the devil" appearing 89 times. In addition, the two terms appear an additional four times in Joseph's short one-page preface to the 1830 edition that is no longer provided in modern editions.
For fundamentalists, there isn't much to explain about Salem: the 13 women and 6 men who were hanged as witches were actually witches and got what they deserved. And let's not forget the one man who was pressed to death and the three men and one woman who died in jail while accused of witchcraft. Of course, officials in Massachusetts determined the Salem proceedings had gotten out of hand by early 1693 and terminated the witch trials, and that obviously wasn't because they decided actual witches should be allowed to roam the streets free of restraint. If men of the 17th century could figure out these poor unfortunates weren't really witches, it shouldn't be such a leap for us in the 21st century. Hence the need to explain why a bunch of God-fearing Christians who were familiar with "Thou shalt not kill" and "Love your neighbor as yourself" nevertheless found themselves killing their neighbors under the banner of witchcraft for several years. And this was not in some obscure, superstition-ridden Bavarian village, but right here in the New World, land of freedom and liberty. I suppose a real die-hard might take some solace in the fact that we didn't actually burn our witches, we merely hung them.
I don't recall the topic ever being addressed in General Conference, nor do I recall any direct discussion of it in, for example, a Sunday School class. So I'm just a little curious--what does the average Mormon think about witches? What are Mormons supposed to think about witches?