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That they are made of wood and they float just like small rocks.

(sorry, I couldn't resist)

I think I qualify as an Average Mormon and I'd have to say that I haven't thought of them as anything more than a costume at Halloween or a Wizard of Oz character. Am I naive? Maybe I would be different had I grown up in the late 1600's or as the son of Robert Plant.

Oliver Cowdery made a visit to Salem in 1836 and a description of his trip was published in the October 1836 Messenger & Advocate (pp. 388-91). He wrote:

"During my tarry in this country, I have visited Salem, 15 miles from this city. I viewed the hill, immediately to the north-west of the town, on which they used, in olden times when they were very righteous, to hang people for the alleged crime of witchcraft-it still bears the name of 'witch hill,' and looks down upon this ancient town like a monument set up to remind after generations of the folly of their fathers. This witch business began in 1691, and was so effectually carried on for about two years* that the innocent blood of hundreds moistened the earth to gratify the vile ambition of jealous mortals.

It may not be wholly uninteresting to the readers of the Messenger, to give a short account of this disgraceful affair, as found in some of the ancient writings on that subject."

Bruce R. McConkie's stern criticism of "Witchcraft" in _Mormon Doctrine_ is interesting in that he leaves room open for the rightful execution of witches: "Lest his people Israel be led to hell by practicing all these abominations — and all of them are part and portion of the craft of witches — the Lord decreed: 'Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.' (Ex. 22:18.) First excommunication and then death by stoning was the penalty. (Lev. 20:6, 27.) It should be noted that the trying, convicting, and executing of so-called witches during the middle ages and in early American history was a wholly apostate and unwarranted practice. It is probable that none, or almost none, of those unhappily dealt with as supposed witches were persons in actual communion with evil spirits. Their deaths illustrate the deadly extremes to which the principles of true religion can be put when administered by uninspired persons."

Stop it, Rusty, you're killin' me! I think you have earned the official title "Average Mormon," and you can now speak authoritatively in that capacity on any occasion.

Justin, great quotes, taking a more "naturalistic" view of witchcraft than I would have expected for Mormon authorities. BRM is the not the first person I would have expected to take a skeptical view of the whole Salem affair. As for Oliver C, the more I read him, the more I like him.

I don't really have any knowledge to base this on, but I think most "witch" fear and hate comes down to the male distrust of the female.

But I could be wrong.


(1) I wasn't too pleased with your description of Mormonism as a "fundamentalist" religion, considering the baggage that term has today.

(2) Watch out when it comes to belittling the existence of Satan, trivializing the concept when stating that Mormonism, like other "fundamentalist" religions "hang a lot of doctrinal baggage on the Satan peg," as if Satan were just a mental construct imagined by frenzied minds that is begging to be deconstructed and thus stripped of objective meaning. The problem with that is that (a) Satan is real, even if not glamorous as depicted in Hollywood; (b) the Book of Mormon warns against those who teach there is no devil; (c) Satan's own agenda is furthered when people question his existence, reality, or goals.

(3) Witches as understood in the seventeenth century is a little bit of a red herring in discussion of LDS doctrine, don't you think? On the one hand, I don't think that you will find many Latter-day Saints, even in the mid-nineteenth century, who think that the Salem trials weren't animated by superstition. JS in the Restoration of the true Gospel did a lot to steer the Saints away from preposterous superstitions that encumbered "mainstream" Christianity. Such superstitions came into existence through centuries of man-made and evolving religious doctrine--backwards philosophies draped in pseudo-religious significance and reinforced by ignorance. I would posit that Latter-day Saints are, in general, very unsuperstitious in that sense. (Of course I understand that you can merely characterize any aspect of LDS religious devotion as superstition, much as a Marxist will label religion itself as superstition, but LDS religious devotion, e.g. in the temple, is not what I am referring to with this concept of "superstition," which led to such things as the Inquisition and the Salem witch trials.)

Lisa, that seems a little radical. In its proper context, you are right to point out the plight of women generally in the seventeenth century (and that in turn derived from apostate Christianity, much in the same way that women are suffering in the Islamic world because of corrupt interpretations of Islam). But the hysteria over witches themselves likely stemmed from the fact that Massachusetts and some of the other original settlements were governed by strict biblical codes as their literal laws. These codes, stemming straight from the Old Testament, demanded such punishment of "witches" and workers of evil magic, which included blasphemers and worships of idols. For a good and very readable background to the use of the Bible as the law of the land in early American colonies, see an article in the BYU Law Review by Professor Jack Welch.

On this point, in the article, Prof. Welch writes:

Particularly in New England, lawgivers drew heavily on isolated biblical provisions—which were, of course, taken out of context—in formulating their laws, especially their capital laws. This eclectic use of biblical law was consistent with the prevailing proof-text approach to the Bible employed generally by readers, preachers, and scholars in that day.
Welch, "Biblical Law in America," 614.

Particularly useful is Welch's analysis from page 619 on, which discusses those early law codes specifically, focusing first on a collection of laws from 1643 in Massachesetts. These were 15 capital offenses lifted straight from the Old Testament.

I think that this focus and, as Welch notes, out of context use, of the OT is what led to the witch trials, rather than any intrinsic hatred of women.

John: My understanding is that witchcraft was a crime at common law. To be sure, the Puritan interest in the Old Testament was a huge part of the driving force behind the Salem trials, but I am skeptical that the trials are a very good example of legal exceptionalism. The Puritans DID try to put together a set of laws based on Old Testament, but my understanding is that this attempt more or less peaked in the 1650s and from that time onward Massachusetts began assimilating a more common law outlook.

Dave: I have to second the disappointment with the rather sloppy use of the term fundamentalism.

Lisa: I think that you are partially correct, but one problem with a purely feminist reading of witch craft as a phenomena is that lots and lots of men were executed as witches. In Salem the situation is further complicated by the fact the accusers were by and large young women. As I recall from way back when I read something on the Salem trials, there have been some attempts to argue that the young women were coerced or pressured by men into making the accusations, but that this line of argument is rather forced.

I just want to offer an Amen! to John Fowles' comment regarding the reality of Satan. So much of the world has fallen into the trap of believing his line about ...I am no devil for there is none....
As Latter-day Saints we must remain aware and on the watch for his influence in the world, as we strive to build Zion, for his goal is to destroy it.

Nate, perhaps I was a little loose with the term "fundamentalist." Substitute "conservative Christian denominations with deep and abiding faith in ongoing and frequent supernatural intervention in terrestrial affairs by God, his angels, and a host of opposing spirit demons" if you like. I think I still owe a Part III to my series of posts on fundamentalism, which was going to be titled Mormonism as Modern Fundamentalism. It's fair to exaggerate a bit to make my point--plainly Mormons don't get hung up on Creation and inerrancy of the Bible, as do the heirs of Christian fundamentalism. Instead, Mormons get hung up on Nephites and the inerrancy of the Book of Mormon translation.

Yes, Peggy, I agree we must destroy the influence of Satan in the world. Marvelous goal! And how many million people must we kill to accomplish this task? It seems to me like the Salem witch trials are a caution against this kind of gung-ho anti-Satan agenda. Governments always demonize the racial or social groups they ostracize, disenfranchise, dispossess, and eventually exterminate in part or in whole. We might trim our sails a bit if we reflect on the fact that the 19th-century Christians who gave Mormons such a bad time thought they were doing the Christian God a favor.

[edited 10/26]

On fundamentalism: I guess I must have read the word in a more charitable light, or by the stricter definition. Meaning that "fudamentalist" can mean a relgion based in some core unbending principals. We qualify in many respects, one true church, priesthood authority, an infallable religious text (our most perfect book), the absolute authority of the Prophet.

But ultimatly I do agree that this usage was sloppy simply because fundamentalist is generally used in a derogatory way, and when such is the case it is 'politically correct' to refrain from labeling people with words that they do not use to describe themselves.

So I will bow to Nate and John's call for political correctness. In fact I rather enjoy doing so.

"Lisa, that seems a little radical."

Oh good. Just right then.

"I think that this focus and, as Welch notes, out of context use, of the OT is what led to the witch trials, rather than any intrinsic hatred of women."

Hum, maybe, like I said I don't know much about it. However, I do not see how your point in any way cancels mine. You could simply make your first points and then say "and intrinsic hatred of women.” instead of “rather than any intrinsic hatred of women.”

"Lisa: I think that you are partially correct"

Good, that's better than usual anyway.

"In Salem the situation is further complicated by the fact the accusers were by and large young women."

I don't think that necessarily complicates it. The thing about the demonizing or dehumanizing or less-humanizing of women is that a lot of women themselves believe it and accept it and act upon it. Mistrust/hatred of women doesn't have to come directly from a man in order to be a real factor.

Just look at the way women will blame other women for unfaithful men rather than blaming the man himself. Examples really are endless.

As far as men being executed, as you indicated, a pure "woman hate" reading would certainly be incomplete.

I don't know much about witches either, but I do know that there are white witches, who practice "good magic", and then there are supposed to be the bad kind as well. Also, if I understand it the right way, it is a religion to be a white witch.

However, in the case of the Salem witch trails, I would be very surprised if any of them were actually practicing any kind of magic. I have a feeling that they were just going against the norms of society and religion at the time.

Lisa, there is certainly some merit to your position. When white male Christians hold power, periodic episodes of insecurity often generate suspicion of those who aren't white, aren't male, or aren't Christian. The first focus of the Salem witchcraft trials was an African slave named Tituba who dabbled in African religion or magic. In other words, the first real target of the paranoia was a non-white, non-male, non-Christian. On the other hand, as noted by Nate above and by me in the original post, some men were accused and executed as witches at Salem, although women received disproportionate attention.

For a good treatment of the topic, go find a copy of The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England (Rev. ed, Norton, 1998) by Carol Karlsen. It has some statistical data and analysis supporting the thesis stated in the title.

There was actually another recent book on the Salem trials that was published in 2000, I believe, by some professor at Harvard. Her argument, which I thought was rather ingenious, was that the Salem trials were largely about geopolitical anxiety. The 1690s saw some viscious fighting between the English and the French in Maine (then part of Massachusetts) and she found some startling paralells between witchcraft stories and stories of French atrocities. Her thesis shares much of Karlsen's Freudianism (ie witchcraft mania as anxiety and psychological repression) be she posits an interesting new source for the anxiety.

And then of course there are the rather more prosaic theories that some organic factor, such as bread mold, induced sensory experiences in some of the Salemites. What we call "food poisoning" and associate with a bad restaurant was much more problematic in the good 'ole days before refrigeration, the FDA, and local health inspectors. My local PBS station is actually running a show tonight at 8:00 p.m. that talks about the Salem episode from this angle. Maybe I'll do a post-show blog.

I found the following link on common theories:

Theories of origins

Hey Dave,
Chill out and re-read what I said.
I said: "we must remain aware and on the watch for his influence" and later "for his goal is to destroy it"
But I did NOT say that "we must destroy the influence of Satan in the world."
Nor would I ever say that.
First of all, I am not a destroyer.
I am a mother and a co-creator with God.
Also, it really wouldn't surprise me if Satan's work here in tempting humans wasn't actually helping make us stronger, in essence helping us be better, but he doesn't realize it, just as he did not know he was an unwitting catalyst in the Garden of Eden.
Next time you want to spew on someone, you might want to actually bother reading what they said.
I certainly don't agree with destroying anyone.
I just think we need to be spiritually perceptive to the way he influences the world as he tries to deceive us.

Peggy, I believe you are correct and that I misread your earlier comment. Would you like me to delete my response, or would just like to flesh out your original comment in more detail?

So, I am confused. . . are you guys aplauding the efforts of the witches council in 1693 or condemning it under the laws of the ten comandments? Thou Shalt Not Kill! So in closing A simple yes or no answer is all I ask. Is witchcraft tolerated by mormons in those who are not of the mormon faith?

Lisa, I happened to see your comment appear in the 'recent comments' in the sidebar. I would say that this should answer it for you.

"11 We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may." (Articles of Faith, 11)

In our scriptures we have a section called the articles of faith. The whole thing is here. It is basically a summary of what we believe.

Looking at witchcraft from an earth-based religion standpoint, I would say that certainly it is to be tolerated. Unfortunately, the term 'witchcraft' is a very broad umbrella under which a wide spectrum of practices fall. There are the peaceful earth-based Wiccans, ritual magick Thelemites, Chaos Magicians, and unfortuntaley there are also a few bloodthirsty (literally) satanists.

There is a point in that spectrum where my tolerance ceases, obviously, but that is when the actions and practices of the people involve killing, harming, and other not only unholy but downright wrong actions. Sure, it's pretty far-out in terms of the spectrum, as those whose beliefs require such vile actions are incredbily rare and in the miniscule minority. Much of 'witchcraft' is downright benign in nature, and is very misunderstood popularly. Some of it, though, is twisted and wrong. I, being aware of it, make that distinction, and so my answer would be split.

I do tolerate witchcraft in those for whom it is the religious choice that resonates with their soul, those for who "Harm none; do what thou wilt" means something. I do not tolerate witchcraft in those who practice it in twisted and evil forms, because of the harm they would do others, and even then it is not so much the label of witchcraft that I do not tolerate, it is the harm that they would inflict.

Lisa, I think Naiah gave a fairly sophisticated response. I imagine the average Mormon not quite as familiar with it as Naiah would be quite opposed to the idea witchcraft in theory ... but if they actually met a practitioner of the friendlier versions of Wicca in person, I doubt they would tell that person they deserved to die. Before you know it, the Mormon would probably invite the witch to church on Sunday. Really.

For a more official response to your specific query about the Salem events of 1693, it's worth noting that Elder Bruce R. McConkie, who was part of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve and is universally regarded as something of a hardline conservative in terms of his religious views, wrote that few if any of those executed or who were accused in Salem were actual witches.

That's a remarkable admission coming from Elder McConkie and it shows how misleading it would be to think Mormons somehow have it in for witches or Wiccans. And we do celebrate Halloween like everyone else. Many congregations sponsor trick or treating events in LDS parking lots, complete with decorated family trucksters and costumed parents handing out candy, an activity that would make some Evangelicals reel in pious horror. And we're okay with Harry Potter, too.


thank you all for your comments. I am a witch meeting a long estranged branch of my family who is mormon and I was worried for my saftey and the saftey of my friends. Thank you all you have laid aside my fears

Naiah, i completely agree with you, those who take the rede (Eight words the witches rede fulfil if it harm none do as ye will). Are defying what we hold most sacred

Dave thank. Peace be with you, I cannot begin to express my greatfulness.

thank you all again
blessed be

Good luck with the visit, Lisa. I don't think you have to worry about personal safety, but even so I wouldn't lead with the Wicca stuff. And when you do get around to it, you might try describing it as "Relief Society for nature lovers."


just an update. The visit went well thank you all for your advice and comments

blessed be

The Salem witch trials? Let's call it a tribute to women's inhumanity to women. [edited] This time though, it's the witches targeting the innocent.

My great-grandmother (direct ancestor) was one of the "witches" hung after intelligently, eloquently (and futily) defending herself. Our family history papers have always greatly respected her intellect, integrity, talents- including medicine-midwifery-herbalism-business-farming- tailoring-etc. etc. etc. We also find ourselves empathetically joking about our under-dog genes!

A fascinatig read on the female context of the era (and many of our roots) is "Good Wives: Image and relity in the Lives of Women in Northern New England 1650-1750" by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.

Blessed be, Lisa. I'm so glad it went well.


Your great-grandmother? That's quite impossible.

Sorry for the typo. You're right D. Fletcher, that really would be something! "Great-great-great-something grandmother" is what I should have written. It's back further than 8 generations, but I don't have the chart with me right now to count. Also, my apologies to Dave and the blog administrators for comments which needed to be edited.

The Salem "Witch" trials were widely regarded to be a sham, even by the most god fearing more than a century before Mormonism was founded. And by "sham", I mean everyone was convinced that none of the accused were actually witches, but rather victims of the overactive imagination of a group of young women and some unusually poor judgment on the part of the religious leaders of the day.

The Devil in Massachusetts, by Marion L. Starkey, has an excellent account of the episode. One of the "witches" put to death was my ancestor Susanna North, who like all the others had nothing to do with witchcraft. The "evidence" was all accusatory in nature - the testimony of young girls, implicating largely their female superiors, and anyone else inclined to doubt their story.

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