May 30, 2009

Goody Glover: Witch, Martyr, Irish Pub

A while ago I went to the North End, and came upon Goody Glover's, a bar notable for being both an Irish pub in an Italian neighborhood, and for being named after a 17th century Boston woman executed for witchcraft.

According to D. Brenton Simon's Witches, Rakes and Rogues, Goody Glover was a widowed Irish woman living in Boston with her daughter, a laundress in the 1680's. Goody Glover had a reputation as a foul-mouthed troublemaker, and her harried husband allegedly said shortly before he died "that she was undoubtedly a witch... and would quickly arrive unto the punishments due such a one."

In the summer of 1688 Martha Goodwin, the granddaughter of a prominent Puritan minister, accused Goody Glover's daughter of stealing some laundry, an accusation that Goody Glover answered with a string of profanity. Soon after, Martha and her three siblings began having the proverbial "strange fits" - a sure sign of witchcraft in Puritan Boston.

Goody Glover was arrested and put on trial as a witch. Although she spoke English, Goody frustrated the court by answering all questions in Gaelic. She never confessed to being a witch, but did confess to being a Catholic, which was probably almost as shocking back then.

Various rag dolls filled with goat hair were found in her home, which the court assumed were used to magically afflict the Goodwin children.

During the proceedings some physicians examined her to make sure she was not "crazed in her intellectuals and had not procured to herself by folly and madness the reputation of a witch." They declared her sane, and she was hanged on November 16, 1688. She was the fourth and final person executed for witchcraft in Boston.

A plaque outside the bar claims that she was executed for her Catholic faith, and was the first Catholic martyr in Massachusetts. Was she really executed because she was a Catholic? Plenty of other non-Catholics were accused of witchcraft and executed during this period. I think maybe her Catholicism was a sign that Goody was a strong-willed, nonconformist woman who didn't care what her neighbors thought - exactly the kind of person to be accused of witchcraft.

The pub's Website notes that November 16 is officially Goody Glover day in Boston.

May 17, 2009

Word of the day: hubbub!

What's all the hubbub? A still from "After the Mayflower."

On Friday we watched the first episode of the PBS mini-series We Shall Remain, which explores different events in Native American history. Episode one, "After the Mayflower", relates the story of Wampanoag sachem Massasoit and his son, Metacom (aka King Philip) and their interactions with the English settlers. No spoiler alert needed here - it doesn't have a happy ending.

In one scene, the Wampanoags and the English get together for the first Thanksgiving. In addition to food, the Wampanoags bring a game of chance that involves bouncing colored pieces of bone or wood in a basket. While they're bouncing the basket, the players chant "Hub! Hub!" The game was called, naturally, hubbub.

Meaning a noisy uproar, hubbub is still a common word today. For example, if you hear some noisy neighbor kids outside, you can scream out the window: "Hey! What's all the hubbub?!?"

I thought the word "hubbub" was coined to describe this game, and came into English usage from Algonquin. I was wrong. Apparently, it was used in English as early as the 1500's, well before the Pilgrims came to America. Either it was just a coincidence the game required people to shout "Hub! Hub!", or the Pilgrims misheard the shout that way.

I got my information about the hubbub game from Howard Russell's Indian New England Before the Mayflower. A great book!

May 09, 2009

More New England Snake Lore

The timber rattlesnake, crotalus horridus - still found in Massachusetts?

I always associate this time of year with snakes, so here's another post about them. My last snake post was about a piece of European lore found in Massachusetts, but the Algonquians had a lot of snake lore as well.

There are many varieties of snakes in New England, including two poisonous species: the copperhead (agkistrodon contortix) and the timber rattlesnake (crotalus horridus). Snakes are powerful creatures, representing the underworld, the soul, and spiritual warfare. It was believed that snakes have the ability to control the weather.

Rattlesnakes were both revered and feared by many Native American groups. For example, if an Ojibwa encountered a rattlesnake, he would address it as Grandfather, propitiate it with tobacco smoke, and ask for its blessing. Alexander Henry, a fur trader in the Great Lakes in the 1700's, relates how a band of Ojibwa sacrificed a dog to a rattlesnake in an attempt to bring favorable weather. Even those Native Americans who killed rattlesnakes did so with great respect. The Potawatomi of Ohio would sprinkle the body of a dead rattlesnake with tobacco and pray over it to avoid its wrath.

Among the Algonquians of southern New England, the underworld god Hobomock would most often appear to shamans as a snake, and dreaming about a snake was a sign that an individual was destined to become a shaman. Rattlesnakes were one of the guardian spirits (along with hawks and crows) that helped shamans heal their clients - and kill their enemies.

After the New England tribes converted to Christianity, they associated snakes with old pagan practices. For example, the Wampanoag of Cape Cod told how Elisha Naughaught, one of their church deacons, was attacked in the 1700's by a group of black snakes. They were perhaps sent by an enemy pagan shaman, and are clearly indicative of underworld powers.

I got my information from two sources: William Simmons's Spirit of the New England Tribes, and Thomas Palmer's Landscape With Reptile, a fantastic book about the history and lore of rattlesnakes in Massachusetts. Once extremely common in Massachusetts, rattlesnakes are now only found in the Blue Hills south of Boston.

Tonight is the Full Flower Moon

Jeff, one of my faithful readers, has informed me I'm not updating this blog enough. Sadly, it's true. Work has been busy lately. I'm grateful I have a job, so I'm not complaining. But for Jeff, here are two updates in one day.

Tonight is the Full Flower Moon. I've noted before that some of the past moons didn't fully live up to their names (no wolves in my neighborhood during the Full Wolf Moon, for example).

The Full Flower Moon is right on the money, though. There are flowers everywhere right now, particularly lilacs. The entire city is fragrant!

As always, I get my info about the moon names from the Old Farmer's Almanac.

There are other systems for naming the full moons in a year. This page has a list of several, some of them quite dramatic. I particularly like the Hungry Ghost Moon, Panther Moon, and the Moon When the Horns Are Broken Off.