March 28, 2010

Good News! Puritans Less Likely to Have Sex with Devil

Here's some good news. According to historian Richard Godbeer, only five accused New England witches reported having sex with the Devil! Well, I guess it's bad news if you're the Devil...

Even five may seem like a lot, but not when you compare the New England numbers with reports of Devil-sex from European witchcraft trials. As Godbeer points out in his article "Witchcraft and Sex in Early Modern Culture", the Europe witches' sabbath allegedly consisted of eating, drinking and orgiastic sex. Satan presided, and took part in all of the action.

By contrast, in New England the supposed witch gatherings were relatively sedate. Satan appeared dressed like a Puritan minister, waved around a book, and talked about his demonic plans. The witches just stood around and listened. Basically, it was a demonic parody of the Puritan's congregational style of worship.

Why the big difference? According to Godbeer, in Europe the authorities were concerned about regulating sex. They forced confessions from accused witches that addressed their concerns. In contrast, the accused in New England used their confessions to mock the church that was torturing them.

So, who were the five witches who took a walk on the wild side?

  • Mary Johnson of Wethersfield confessed to "Uncleanness with Men and Devils" in 1648.
  • Rebecca Greensmith of Hartford, "owned that the devill had frequent use of her body" in 1663.
  • A neighbor accused New Haven's Elizabeth Goodman of having Hobbamocke as her husband. Hobbamocke (aka Hobbomock) was a local Native American god the Puritans equated with the Devil. To the Indians, he was the deity who presided over shamanism, death, darkness and the night.
  • In the Salem trials, it was said of Sarah Parker that the "devil had come to her and kissed her."
  • Sarah Bishop claimed the "Devill Did Come bodyly unto her and that she was familiar with the Devill..."
I think it's important to point out the New England Puritans had plenty of sex with each other. Trial records from the 17th century are filled with cases of adultery, incest, sodomy and even bestiality. But they just weren't into having sex with Satan.

You can find Richard Godbeer's complete article in the Dublin Seminar's Wonders of the Invisible World, 1600-1900.


Robert David Sullivan said...

Jeez, even in the 1600s Boston had an attitude problem. Would it have killed these women to show an out-of-towner a good time?

katknit said...

It's Mary Johnson of Wethersfield, CT. Not Mary Wethersfield of Hartford.

Peter Muise said...

Hi Katknit!

Thanks for the correction. I don't have the Godbeer article with me but you're probably right. I've changed that in my post.

Rich Clabaugh said...

Thanks for the post, Peter! For all their stuffiness, there sure was a lot of hanky panky going on among the Puritans.