August 24, 2014

The Witch of Mashpee, and a Book Release Party

I'm having a party to celebrate the release of my book Legends and Lore of the North Shore. Here are the details:

When: Tuesday, September 9, from 6 - 8:00 pm

Where: Club Cafe, 209 Columbus Avenue, Boston

What: Appetizers, cash bar, and me signing books!

Who: You're invited! I hope you can attend!

Now that the obligatory marketing is over, on to the witchcraft.


Last week the murderous Hannah Screecham was the star of this blog. This week her sister Sarah gets a turn in the spotlight.

While Hannah partnered with pirates to bury their treasure and kill anyone who might reveal its whereabouts, Sarah headed to Mashpee and built herself a cottage on the shores of a small pond. The pond is now called Witch Pond, so you can guess what type of work Sarah pursued.

The pond was in the middle of a very dense forest, so dense that even when the moon was full no light could shine through its trees. Most people avoided the place, fearful of the witch's magic, but when times where lean members of the Mashpee tribe would venture into Sarah's domain in search of game.

Sarah was very protective of the forest and the animals that lived in it. If she saw a hunter she cursed them will ill luck, preventing them from killing any game. She could appear and disappear at will in the woods, traveling unseen, though after she disappeared hunters often saw a beautiful young doe or huge black mare running through the trees. Both animals were impervious to arrows and bullets.

One day Sarah saw a particularly handsome Mashpee man hunting near her home. Even in her witch's heart there was room for love, and she fell in love hard. She pursued the man, begging him to be her lover, but he was terrified and refused her. Sarah was persistent, however, and eventually the man relented. They could meet, but he had one condition - she must come to his home outside the forest.

Blinded by love, Sarah agreed. She visited the man, and as the sun set she turned herself into the huge black mare. Playfully she scampered around the man's house, and playfully she let herself be tied to a tree. Once she was securely tied the Mashpee man's smile dropped away, and he pulled out a hammer and four horseshoes. The black mare didn't make a sound as he nailed in the first three, which were made of iron, but the horse neighed in terror and pain when he nailed in the final one, which was silver. When the man was done he ran to get his neighbors so they could see how he had hobbled the witch.

The black horse had vanished by the time they came back, so they went to Sarah's cottage. They found her inside, screaming in pain with a silver horseshoe nailed to her hand.

Once she recovered Sarah returned to her witchy ways, cursing hunters and transforming herself into animals. She gave up on love. The hunters once again avoided her forest, until many years later a particularly grim winter hit the Cape. No game could be found anywhere, and the Mashpee people were starving. In desperation one hunter finally set out for Witch Pond. He was armed with a rifle, and because he remembered the story about the horseshoe he carried with him one silver bullet.

The forest was strangely silent, even for a winter day, and the hunter didn't see any animals as he trekked through the deep snow. As he neared the pond a beautiful young doe leapt out of the woods. It stared at him fearlessly, as if if was taunting him. He fired his silver bullet, and struck the doe in the hear. It disappeared. The hunter made his way to Sarah's cottage, where he found an old woman dead with a silver bullet in her heart.


I find this story sad. Poor Sarah! Lots of witch stories involve death by silver bullet, but the silver horseshoe incident is quite cruel. She was just lonely and looking for some male companionship. Even witches need some love. That part of the story reminded me of the recent movie Maleficent. It's unsettling how misogynist some of these stories are.

Sarah's story is included in William Simmons's Spirit of the New England Tribes, and if you approach it from the Mashpee perspective Sarah's not quite so sympathetic. Historically the Mashpee people had most of their land taken by English settlers, saw their numbers reduced by European diseases, and saw their way of life vanish. I see a woman looking for love and protecting animals in this story, but from a Mashpee perspective Sarah, a white woman preventing the tribe from pursuing their traditional hunt, is probably symbolic of white domination. We know the Mashpee weren't able to displace the whites, but at least in this story they can symbolically kill their oppressor.

The story also conveys metaphysical information about witches, and if you're a historian you can try to figure out whether Sarah really existed. There really is a Witch Pond in Mashpee - was there really a witch? So much to consider in one short (and sad) story.


Christa Thompson said...

Are you serious!!! OMG I am so excited for you!! This is amazing news! Please email me, I would LOVE to review the book and place it on my good reads page along with running a social media campaign for it. I can't wait to read all of your fantastic tales. I am sure i'll be referencing this one in my travels!!

Peter Muise said...

Thanks Christa! I'll email you offline.