The Ruin of All Witches: Life and Death in the New World

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The Ruin of All Witches: Life and Death in the New World

The Ruin of All Witches: Life and Death in the New World

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Malcolm Gaskill shows uswithfilmic vividnessthe daily life of the riven, marginal community of Springfield, where settlers from a far country dwell on the edge of the unknown. His attention to their plight—material, psychological, spiritual—goes far to explain, though not explain away, the alien beliefs of a fragile, beleaguered community, torn between the old world and the new. The clarity of his thought and his writing, his insight, and the immediacy of the telling, combine to make thisthe best and most enjoyable kind of history writing. Malcolm Gaskill goes to meet the past on its own terms and in its own place, and the result is thought-provoking and absorbing.”— Hilary Mantel, best-selling author of Wolf Hall PRAISE FOR WITCHFINDERS: 'A brilliant new study ... In the vivid three-dimensionality of its dramatis personae, the eloquence of its writing, and the richness of its evocations of vanished worlds of landscape and belief ... Gaskill displays a masterly wizardry all his own.' -- John Adamson - Sunday Telegraph A fine achievement. Gaskill has scoured the archives for every scrap of surviving evidence and presented his findings in an intelligent, meticulously documented, and highly readable way . . . As persuasive an account of the whole grisly episode as we are ever likely to get. -- Keith Thomas - New York Review of Books

Gaskill]] creates an immersive atmosphere by describing in raw, visceral detail how these people actually lived . . . An outstanding achievement, haunting, revelatory and superbly written — a strong contender for the best history book of the year.” –Andrew Lynch, The Irish Independent It's so easy to see how mental illness, illness and disease, superstition, jealousy, greed and hypocrisy paid such a part in the death of so many women (and men in some cases)Springfield, New England 1651, and strange and frightening things have started to happen, with suspicions firmly centring on young couple, Hugh and Mary Parsons. Essentially, the book is a straightforward narrative aimed at that semi-mythical creature “the general reader”. Hopefully, its only demand is that readers reserve their judgement of pre-modern believers in witches and suspend their own disbelief of the same. I wanted to show how witch trials, far from being knee-jerk reactions to inexplicable misfortune, took a long time to gather momentum and were even then often thwarted by scepticism about what constituted viable evidence. I was also keen to reconstruct a faraway world of enchantment – the kind of setting that Tolkien insisted was essential for fairy tales. The events described in skillful narrative detail here predate the Salem Witch Trials, and they effectively layout the foundation of how such an event could transpire in a country founded on religious zealotry while also trying to cope with the demands of a capitalistic economy. Author and professor Malcolm Gaskill is considered one of Britain’s leading experts in the history of witches and witchcraft, and here he turns his knowledge and research skills to the history of a specific time and place.

As his 759 footnotes attest, Gaskill is an academic of note – an emeritus professor of early modern history. But The Ruin of All Witches is no stuffy textbook, as he weaves primary sources – much of it gleaned from Springfield founder William Pynchon’s Deposition Book, found in the New York Public Library – into a thriller worthy of Stephen King. And like King’s works, the supernatural permeates his story. A riveting micro-history, brilliantly set within the broader social and cultural history of witchcraft. Drawing on previously neglected source material, this book is elegantly written and full of intelligent analysis. Gaskill uses the case of Hugh and Mary Parsons as a microcosm of the wider fear and paranoia surrounding witchcraft in Springfield, Mass. When put under the microscope, he examines the many small yet important ways the downfall of a marriage led to such severe consequences as Mary and Hugh grew alienated from eachother, their community and their expected purpose in gods eyes.It was amazing to handle English records that William Pynchon, the founder of Springfield, had brought to America in 1630, and which had travelled only a mile in nearly four centuries. That thread of continuity fired my imagination. And when I wasn’t sitting in the archives, I was walking and surveying. Historians should go to the places they write about, and downtown Springfield helps one to visualise a lost world because so much of the modern street plan corresponds to the original layout of home lots and lanes branching off Main Street. Today, Springfield is a big city – but its beginnings were humble and precarious.

Gaskill brings all of this to pulsating life – and is clear that we should not look down on these people. We, who have suffered the delusions of global warming deniers, 5G phone mast conspiracies and vaccine microchip babble, could, in fact, learn a lesson or two. In the stark, harsh and unforgiving climate of New England, colonists sought to build a new life for themselves away from the religious persecution and dogmatic rule of Old England.

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Named a best book of 2020 by The New York Times, The Washington Post, TIME, The Guardian, and many more W itchcraft in the New England colonies is almost entirely associated in the public imagination with the craze in Salem, Massachusetts, that erupted at the end of the 17th century. Yet on both sides of the Atlantic, prosecutions rarely reached epidemic proportions, with a scattering of cases making it to the courts every few years as long-simmering accusations finally became substantive enough to require the attention of early modern officialdom.

A contextually rich history of the first witch panic during a tumultuous time in Massachusetts in 1651. In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII's court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king's favor and ascend to the heights of political powerOne of the things in Springfield is that self-loathing builds up and is projected onto Hugh and Mary Parsons, and they get rid of them, but they aren’t suddenly happy and cleansed and pure. The things that we think are good for us don’t turn out to be as good as we thought. In a modern example, say, exercise or eating well or not smoking, not drinking too much, obviously there are health benefits. But deep down we think that if we do those things because we feel there’s a moral element to it as well – we do want to be better people. But sometimes, those things don’t quite deliver. Money might be a better example. Obviously below a certain level, and in this day and age with the cost-of-living crisis, below a certain level having no money does make you miserable. But equally when you reach a certain point, you don’t get exponentially happier and we often strive for things that we think we want, often material things, and they don’t always quite live up to expectation. People in Springfield are rather strange, and often rather unpleasant, and it was a long time ago. Their emotional world is different from ours and if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be history. However, there are elements to them that we can identify within ourselves, because, really, biologically, and mentally they’re surprisingly ike us, just in a different time and place. I have no regrets: I’m free to read and write what I like, and I have more time to do it. I may yet return to witches, but right now I’m researching fugitive POWs in wartime Italy. I should stress, though, that I’m only able to do this because my wife has a job and we can manage on her salary. I’m very fortunate. Then again, she works full time, often overseas, which means I spend a lot of time looking after our three children. Recommended Reads about Race, Racism, and Demarginalizing History - Necessary Non-fiction You Should Read for Life-changing Insights and Impact



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