The Devil in the Shape of a Woman by Carol Karlsen
Carol Karlsen was born in 1940. She is currently a professor in the history department a the University of Michigan. A graduate of Yale University (Ph.D, 1980), she has taught history and women’s study courses at Union College and Bard College.
In this book Carol Karlsen reveals the social construction of witchcraft in 17th century New England, and brings forth the portrait of gender in the New England Society.
The books thesis is based on why a person was accused of being a witch and the relative circumstances thereof. Marital status, sex, community standing, wealth, and relationships with others all play an important part of a person chances of being accused of being a witch. Karlsen’s words make for a richly detailed portrait of the women who were prosecuted as witches. The witch hunting hysteria seized New England in the late seventeenth century. Why were those and other women likely witches? Why were certain people vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft and possession? These are the questions answered in this book.
The book focuses mainly on the time period between 1620-1725, give or take a few years. Colonial New England is the setting. The author puts great emphasis on towns where witch trials were predominate. In these towns religion, social status and wealth seemed to be important to most people. The courts in these towns relied on religion as much as the law to run their trials.
Colonial New England in the early 1600’s was in a state of decision. A lot of the beliefs about witchcraft came from the policy’s of England, the mother country. During the early years of settlement, puritans in Massachusetts Bay were uncertain about how to translate their sexual beliefs into public policy. As early as 1651, Massachusetts passed their first adultery law. In the ensuing years ahead the Massachusetts magistrates articulate more precisely the form of punishment appropriate for different crimes. Even though these laws were written to be fair to all, the magistrates and clergy delegated punishment by who was being punished. This type of reasoning was typical in New England, and set the stage for the witch trials.
The content of The Devil in the Shape of a Woman is broken down into sections, by time and place. There are several charts in the book showing the relationship of gender, age, wealth and place on how an accused witch was treated. Most show that women were targeted at a greater extent than anybody.
Most observers now agree that witches in the...