Woodcut of early modern women doing witchcraft.

10 Most Ridiculous Reasons Why Women Were Accused of Witchcraft

I realize “most ridiculous reasons why women were accused of witchcraft” in is the eye of the beholder, but really?! Ultimately, the various reasons given for witchcraft accusations make such a long list you would be hard-pressed to even read about them all, let alone organize them. But I have my pet-peeves, and these reasons just stick in my craw.

Yet, annoying things do at least have some upsides. They are great fodder for fiction. But even as a writer, I wouldn’t wish these on my least favorite people.

So, in reverse order, here are my 10 most ridiculous reasons why women were accused of witchcraft:

10 – Being unhappy as a servant: who exactly would be happy as a servant colonial New England? They had few rights, and women had even fewer than men. But Mary Johnson was unhappy, so she was obviously a witch.

9 – Practicing midwifery: Jane Hawkins helped Mary Dyer deliver her stillborn child. Mary Dyer was politically connected to Anne Hutchinson and was considered dangerous, so Hawkins was obviously a witch for helping her survive childbirth. Huh?

8 – Being too good at business: Katherine Harrison was another healer, but was also very successful in her cattle raising, uncommonly good at weaving, and a brilliant bee-keeper. Obviously, the reason for her greater success than her male neighbors was that she was a witch.

7 – Getting angry when a neighbor’s hogs got into her field and destroyed crops: Obviously, Rebecca Nurse was a witch for losing her temper over that. No non-witch would.

6 – Not believing a convicted witch was a witch: Mary Staplies did not believe there were “any witches at all.” Obviously, only a witch would deny the existence of witches. Couldn’t possibly be that she was correct about her neighbor’s innocence.

5 – Being too smart: after her trial, one minister concluded that Ann Hibbens was hanged “only for having more wits than her neighbors.” Obviously a witch.

4 – Her neighbors’ children barking like dogs: Mary Glover found out the hard way other people’s children acting out meant that she was obviously a witch in 1688.

3 – Seeking revenge by witchcraft against the people who put her mother in jail: this is what Dorcas Good was accused of in 1692. Dorcas was four years old.

2 – A man having erotic dreams: a man accused Susanna Martin of coming to him in his bed, on a Sunday night, of all nights, and lying on him for an hour or two. Obviously she was a witch, because he would never have dreamed about her otherwise.

1 – Classified: ok, this is cheating, I know, but it was so outrageous I had to use it Devil in our Hearts, so telling you would be a spoiler. Just know that it was used as evidence against Elizabeth Howe, and she hanged for it. Only a witch-crazed New England Puritan (my dear ancestors) would have a vivid enough imagination to come up with this one. We know today how absurd the evidence was, but to the good folks in Salem, she was obviously a witch.

I embarked on this novel knowing a fair amount about New England witchcraft accusations, but my research has uncovered absurdities that made me want to scream from the rooftops (my Puritan ancestors would have thought I was obviously a witch).

Interactive Timeline

For an interactive timeline I created to chronicle the arc of 1600s New England witchcraft accusations, sign up for my newsletter here. They were #strongwomen

Coming this Fall!

And to read a steamy historical romance about an ungovernable widow accused of witchcraft and the witch hunter she is forced to marry, stay tuned! Devil in our Hearts will be out later this fall!

My novel takes place more than a decade before the Salem witch frenzy, but if you are interested in learning about the Salem trials, you might check out the Salem Witch Museum.

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