Witches — there exists a strong Christian fundamentalist group in Congress sworn to bring America back to Christ through morality legislation. We already know what that looks like. The group believes that America was founded on and governed by Christian principles.
In their rigid enforcement of community standards, New England’s Puritan punishments for breaking “moral” law included the bilbo, the cleft stick, the brand, the ear crop, and the letter.
In Massachusetts, New Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven Colony, the Puritans cared more for moral behavior and clean living than property rights. Consequently, Puritan punishments tended to dole out less for larceny and more for blasphemy, drunkenness, fornication, and smoking.
Here are a few examples of punishment for violating moral law, but there are thousands of cases in documented history:
In 1629, the carousing, fun-loving colonist Thomas Morton had the effrontery to erect a Maypole. He did it right under the noses of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony. Myles Standish led a raiding party, arrested Morton and put him in the bilbo.
Nathaniel Hawthorne enshrined in literature the Puritan punishment of ordering a sinner to wear a scarlet “A.” But Puritans had other letters of shame. In 1656, a woman received a sentence to be whipped at Taunton and Plymouth, fined and forever “to have a Roman B cut out of red cloth and sewed to her vper garment on her right arm in sight.” The “B” stood for blasphemy.
Puritan punishments in Connecticut were even tougher. In 1650, the general court tried a man in Hartford for “contemptuous carriages” against the church and minister. He had to stand upon a four-foot high block or stool on Lecture Day with a paper fixed to his breast with the words “An open and obstinate contemner of God’s Holy Ordinances.” The purpose of the punishment: so others would “fear and be ashamed of breaking out in like wickedness. In other words, you had better conform in your beliefs.
When it came to witchcraft, the punishment was death. As in Europe, a witch could be a man or a woman, but women were more susceptible because of their inferior status. Puritans burned witches, drowned, and broke their necks, and tied rocks to the witch’s feet and threw them in the river and hanged them basically any horrible way they could. They did this without remorse because it was God’s law.
Early colonial Puritans believed that only Anglican were the one true form of religion. Everyone else was a heretic. This included Quakers, Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc. Puritan men could call a woman a witch if they couldn’t get their way with her or if she rejected them/embarrassed them.
But by the time the Puritans came to America, the Puritans of Europe were changing and the three- century pastime of witch- hunting had diminished. Thank goodness because all of us naturalists would be called witches, today. It never really made sense, except through Biblical interpretation. Why would those who studied the natural world, who sought medicines and herbs drawing upon pagan knowledge be persecuted in such a horrible way? Some were accused of witchcraft and poisoned by priests or burned at the stake; others sought shelter in nunneries and monasteries. There, they could worship Christ, yet still plant secret gardens and help the sick or afflicted, smudging the line between paganism and Christianity.
All of this bloodshed and death started rather abruptly in the fifteenth century and can be attributed to the publication of a single book, a witch hunter’s manual titled the “ Malleus Maleficarum “ )”The Hammer of Witches”) It was published by a German Catholic clergyman named Heinrich Kramer in 1487 and received approval by both the University of Cologne and the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Innocent VIII. With the newly invented printing press, copies were made quickly and spread across Europe and the Americas. This was one of the Christian principles brought by Puritans to their American colony, as part of moral law.
So, why the interest in this article about witches? This is an early example of how out-of-line government legislation enforcing religious moral behavior can become. The drafters of the Constitution and the First Amendment, particularly, knew this history as well as many more examples of suppression of freedom of worship. They clearly sought to keep government out of religion and religion out of government.
Regardless of the stacked judiciary that we are now faced with and the Executive branch’s constant attempt to create a Bible-verse theocratic American government, we must fight to keep religious, any religious, influence out of our government. Somehow, the average American needs to become apprised of the magnitude of loss of freedom of worship and religion if we don’t.