witches

Wicked Wednesday: The Witches of Salem: The Horror and the Hope (1972)

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of rewatching John Carpenter’s Christine, a movie I haven’t seen in some years. One of the most pleasant surprises I had while watching the movie was seeing the incredible Roberts Blossom on screen again. The man always has a way of getting under my skin, no matter his role.

So went I spotted The Witches of Salem: The Horror and the Hope on his IMDB page, I knew I had to give it a watch.

This 35-minute short film was meant to be shown in school as a sort of supplement to the study of the Salem Witch Trials. It’s by no means meant to be a horror movie, but the odd camera angles and eerie hymns certainly make it feel that way.

The Witches of Salem is based primarily on the court records and testimonies from the trials. In the village of Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, the Puritans rule. The United States of America won’t exist for nearly another 100 years. Meaning that the king still rules over the colonies.

The Puritans had their document of self-rule removed, potentially putting their religious freedom at risk. In the village, people begin to become afraid. They’re a hypocritical lot anyway: wanting freedom to live their lives the way they want while demanding that other people in the village adhere the same way.

One day, a gaggle of young girls speak to a slave, Tituba (Madge Sinclair), who tells them stories about the Devil in Barbados. The story shocks the girls, but makes one girl in particular distressed. The girl, Betty, becomes hysterical. She sits in bed for days afterwards without speaking.

Her father is, of course, the local minister and believes that his daughter and the other girls have become bewitched. They begin to behave strangely: laughing hysterically, choking during prayers, spinning (that last one being particularly terrifying).

Eventually, a couple ministers try to discover who has been tormenting the girls. They begin to shout names of the locals including Tituba, the local tavern woman Bridget, a minister and a poor woman.

A court is gathered to try the witches, and the ministers agree that the witches can only be convicted with “scientific tests” only. None of that water test nonsense!

And thus each of the accused are found guilty. It’s difficult to tell of the young girls are hysterical or a part of a big joke to get half their village killed. Either way, they behave like a group of mean girls that make the Heathers look like the Baby-Sitters Club. They’re quite eerie to watch (or at least I got a kick out of it).

Unfortunately, Blossom only makes an appearance right at the end as Governor Phips, the man who eventually disbanded the court involved with the trials. A voice over tells the viewers the aftermath of the trials, about how all the “witches” were released (that is, if they hadn’t already been killed) and a literal translation of the Bible could no longer be considered civil law.

As someone who never studied the Salem Witch Trials in school, I thought it was an interesting little short. The age of the short helps enhance the mood. It’s a bit silly, yes, but I certainly wouldn’t have complained if I was forced to watch this in a class.

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Wicked Wednesday

It goes without saying that the British Museum is one of the greatest sights in London. Tourists and residents alike fill the building everyday in what can only be described as a sweaty mass. My boyfriend and I go frequently to discover new rooms and the current periods in history we need exploring. This past weekend after the Saxons and Byzantines, we stopped at the museum’s new free exhibit Witches and Wicked Bodies.

Witches and Wicked Bodies is a fantastic array of etchings from the Renaissance to the 19th century. The various pieces of work fill a long dim room. Unfortunately there is no eerie music for atmosphere, but the works speak for themselves. Witches throughout time were ill-treated as many misunderstood groups. So much so that we are left with scenes like this:

Many people are familiar with more popularised time periods like the Salem Witch Trials, but fascination with witches and their magic goes beyond those stories.

The display is separated into time periods, as museums often do, but it is a key to understanding different degrees of acceptance and persecution throughout the centuries. In Edinburgh they threw women in the river to see if the women would float (if the drown they were innocent, obviously, and then dead). Master of rococo painter Jean-Antoine Watteau, Claude Gillot’s etching Les Sabbats, from c. 722 was a perfect example of overblown baroque styling. There are witches on brooms and a skeletal horse – even a horned man standing above a sacrifice.

LesSabbats

Visit to see the Goyas alone. His drawings almost carry a dark magic of their own. If you’re into witches of a different kind, visitors can see literary works in art like Henri Fuseli’s poster for Macbeth and the harpies attacking Odysseus. Beyond the magic those who see the works can also notice a theme of misogyny. The exhibit is also a fascinating look at perhaps how far we haven’t come.

It seems perhaps obvious to have spooky themed exhibits on display (the British Library currently has a display of gothic literature), but that doesn’t make them any less fun or enlightening.