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I really enjoyed this post Michael. Thank you. I really enjoy reading stuff like this as it offers insight into the views of people who lived in the past. While we might find it to be absurd the people of the Renaissance truly believed in witches and magic and they responded accordingly. Many people in second and third world countries have this belief still along with some people in first world countries. It seems magic and witches remain despite the wishes of some.

Have you ever read any of Ian Mortimer's time travelers guides by any chance? If not you probably would enjoy them.

Very interesting post, Michael!

To those Skeptics who would say that the account should be discounted based on Mather's other unpalatable beliefs, I would point out that the reality of crisis apparitions is determined not by one case or even multiple cases considered singly, but instead by the aggregate of cases.

It's quite interesting that such a (relatively) early account matches up with a wide variety of accounts since then so closely.

Kris wrote,

||Many people in second and third world countries have this belief still along with some people in first world countries. It seems magic and witches remain despite the wishes of some.||

I don't think we are too far from Salem, really. We had the Satanic Ritual Abuse nonsense in the 80s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satanic_ritual_abuse) and a whole plethora of conspiracy theories these days.

Humans are pretty skilled at putting together alternate realities that truly *seem*, well, real to their believers. They can even be based on denying aspects of reality (e.g., Skepticism).

Thus, we should always monitor our own belief systems with true (small-s) skepticism.

Oh, and a secular version of the witch hunts were the purges in the USSR under Stalin and by the Khmer Rouge (no relation!) under Pol Pot. I saw a documentary on the latter, and in the end they were just dragging random people off the street, making them confess to crimes, and killing them. Certainly no more rational or any less murderous than at Salem back in the day.

C.S. Lewis once made a good point in this regard. He said that moderns congratulate themselves on being more morally advanced than their forebears, who burned witches. But, he noted, people stopped burning witches only because they stopped *believing* in them. It was a change in knowledge, not moral values. If we still believed that certain people were making our children ill, killing our crops, causing miscarriages, and committing murders via black magic, we would be prosecuting them today.

Manias are ever-present. The classic book "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" lists dozens of them. Some are economically destructive, like the Dutch tulip mania (recent parallels would be the dot-com bubble and the real estate derivatives bubble), and others are socially destructive, like the mania for dueling to the death which swept Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries (a modern parallel might be the misuse of social media to harass and "dox" people or to summon flash mobs).

I think all of us are probably a little bit crazy. Shirley Jackson had it right when she wrote, "No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream."

"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream."

Michael, I don’t know who Shirley Jackson is, but it occurs to me that she may not actually be saying that larks and katydids are “a little bit crazy” (as you suggest). Her point could be that, in order to stay sane in this challenging environment, even insects and birds need to re-connect periodically with the spiritual realm. So dreams *keep them* from going crazy.

Make sense?

In any case, that’s largely how *I* explain the role of dreams.

I suspect mass shootings would be a modern mania.

On the other hand we reject legalized slavery; unlike our forebears. We are also more religiously tolerant. We got that going for us I suppose.

Bruce, maybe I should have said that our hold on sanity is more precarious than we like to think.

Shirley Jackson was an author best known for her short story "The Lottery" and her novel "The Haunting of Hill House" (from which the quote is taken).

Kris, I wonder if we would reject slavery if we didn't have the labor-saving devices of the industrial era to do all the chores that slaves used to do. A cynical thought, I admit.

In terms of religious tolerance, we're not any better off than the pagan Greeks and Romans who accepted everybody's deities without demur.

Still, I like to think we’ve made *some* moral progress.

Michael

We rejected slavery before the industrial revolution greatly created labor saving devices. It does seem to have been a moral choice.

Did the Greeks and Romans do that?? The Jews, Christians and Druids would disagree

Bruce,

Great point. I agree!

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