As I read this story from this moning’s Ne York Times of a 14-year-old girl from Hartford, Connecticut, I was reminded of an article I wrote last November about my own teenage daughter and her experiences with religious and social intolerance. That artcile, Of Goths, Satanism and Teenage Quicksand, was one of many old articles that have not been added to the archives here. But it is there now, because what I have to say in this post is a c ontinuation and expansion of what I said in that artcile.
Addie Avery is a direct descendant of Mary Sanford, who, at the age of 39, was convicted and hanged as a witch in 1662 in a witch hunt in Hartford, Connecticut, months before the infamous Salem Witch Hunt that was the suvject of Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, as well as the movie of the same name. Addie and her mother learned of the geneaological connection in 2005, and Addie, who is home schooled, decided to do research on the with trials in Hartford.
Connecticut, like Massachusetts, in 1662 was controlled byh the Puritans, a Protestant fundamentalist group that dissented from the Anglican Church of England. The Puritans were allowed to emigrate to North american and establish colonies where they could practice religion as they saw fit. Being a colonist in the New World was not easy back then, but it was better than facing religious persecution in england. funny thing about the Puritans, though. You would think that people who have been the victims of persecution would be more tolerant of those who dissent from the beliefs of the Puritan establishment, but quite the opposite was and is true of Puritan fundamentalists. They are even less tolerant of opposing viewpoints than the Anglicans in England in 1662 And that is what the various witch trials in the colonies in the 17th century were really about. That and the extreme patriarchal sexism that has been a trademark of extreme religious fundamentalism for centuries.
As Addie discovered in her research, the people, all women I believe, convicted and executied as witches in the Hartford witch hunt, were from the poorer element of Puritan society – poor and powerless. The fact that they were women also means they were less educated – much less educated – than the men. That also seems to be an earmark of religious fundamentalism: keep the women barefoot, pregnat, and in the dark. My guess is that Addie and her mother, had they lived in Puritan Connecticut, would have followed Mary Sanford to the gallows.
In the article, it says that the evidence of Mary Sanford’s witchcraft was that she drank wine, forbidden to all Puritans and especially women, and that she danced around a bonfire. Given that she was convicted in April, not long after the vernal equinox, it is possible that Mary was celebrating the coming of Spring in the old pagan way.
And why not? Puritan Christianity treated her, as it did all women, as a beast of burden or livestock, kept strictly for work and breeding. The fundamentalists preach the literalness of the Bible, a written text; and one of the most important objectives of the Protestant Reformation was to transalate the Bible into the local vernacular so all believers could read it for themselves, rather than taking the word of a priest on what God said and meant. Yet, the Puritan divines, the fundamentalist ayatollahs of their time, kept half og their flock illiterate and enforded their own personal interpretations of the Bible on the members of their community.
Druidic paganism, now called Wicca, has a much more egalatarian attitude about gender roles. Talent and divinr inspiration were the criteria for leadership roles, not gender. Many of the most influential modern Wiccans are women. And the fact that the Wiccan religion is based on worship of a female deity, the Mother Goddess, makes it very appealing to women, as opposed to the stern male Jehovah, a patriarchal tyrant, of Christian fundamentalism.
Like Addie, I have done a lot of research on the persecution of witches and the suppression of witchcraft. My daughter has done her own research on the old religion. She is more Wiccan than Christian, which is fine with me. I don’t see the two as all that incompatible. Many of my own heretical beliefs, while grounded in Christianity, are strongly influenced by ancient Druidic beliefs. Many of the so-called Christian traditions we use today are syncretic adoptions of pagan traditions, an idea I am developing in my Syncretism series (book) here,
The fact that Addie took the initiative to research her ancestor and the trials, and then take her case to the Connecticut legislature seeking exoneration for her ancestor, is, to me, a result of the fact that Addie is homeschooled. There are two sides to homeschooling. The first, and the one most people associate with hoemschooling, is the homeschooling done by religious fundamentalists who want to teach their children from a particular religious perspective, rather than from a secular one. The other, and this appears to be the one that led Addie’s mother to homeschool and is the reason I home school my kids, is that public education has become the propaganda machine of the establishment, stifling creatvity and independence, and it no longer teaches our kinds to take personal responsibility. It forces conformity on them and turns them into “good citizens.” We forget that the Founding Fathers, in the eyes of the English establishment, were anything but “good citizens.” Had they been, the US would still be part of the British Commonwqealth and we’d all be good Anglicans rather than free to worship as we wish.
Addie is going back to renew her effort to exonerate her ancestress. Addie, I wish you luck and strength and may whatever God or Goddess your ancestress believed in and worshipped, give you strength and courage. You go, girl!
Finally, a word to the Connecticult legislature: pay attention to Addie Avery@ This young woman is a symbol of the the new hope for this country. We need more like her and we need to encourage them in their efforts. They are the true descendants of the Founding Fathers.