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The Crucible by Arthur Miller - Barron's Booknotes

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But until the end of the Middle Ages, no one had made a
"scientific" study of the spirit world, and ideas about witches
varied wildly from place to place and century to century. Then
in 1486 two Christian monks brought out a book called the
Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), the first book
of demonology. Others soon followed (King James I of England
even wrote one himself), and by the time Reverend Hale walked
into Salem in 1692 with an armload of such books, the study of
witchcraft was considered an exact science. When he says of his
books, "Here is all the invisible world, caught, defined, and
calculated," he is being sincere. He has studied these books for
years and he honestly believes himself to be an expert. So does
everyone else. There is no reason to doubt him or his ability to
deal with an enemy he knows so much about. Without this solid
and specific belief in the reality of witchcraft, there might have
been only a little brushfire in Salem.

The kindling of the fire was to be found in the visible world. In
1623 King James I (the same one who wrote the demonology
book) had granted a charter to the Massachusetts Bay Colony,
under which the Puritans could own their own land. This charter
enabled the colony to thrive and grow over the next 60 years.
But in 1684 the King revoked this charter, saying the land
belonged to the Crown, thereby making the Puritans' land titles
null and void. A lot of squabbling resulted, finally coming to a
head in 1689 when the Puritans overthrew the royal governor
and reinstated the old charter. But they knew they had no legal
right to do this, and by 1692 the insecurity of their position had
taken its toll on their nerves.



Ownership of land wasn't the only issue. The Puritans had come
to Massachusetts in the first place not only to avoid religious
persecution in England, as the history books say, but to establish
a New Jerusalem, God's "visible Kingdome" on Earth. For this
reason it was natural for the Puritans to assume that God's
archenemy Satan would single them out for his most ferocious
attacks. In fact, when witchcraft first broke out, many believed
it to be the beginning of Armageddon, the great battle between
Darkness and Light that would signal the end of the world. But
even before this, the Puritans had already spent several years in
constant and growing anxiety about the future of God's "visible
Kingdome."

There remains but the spark to set these dry sticks ablaze. The
Puritans could hardly have picked a more difficult place to
found their New Jerusalem. The ground was full of rocks, the
winters were long and bitterly cold, and the forests surrounding
their towns were infested with Indians, who continually raided
the outlying farms. But the Puritans prospered by banding
together. This process not only helped them overcome danger
and difficulty but it gave them ample opportunity for minding
each other's business.

To the Puritans, man was a creature steeped in sin, and there
was nothing he could do to save himself from the eternal fires of
hell. A few believers-the elect, as the Puritans called
themselves-God had chosen to save, or "justify." Because God
had justified them already, the elect naturally obeyed his laws.
But you could outwardly obey these laws yet still not be saved.
Puritan preachers never tired of railing against the
"meritmongers," those who thought they could buy their way
into heaven with good works. On the other hand, it was easy to
prove that you were damned-all you had to do was break the
law. So there was tremendous pressure on everyone at least to
appear to be one of the elect.

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