Earlier this autumn, I wrote a piece comparing our present political climate to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. It was an association I made because I happened to be in Salem the weekend that The Kavanaugh Affair was at its height. I was happy with the way the piece came out, but worried that my comparison might have been a bit strained.
Turns out I got it just right.
A Catholic priest in Washington recently performed a mass exorcism, meant to lift the hexes being put on Brett Kavanaugh by a coven of witches, mostly based in Brooklyn, using magic as a form of ritual protest against the patriarchy.
Welcome back to 1692, everybody!
Touring Salem last weekend, I learned that one of the causes of the witch hysteria of 1692 was the absence of a colony-wide government. About six years before the trials began, the governor of Massachusetts had been ousted, and the status of the colony’s government and even the colony itself were in disarray. This left the villages of Massachusetts at the mercy of the judges, magistrates, and clergymen who ran the local institutions.
In the absence of clear leadership at the top, these men started using and modifying the machinery of the state into a tool for state-sanctioned theft of property, the extraction of fees from the poor, and the punishment of their political enemies. And they took advantage of the lower status of women and religious prejudice to do it.
Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, has compares political institutions to Meso-American pyramids. If you start digging into the grand exterior you’ll eventually hit on the decrepit, subterranean sacrificial mound the whole thing was built on. At the root of the American political pyramid is a Puritan theocracy. If you put enough stress on the overlying structure, eventually you’ll find yourself cast down on the underlying ruin it’s built on. Atavism in institutions can be charming, but it can also be harmful, all the more so because it is so often invisible to those affected by it.