Spectator Article Historical Critique

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The Eighteenth century was still a time when suspected witches are condemned to death and that practice of witchcraft is widely seen as diabolical. So, understandably, the subject is extremely religious in nature. Addison, however, focused on the social dimension to the subject. The author started with a disclaimer – that on the issue of witchcraft, having to choose sides is tantamount to doing an injustice because the circumstances that lead people to accuse others as witches would be an uninformed judgment especially that those being accused are in danger of being put to death. He emphasized that one can never know for certain that an individual is a witch or that does practice evil magic. He declared that there is, and has been such a thing as Witch-craft, but that, at the same time cannot give credit to any particular instance of it. A crucial point raised by Addison was how appearances often fool people into thinking and assuming theories and myths about them. In his narration regarding his encounter with Moll White, the alleged witch, he first painted the stereotypical individual who would not only scare others but also would be defenseless and unable to protect themselves against the malevolence and cruelty of others. Moll White was old, alone and poor. She was physically unpleasing and handicapped that people came to equate her presence to that of the devil and all misfortunes and ill omen that befall on the village. Though she was allowed to live with the community (though with constant threats of eviction), she was the usual suspect when catastrophe would strike. At the church, people are especially critical even when she say her prayer. Addison was subtle in his suggestion that witches were punished not because of magic but because they were undesirable people, outcasts who became convenient targets and escape goats for the inadequacies of humanity. A very strong accusation was hurled against the community when Addison pointed out that when Moll started to became a burden to the community, she was conveniently branded as a witch. People started spinning yarns about her, scaring children and each other with tales their own concoctions. Even Moll, herself, observed Addison, started believing that she may be a witch after all. What happened was that the community wanted to get rid of one of its members who can no longer contribute something and had the misfortune of having been born ugly or infirm. Morality restrains them from taking more crude actions such as killing or outright eviction and so they used witchcraft as a pretext to harass poor souls such as Moll White and punish them in the process. Unfortunately, up until the eighteenth century, witchcraft is one of the few crimes that require very little material evidence. As a matter of fact, the often cited pins by witnesses are enough to show the guilt of an accused witch. Out of all the points raised by this paper, there emerges the fact that Addison’s time is slowly shifting into a more liberal society wherein education and industrialization helped to enlighten people. Addison’s attitude on the matter is a demonstration of this. The Wenham case cited earlier, which was seen as the actual object of interest in this essay, was actually the last witch trial in England. A