330 Years Later We’re Still Hunting ‘Witches’

When I read Kathleen Kent’s 2008 novel The Heretic’s Daughter, I wasn’t looking for modern day parallels. Kent’s harrowing account of the Salem witch trials foments outrage at our Puritan ancestors; the only consolation is that 1692 was a long time ago. Heretics

But the day I finished Kent’s book (Jan. 28, 2022), I happened upon this news item: “Chaya Raichik went on Tucker Carlson and said the ‘LGBTQ community has become this cult . . . It’s extremely poisonous.”

At Carlson’s prompting, Raichik went on to say, “They’re just evil people, and they’re out to groom kids. They’re recruiting. They brainwash people to join.”

I had never heard of Raichik. Apparently, she’s well-known among right wing conservatives as the creator of ‘Libs of TikTok’ and quite popular among FOX Nation subscribers.

What followed was a discussion about gender-affirming care, which Raichik and Carlson reframed as a kind of sterilization based on this false belief that hospitals are providing procedures like hysterectomies to teenagers and children.

Through the lens of 1692 Salem, Carlson is the Reverend Barnard stirring the imagination of fear-ridden girls and Raichik is Ann Putnam rolling on the courtroom floor, pointing her finger at the witches who’ve conjured wild fits in her.

Many have called the Salem trials ‘witch hysteria.’ It’s an unfortunately choice of words. The word hysteria derives from the belief espoused by male doctors that menstrual cycles caused temporary madness in women. Like the witch trials and the Inquisition, it was just another form of female oppression.

The Salem trials last a little over a year, resulting in the imprisonment of over 150 people and the execution of 19 men and women, including a woman named Martha Carrier, the author’s grandmother nine generations back.

Kathleen Kent and a host of other authors have chronicled the madness that swept through Salem, Andover, Topsfield and Beverly Massachusetts as a warning. As Kent acknowledges, this mystifying social drama “still haunts us and echoes today through the current events of religious intolerance, superstition and the fear of ‘the other.’”

It’s been three hundred and thirty years since Salem, yet we still find ‘witch hunters’ among us. In this time of MAGA fervor and Trumpism in which lies often stand in for facts, we seem to have again stirred the Salem pot.

Beyond Chaya Raichik’s crazed accusations against the LGBTQ community, people like Tucker Carlson keep that pot and many other unfounded claims boiling, profiting from fear-mongering and rampant prejudice. There seems to be no reasoning with such people.

In 1775 Thomas Paine, the author of Common Sense, said: “To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.”  

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