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Puritanism: A Legacy Disdained by Historians and Sullied with the Devil’s Victory in Salem

Oliver Cromwell wished to rule in conjunction with parliament, but lost patience with its political bickering and became “Lord Proctor”—king without the title. Cromwell divided Great Britain into military districts. His army helped enforce the laws, including many restraints on public conduct, such as violations of the Sabbath. When Cromwell died the Protectorate was overthrown, and in 1660 the monarchy was reestablished. Most Englishmen breathed a sigh of relief and partied. The restored monarchy of Charles II was known for its corruption and loose morals, but for many that was more acceptable for daily life than the Puritan government, and that judgment has been normative to most historians since.

The Devil’s victory in Salem, Myth as reality

For the average American, Puritanism is synonymous with the Salem witchcraft trials. And the most popular account of the Salem witch trials is the 1952 play by Arthur Miller, The Crucible. It is still assigned reading in many high school and college English courses. It was also made into a movie that was seen by millions. However, The Crucible is a distorted and historically inaccurate account of the trials. In it Miller presents the liberal, materialist perspective—that nothing supernatural took place in Salem. For Miller, the young girls who accused others of witchcraft faked their curse-induced torments for various reasons, as in increased attention or sexual longings. Miller took the liberty to make one of the original thirteen-year-old accusers into a seventeen year old in order to play out more credibly his hypothesis of sexual longings. Miller’s presentation represents the view of most text-book histories (and sadly many Christians).24

A few things must be noted to put the trials in proper perspective. All Christians of the 17th Century believed that witchcraft was real and deserving of capital punishment. The procedures used in English courts and the Puritans were much superior to many European nations, where often mob rule disposed of the accused before any sort of trial.25 The horror movie motif of a mob attacking a vampire and driving a stake through his heart represents an echo of this. The European mob vs. witch scenario parallels the current situation in much of Africa, where persons accused of witchcraft are often lynched by angry mobs.26

In the 1950s, when Miller researched and wrote his play, only a few scholars took witchcraft seriously, or had studied it extensively. But since the 1960’s, when Wicca and other witches “came out,” and the whole occult scene blossomed, there has developed a much better understanding of witchcraft and its history.27

It is now clear that witchcraft and witch covens were common in Europe from the earliest days of Christianity. The covens were derived from the “left over” Paganism from the incomplete and haphazard way in which various European peoples were evangelized. The most extreme example of this being the Gypsy peoples, the Romani, who were never evangelized at all, and to this day regularly practice witchcraft and occultism. The early monk missionaries of Northern Europe often focused on converting local kings and tribal leaders, who then forced all their subjects to be baptized. This seemed like a good policy, and it certainly produced great numbers of baptized “Christians.” But it left resentful Pagan followers in place, baptized but unconverted, to go underground and continue their rites and religion.28

Unfortunately, the Catholic Church allowed this situation to go on uncorrected for centuries. As a result, Medieval Catholics were often quite open to all sorts of divination, occult, and superstitious practices that blended with their more orthodox Sunday practices. Most churchmen looked upon witchcraft as delusion and something that could be lived with—a curious resonance with modern secular views. This parallels much Catholic practice in Latin America, where churchmen often allow indigenous occult rituals and worship to go on without much opposition—as long as the people baptize their children and sometimes show up for Sunday services.

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Category: Church History, Pneuma Review, Summer 2013

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include, Quenching the Spirit (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), and Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He and his wife Carolyn continue in their healing, teaching and writing ministries. He is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook AnglicalPentecostal.blogspot.com

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