Analysis of The Wonders of the Invisible World
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In this primary document, Cotton Mather, a Puritan theologian, writes about his fears of losing the entire country to the devil and his minions as the Christian religion, in his mind, is being slowly eradicated from the entire country due to witchcraft. In 1693 Cotton Mather wrote a literary piece called The Wonders of the Invisible World a year after questionable events in defense of the persecutions of those accused and convicted in Salem for witchcraft. Throughout the document, Mather is constantly depicting the Devil and spirits as very real, tangible enemies (e.g. descriptions of “invisible hands” and unexplained supernatural happenings), that were slowly infecting the Christian people of the new colonies. Mather also can’t stress enough the importance of the Christian church and the feeling he had of it being under attack.
In the beginning of the document, he explains that the reason the Devil is so adamant to attack is because the new settlers disturbed him by claiming the land under the name of Jesus Christ. Apart from his descriptions of the strange events, Mather also talks about the confessions of the so-called “witches”. More than 21 people in the colony confessed to being under the command of the Devil after signing a book as if they were saying in a way, they had sold their souls. Though they confessed however, he does not mention what their punishments were after being convicted. This may suggest that though he is verifying the events to, indeed, be real and the convictions justifiable, the executions (if any) may not be. Today, most people would probably scoff and be outraged at such idiotic events. However, when analyzing a document from such a different period of our history, it’s very important to try and imagine what the people of the time were going through to make them go to such extreme conclusions.
The most important thing to realize about the people from this time period is how unstable everything was. They were still settling into this new world that had countless unknowns and so far their quality of life was not the best. They were constantly paranoid of the neighboring natives attacking them (or any outsiders) and just interacting with such a strange culture in general. To them, these people were wild, cruel and, most importantly, not Christian. The fact that they had to learn how to settle into a new place was hard enough and having to deal with such a different,
even alien, lifestyle of another people was just too much to assimilate to. Another terrifying unknown they had to cope with were the new diseases they were starting to contract and the meager availability of food. Though they had dealt with some of these back in their homeland, it was probably a lot easier to suspect and blame outbreaks and a poor agriculture on outside forces.
To the people, dealing with these created so much fear that creating alternate and paranormal explanations made more sense for their hard lives. Though are many more circumstances that could have helped fuel the fire of fear, one of the more important theories to analyze is how the status of women was changing and how women were starting to outnumber the men fairly quickly. Because of the new Puritanical beliefs and practices, women were starting to have more of a role and say in society (one apart from the traditional submissive housewife). Women were just starting to grasp the idea that they were free to express themselves and not conform to the idea of being subject to a man and men were terrified of this. Throughout history, we see many examples of fear being the cause of senseless acts. We have, unfortunately, inherited the fear of foreigners, strange seeming individuals or groups of people, and even more so, change. When faced with these, it is in our nature to act out viciously and violently when we feel threatened by things we cannot control.
For example, during the mid 1700s in the plantations of the South, many black slaves were massacred and executed because the fears of revolts against the slave owners and the white society in general. Another example would be the Red Scare of 1920 that erupted in Boston and Seattle that started with the fear of a communist government taking over. Because of this scare, several revolts broke out and multiple bombs were delivered and detonated. One last example is how in today’s society, even though we try to claim to have an equal and just country, our people are still so scared of foreigners and radical change that we are constantly oppressing different groups of people based on gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, etc.
In conclusion, even though Mather seemed to justify the convictions of the 21 individuals based on his belief of the Devil and evil spirits disrupting the newly developed Christian societies, the underlying reasons for the persecutions were due to the fear of change and dealing with foreign cultures. Those events of persecution based on fears were not the first nor will they be last. Even though we continuously repeat history by letting our fears cause chaos and persecutions, there are always those that stand up for peace and bring us back to the realization that we can, overtime, accept change.