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  • Pennsylvania Church Witch Tests a Member December 29, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback


    Here is a cute witchcraft story from the wrong side of the Atlantic, where Salem is supposed to have put paid to any witch hunt shenanigans. What Beach loves about this account is that we are clearly dealing with very sincere people who are making it up as they go along on the basis of folk memories and Biblical readings in such delightful books as Leviticus. The sources is given as the Chambersburg Whig (PA). We are in Pennsylvania in 1853.

    A correspondent, writing from Fulton county, informs us of a singular case of supposed witchcraft that occurred near Sidding-Hil. There is a certain religious sect in that neighbourhood calling themselves the Christian Church.

    Nice generic name.

    A lady, one of the members, was taken sick and lay for some time, until she finally imagined herself bewitched, and a sister in the church was settled upon as the witch. A meeting of the session was called in due season, at which the minister presided, and the charge of witchcraft was formally preferred against the lady. Being a new case, and, we presume, not provided for in the discipline, the session was puzzled as to the proper manner to proceed in the case.

    Oh to have been at the debate!

    At length it was proposed that she should be asked to step over a broomstick, as it had been said that a witch could not do so, but the accused got over it without apparent difficulty.

    Again all this is so wonderfully easy to picture. Did they ask her to step over crossed twigs, the normal test of witchcraft: in fact, Beach wonders whether the good congregation weren’t getting mixed up with ‘jumping the broomstick’ for informal marriages.

    After a consultation it was then agreed that she should be tried in a pair of weighing scales, with a Bible to balance her, and if she was a witch the Bible would be too heavy for her. Accordingly she was taken to a mill, and the experiment tried, but she proved too heavy for the Bible. It was then intimated that probably her clothing prevented a fair test, and half a bushel of corn was put on the scales with the Bible to balance the clothing, but still the lady was too heavy, and the charge was formally dismissed.

    In the proper witch-killing years, she would have been stripped naked by the rabid crowd. One imagines the rather gentile pastor of the Christian Church. ‘Now, Mabel, I’d thank you to step out of your shifts.’ ‘Harold, we can’t ask her that!’ ‘Well, how much do undergarments weigh…’

    Other examples of evangelical witch-killing: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    Greatly intrigued to read this modern account of the danger of witches in Christian congregations…

    31 Dec: 2015: KMH writes: ‘This witch article strikes me as disingenuous, possibly even printed for entertainment. The name of the church is generic enough to avoid offending any real denomination. To test for a witch, the first step would simply be to inspect her domicile for unusual articles and substances which could be used in witchcraft. Then there is the presence of odd pets which might be familiars, and unusual marks on her body such as extra nipples, indicating allegiance to the devil. Pennsylvania does have a peculiar history of non-christian activities – I am thinking for example of the practice of attaching or painting hex symbols on their barns to ward off evil. This I seem to remember came from the Pennsylvania Dutch, the Germans who emigrated to America in the 18th century and settled in Penn’s Woods (Pennsylvania) before the American Revolution, due to William Penn’s unusually tolerant religious policy. I like to think we in America got the good Germans, leaving the bad ones in Europe for the World Wars to finally take care of, but this may only be wishful thinking.’

    Bruce T. ‘That general region was and is populated by Amish and Mennonite families and their descendants. What’s being described wouldn’t have been particularly out of the ordinary in the farming communities surrounding Chambersburg in that era, although a bit late for an occurrence of witch fever. I’ve got quite a tale about my Grandmother’s Grandfather and the sacking of Chambersburg, but that’s another story.’