According to Cotton Mather, why was the devil dangerous? How did the devil operate in New England? What was the significance of Mather’s emphasis that invisible ‘furies’ could inflict visible injuries?
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Mather argues that the devil was dangerous because he determined to destroy the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ by subjecting Christians to inexplicable torture. He had come down with great wrath, which made him merciless and indiscriminate. His agents, the invisible furies and demons, indiscriminately targeted helpless individuals across the country, subjected them to bloody torture, and carried some of them to devilish rendezvous against their wishes. In addition, the devil used witches to propagate his devilish agenda. Thus, to Mather, the fact that some of the devil’s agents were invisible, yet they were capable of causing physical harm underscores the danger they posed. The danger is magnified by the hopelessness of having to face an adversary that is invisible, but whose sole mission is to cause harm in every possible way. Their ability to cause mayhem was unprecedented. Therefore, since the devil used invisible agents and witches to indiscriminately target helpless people across New England and do anything he wanted with them, Mather loathed him.
What persuaded witnesses against Susanna Martin that she was a witch? How might a critic such as Robert Calef have responded to the testimony of these witnesses? How might Cotton Mather and these witnesses have explained Martin’s claims that she led “a most virtuous and holy life”?
Susanna Martin’s accusers believed that she was a witch because of their previous encounters with her. To begin with, Bernard Peach saw her enter his house through the window, pull him down into a heap, and perform strange acts on him. During that process, he could neither move nor speak. Peach asserted that she only stopped when he recovered his ability to move and bit her fingers. In a different occurrence, some strange puppies teased John Kembal after a misunderstanding with Martin about the purchase of a dog. Strangely, Kembal did not tell her or any other person about the occurrence, yet she knew about it.
Finally, Joseph Ring was transported by demons to several devilish rendezvous including meetings that were exclusive to witches. He saw Martin in some of those meetings. Her presence at those devilish rendezvous confirmed that she was one of them. Nonetheless, Robert Calef believed that witches were religious and virtuous. From his point of view, he might have termed the above testimonies as the bigoted and bloody rage against innocent people. In an attempt to defend herself, Martin argued that she led a most virtuous and holy life. To Mather and Martin’s accusers, this argument might have been a confirmation of the assertion that she was a subscriber to devilish ways and was, therefore, a witch.
What do these documents suggest about the state of Christianity in New England in the late seventeenth century? Why did Mather and the witch-hunters believe that the devil was such a threat when Calef believed that the witch-hunters themselves were the greater danger?
The information in these documents suggests that Christianity was under siege in New England in the late 17th century. Witchcraft was growing out of proportion and the devil’s agents were out to recruit every available soul to join them. Therefore, Mather and the witch-hunters were out to preserve the Christian faith from the ravages of the devilish activities. They considered the devil a threat because he seemed capable of doing anything he wanted through his agents. He even attempted to recruit those who refused to join him forcefully. Therefore, the prevalence of devilish activities in New England and the fact that the residents could not protect themselves from the same using conventional knowledge and weapons made the devil dangerous in the eyes of Mather and the witch-hunters. However, Calef differed from this point of view. To him, the witch-hunters were the threat because they killed anyone suspected to be a witch. Thus, in contrast, the witches did not kill people, but the witch-hunters did.
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