How to Survive Salem: A Handy Guide to Avoid Being Accused, Convicted, and/or Hanged During the Witch Trials of 1692

Have you or a loved one recently been accused of witchcraft? Has Goody Pynchon been eyeing you funny ever since your husband refused to let her husband borrow a horse? Has your mere presence at Sunday service resulted in a hushed crowd and stilled room? Whatever the reason, you should know that your current fears are justified. That’s why we here at The Niche present this helpful list of do’s and don’ts to help you survive the witch trials. Remember: not everyone gets sent to the gallows! There might be hope for you, too!

1. Don’t Be a Witch

We ask that you please avoid the temptation to practice witchcraft, no matter how sick a family member becomes, or how long you or your ancestors have been practicing practical magic. Those days are over. Cease the use of herbal remedies and spells created by your local cunning folk. Illness should be treated by physicians alone. If you are poor, or otherwise lack the means to consult with physicians, prayer will have to do.

2. Don’t Be a Woman

This is pretty pivotal, but not necessarily the decisive factor of your fate. Nevertheless, we ask that you do your very best to not be a woman (especially an old one) in order to increase your chances of surviving the scare unscathed.*

*It’s important to note that men can be accused, too, so you probably don’t want to be one of them, either. If there’s simply nothing you can do about this, perhaps try being a powerful man, or maybe even a little boy. Additionally, The Niche believes that it is noteworthy that the trials have already taken a handful of “Johns” and “Georges” from us. So if you’re a man – and, heaven forbid, a farmer – who goes by ‘John’ or ‘George,’ it may be worthwhile to change your name and/or occupation. Can’t be too careful. 

3. Don’t Be Unneighbourly

It’s always important to keep up appearances, but it is doubly so in this trying time. Be sure to do absolutely anything anyone asks of you, no matter the cost. The next time you’re feeling reluctant to help a neighbour out, remember that you’re not just incriminating yourself, you’re implicating your entire household. Don’t be selfish. If Peter needs your plow today, don’t wait until tomorrow.

4. Don’t Be Different

More specifically, do not be – or associate with – anyone who is “Indian,” Black, Spanish, and/or Catholic. Keep to yourself (but don’t isolate yourself, that’ll look bad too) and avoid anyone who’s currently unpopular in the community. Also, to err on the side of caution, try to keep out of the sun and maintain a pristinely white complexion. Your skin being soft and/or rosy wouldn’t hurt, either.

5. Do Be a Good Puritan

We recommend fervent prayer, if you haven’t already been doing so. It’s likely you’ll be quizzed on Puritan doctrine during your trial in order to prove your innocence, so be prepared. Attend every church service, and be sure to practice the Lord’s Prayer until your mouth is dry and your knees are bruised. But remember, this tactic is not fool-proof. Your past reputation as a God-fearing Puritan will not always precede you in court. We admit that the late Minister Burroughs’ perfect recitation didn’t account for very much, but we hope that won’t stop you. Just because one minister’s piety didn’t save him from being cut down from the gallows, stripped, and dragged into a shallow grave, that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for you.

6. Do Accuse Somebody Else of Witchcraft.

This has an almost 100% chance of working in your favour. When accusing another, we recommend locating potential witches that fit any of the aforementioned “bad types” listed above. Compile an index** of your least favourite neighbours, keeping an eye out for anything even remotely suspicious. For example, your neighbours’ interactions with animals often insinuate witchy deeds.

**If you find yourself too busy tending to your own affairs to keep a running list, this is fine. Spectral evidence that implicates your witch will suffice, and Salem is crawling with spectres. If you’re really strapped for time, simply point your finger at someone who has already been accused. That way most of the legwork has already been done for you. We imagine there is no harm in leveling another accusation at Samuel Parris’ servant Tituba, anyhow, as she so pleasantly matches the general profile of a witch we have detailed above.  

7. Do Admit Your Guilt

Lastly, and most importantly, if you’ve followed this advice and still find yourself standing accused in the Salem courthouse, your only option is to confess to your being a witch. “But I’m no witch,” you might interject. To that we say, “But you are!” You’ve signed your name in the Devil’s black book, gyrated through the “Indian”-infested forests, afflicted the Elects’ children, and haunted your neighbours. Humbly repeat these offences to your magistrates, name a few witches who danced with you, or perhaps guided your hand to the Devil’s page, and you’ll be absolved. Well, mostly. You’ll probably survive, anyways, and that should be more than enough for you.

A Note from the Editors: We regret to inform you that Goody Hogg, the author of this piece, is no longer with us. She was hanged last Tuesday after being found guilty of witchcraft.

Be sure to pick up next month’s edition of The Niche for some tips and tricks on spicing up your sermon, right from New England’s very own Cotton Mather!

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