It is one of the most remarkable peculiarities of the Hebrew polity, that it denounced such pretended communications as criminal, and subjected the practice to the highest penalties. It was assumed to be dangerous; the welfare of individuals and of society requiring that such pretensions and practices should be abandoned. The observation and experience of mankind have justified this view. In the first ages of Christianity, it was believed that the Divine Being alone was to be sought in prayer for light and guidance by the human soul. Gradually, as the dark ages began to settle upon Christendom, the doctrine of the Devil as the head and ruler of a world of demons, and as able to hold communications with mortals, to interfere in their affairs, and to exercise more or less control over the laws and phenomena of nature, began to become prevalent. It was believed that human beings could enter into alliance with the Prince of the power of the air; become his confederates; join in a league with him and wicked spirits subordinate to him, in undermining the Gospel and overthrowing the Church; and conspire and co-operate in rebellion against God. This, of course, was regarded as the most flagrant of crimes, and constituted the real character of the sin denominated “witchcraft.”
As the fullest, most memorable, and, by the notice it has ever since attracted throughout the world, the pre-eminent instance and demonstration of this supposed iniquity was in the crisis that took place in Salem Village in 1692, it justly claims a place in history. The community in which it occurred has been fully described, in its moral, social, and intellectual condition, so far as the materials I have been enabled to obtain have rendered possible. It has, I believe, been made to appear, that, in their training, experience, and traits of character, they were well adapted to give full effect to any excitement, or earnest action of any kind, that could be got up among them,—a people of great energy, courage, and resolution, well prepared to carry out to its natural and legitimate results any movement, and follow established convictions fearlessly to logical conclusions. The experiment of bringing supernaturalism to operate in human affairs, to become a ground of action in society, and to interfere in the relations of life and the dealings of men with each other, was as well tried upon this people as it ever could or can be anywhere.
All that remains to be brought to view, before entering upon the details of the narrative, is to give a just and adequate idea of the form and shape in which the general subject of supernaturalism, in its aspect as demonology, lay in the minds of men here at that time. To do this, I must give a sketch, as condensed and brief as I can make it, of the formation and progress of opinions and notions touching the subject, until they reached their full demonstration and final explosion, in this neighborhood, at Salem Village, near the close of the seventeenth century.