Lewis Putnam Turco. Satanís Scourge, A Narrative of the Age of Witchcraft, a book review by Joe Danciger
Satanís Scourge by Lewis Turco refers in its title to smallpox and also to the punishments applied to those believed to be involved with witchcraft or allied practices, such as alchemy or divination. This book develops a story spanning the years from 1580-1697, chronicling the sweep from a more superstitious age to the age of science and reason. This book is a must read for anyone interested in early American history or witchcraft and magic.
Satanís Scourge is rich in detail, and many scenes have a sense of immediacy that makes history exciting. The brilliant and graphic account of the Salem witch trials may be the best and most detailed ever written. By the time the trials begin, we have walked the cow paths of New England with these people and have seen the terrible hardships of colonial existence. These details make the trials all the more poignant. Turco is a descendant of the Putnam family, who were very involved in the Salem witch trials, and on whom the book is centered. One might say without exaggeration that this story is in Lewis Turco's blood.
At the time of "Satanís Scourge,Ē in Europe Galileo was publishing and considered to be heretical, while in Salem, Massachusetts, farmers were planting and harvesting crops of corn and wheat. Turco describes the historical and philosophical beliefs of the times so thoroughly that the narration can be wholly readable without resorting to further references. In addition the bibliography and index contain favorites of those who are fond of books on demonology and magic, such as Sir Reginald Scotís ďThe Discoverie of Witchcraft.Ē This anchors the story and lends its own pleasures. On both continents, riches could be gained by feigning or attempting diverse magical practicesóand by hunting those who did so.
The narrative of Satan's Scourge is not without humor: an occasional fool blows up a boat by accident, and some players are reliably unreliable. The legendary Mother Goose appears in her actual person and uses her herbal knowledge on some very bee-stung boys. The people portrayed in the book are documented by Turcoís scholarship.
The detailed and well-researched writing makes reading this book a pleasure: e.g., in a typical passage, ďEarly in the spring of 1679 John Stebbins of Northampton was working in a sawmill when he began to have trouble with the logs and boards with which he was working. They began to act up in strange ways- falling down by themselves, writhing out of his hands.Ē Stebbins later dies, covered with spots, and a neighbor is charged with witchcraft.
Written in such an engaging way that it is hard to stop reading, the narrative of Satanís Scourge tells about a family and a time of superstition that was replaced by science. This book has depth, and goes far beyond retelling witchy stunts and acts of cruelty by stern patriarchs.
Lewis Putnam Turco. Satanís Scourge, A Narrative of the Age of Witchcraft
In England and New England 1580-1697, Scottsdale, Arizona: Star Cloud Press, 2009, 808 pages.
© 2005-2010 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas