Late Summer, Salem Witch Trials and Sex

Summer ended Wednesday in the northern hemisphere, with the autumnal equinox. Since I’m not looking forward to colder, darker days—not after the winter we had last year—I’m going to dwell on summer for a bit longer.

Late summer is a time of plenty. Whether it’s all those tomatoes dragging down the vines, or the drowsy nodding late blooms filled with the buzz of bees, the acorns rolling underfoot or the hummingbirds feeding single-mindedly from nectar-dripping flowers, it’s hard, if you just stop and look and feel for a moment, to not get a sense of the abundance.

One late summer, when I lived on a farm, this sense hit me in a strong and different way. I looked at the bursting seed heads on their smooth stalks, the fruit trees heavy, the swelling rosehips and thought, Whoa! It’s all about sex. Well, of course it is. The whole point of flora and fauna is to procreate and thereby insure the continuation of their species. Often, when people write about nature (I include myself) the tone is so holy and ethereal. But hang out in late summer for a bit and the ethereal becomes fecund (although to my way of thinking, the holy stays holy.)

I recently read an article in The New Yorker about the Salem witch trials. I am mildly curious about what happened back in those witch hunting days of the 1600’s. Times were tough, so was it mass hysteria brought on by unrelenting hardship and stress? Or was it, as I once read, hallucinogenic mold in the food? Could it possibly have been actual possession? Nobody knows, and this particular article made a point of underscoring the puritanical nature of these earliest settlers. “Puritan” has come to mean a person with censorious moral beliefs, especially about pleasure and sex, and the article also stressed the Puritan’s fear of the “wilderness”—it being the place, they believed, where the Devil hung out.

“New-Englanders are a people of God settled in those, which were once the Devil’s territories” wrote Cotton Mather, Puritan extraordinaire, in 1692.

So here’s an interesting extrapolation. Early New Englanders weren’t keen on pleasure and sex and they feared the wilderness (nature) as a place of “Devil’s territories.” I’m thinking their fear of nature and their censorship of pleasure and sex are connected. Nature: all about sex since that’s what keeps life going. Puritans: sex/pleasure bad.

Doesn’t it make sense that if you morally censor sex and pleasure; you’re not going to “get” nature? And is it possible that this puritanical belief passed down through the generations is why we are so exploitive of our environment? We see it as something to be feared and tamed (which, now that I am thinking about it, could also be the root cause of the oppression of women, who, after all, are the ones to continue the cycle of nature and the species.) Food for thought.


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