Tag Archives: Salem Witch Trials

Writing Across Genres–Beth Trissel


Many authors wisely choose a genre and stick with it. Most historical romance authors master a specific time period, such as Regency England, and set up camp. They learn the drill and can summon appropriate dress, manners, transport…without a second thought. Not me. Like a restless spirit, I wander about. I compare it to flitting through time,  or venturing through the rooms of a very large house or old castle and discovering a different era/theme behind each door. Like these spooky castle stairs, leading who knows where or to what, or WHO, much mystery is involved in the exploration, a great part of the allure. Writing would be far easier if I’d stay put, but not as much fun.

So I write both historical, with varying time periods and settings, and light paranormal romance, generally with a time travel or ghost in the fantasy meld. If I were to choose a favorite era it would probably be colonial America, but I also love others. Research into my early American ancestors and their interaction with Native Americans (some were taken captive) inspired my historicals set in the colonial frontier, Red Bird’s SongThrough the Fire and my upcoming November release, Kira, Daughter of the Moon, and a spinoff of that theme in my upcoming December release, A Warrior for Christmas. Family involvement in the American Revolution led to my writing historical romance novel Enemy of the King.

The connection I feel to the past and those who’ve gone before me is the ongoing inspiration behind all my work. I’ve done a great deal of research into family genealogy and come from well-documented English/Scots-Irish folk with a smidgen of French in the meld, a Norman knight who sailed with William the Conqueror. One line goes back to Geoffrey Chaucer. And there’s a puritan line with involvement in the Salem Witch Trials—my apologies to Susannah Martin’s descendants—but that’s another story. With my historical romance Into the Lion’s Heart, I more deeply explored my British ancestry, and The French Revolution. I don’t think our family lost any heads back then but it’s a fascinating time period and figures heavily in the story.

In my historical/paranormal romance novel, The Bearwalker’s Daughter, I ventured into the shape shifting realm with a bearwalking Shawnee warrior. Depending upon whom you consult among the Shawnee, they may not consider this to be fantasy but an actual ability some of their people possess, or used to in ages past. The Bearwalker’s Daughter also has a magical moonstone necklace which I wish I could’ve kept, but the novel sucked in that prize and won’t let me have it back. Bummer.

Scottish time travel romance Somewhere My Lass was a departure for me in that I also wove sci-fi elements into the story. My paranormals require the same research I’d do for a historical because there are other time periods to explore, and then the added contemplation involved in otherworldly elements, so they are not easy, but enjoyable in a challenging way.

The concept behind my Somewhere series, is that the story opens in present day, so far my home state of Virginia, and then transports the reader Somewhere else. Either back to an earlier time in the same house, as in Somewhere My Love and Somewhere The Bells Ring, or another place altogether, as in Somewhere My Lass. The wonderful old homes I grew up in and visited over the years are an integral part of the inspiration behind this series. In Somewhere My Lass, I used a compilation of Victorian homes for the mysterious house in historic Staunton, Virginia where the story begins. How do they go back and forth in time, you ask? Why through the ‘door to nowhere,’ of course, a portal to the past. I was acquainted with just such a door as a child.

*Royalty free castle image

To Guard Against Spells and Enchantment–Herbal Lore–Beth Trissel


The sacred herb, Angelica, as its name alone implies, has a lofty status in the world of herbal lore.  I used this herb in my historical fantasy romance novel The Bearwalker’s Daughter, and my upcoming release, Traitor’s Curse. I’ve grown Angelica in the garden, a large aromatic plant with lacy white umbels, but it died out, so I replanted seedlings this spring. They took off, and I hope will survive the winter. Angelica makes a nice addition to a perennial herb and flower border, but be certain to allow plenty of room; it reaches a height of 4 to 6 feet. The flowers are also appealing to butterflies, another plus.

“According to one legend, (European-angelica) Angelica was revealed in a dream by an angel to cure the plague (hence the name Angelica or Archangel). All parts of the plant were believed effective against evil spirits and witchcraft. It was held in such esteem that it was called ‘The Root of the Holy Ghost.’

In America it was used by the Iroquois and other tribes as Witchcraft Medicine, an infusion of smashed roots were used as wash to remove ghosts from the house.”  This quote is from an interesting site called Alternative Nature Online Herbal.  You can also view lovely pics of Angelic there.

From Real MagickMagickal Use and Lore:

“As seen by its name, angelica has been associated with the Archangel Michael. It comes into bloom near his feast day and has been connected to the Christian observance of the Annunciation. Angelica is known for its protection against evil spells.”

From Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs: “Throughout history angelica has been a standout herb…supposed to ward off evil spirits and witches.  Peasants would weave necklaces of the leaves for their children to wear to protect them. The juice of the roots was used to make Carmelite water, considered a ‘sovereign remedy’ and drunk to endure a long life and to protect against the poisons and spells of witches.”

Here I want to point out that the hysteria over witchcraft peaked in the Middle Ages, but endured well beyond.  How many unfortunates were burnt at the stake as a result of witch hunts is uncertain but they numbered in the thousands.  Most confessions were gained as the result of torture, although the suggestion has been made that the side effects of some potent herbs made people think they could actually fly and that they possessed special powers.  And who’s to say that some individuals didn’t have special powers.  But once condemned, few were powerful enough to keep themselves from a bad end.  Note that no witches were ever burned in North America, not even at the Salem Witch Trials.  By then, hanging was the preferred method of execution, far more civilized.  Burning was so sixteenth century.

From A Modern Herbal: (Bear in mind that this was written in the early 20th century, so not all that ‘modern.’  Ms. Grieve has a great deal to say about Angelica–I’ve touched on portions.)

Garden Angelica. Archangelica officinalis.
Parts Used: root, leaves, seeds.

History: Its virtues are praised by old writers, and the name itself, as well as the folk-lore of all North European countries, testify to the great antiquity of a belief in its merits as a protection against contagion, for purifying the blood, and for curing every conceivable malady: it was held a sovereign remedy for poisons agues and all infectious maladies.

The author goes on to say, “After the introduction of Christianity, the plant became linked in the popular mind with some archangelic patronage, and associated with the spring-time festival of the Annunciation. According to one legend, Angelica was revealed in a dream by an angel to cure the plague. Another explanation of the name of this plant is that it blooms on the day of Michael the Archangel (May 8, old style), and is on that account a preservative against evil spirits and witchcraft: all parts of the plant were believed efficacious against spells and enchantment. It was held in such esteem that it was called ‘The Root of the Holy Ghost.’

*Medieval herb garden

Angelica is unique amongst the Umbelliferae (*which means plants with umbel shaped flowers, think Queen Ann’s Lace) for its pervading aromatic odour, a pleasant perfume, entirely differing from Fennel, Parsley, Anise, Caraway or Chervil. One old writer compares it to Musk, others liken it to Juniper. Even the roots are fragrant, and form one of the principal aromatics of European growth- the other parts of the plant have the same flavour, but their active principles are considered more perishable.

Cultivation: Cultivate in ordinary deep, moist loam, in a shady position, as the plant thrives best in a damp soil and loves to grow near running water.

Parts Used: The roots and leaves for medicinal purposes, also the seeds. The stems and seeds for use in confectionery and flavouring and the preparation of liqueurs.  The dried leaves, on account of their aromatic qualities, are used in the preparation of hop bitters.  Angelica roots should be dried rapidly and placed in air-tight receptacles. They will then retain their medicinal virtues for many years.

The flavour of Angelica suggests that of Juniper berries, and it is largely used in combination with Juniper berries, or in partial substitution for them by gin distillers.

Medicinal Action and Uses

Angelica is a good remedy for colds, coughs, pleurisy, wind, colic, rheumatism and diseases of the urinary organs, though it should not be given to patients who have a tendency towards diabetes, as it causes an increase of sugar in the urine.  It is generally used as a stimulating expectorant, combined with other expectorants the action of which is facilitated, and to a large extent diffused, through the whole of the pulmonary region.  It is a useful agent for feverish conditions, acting as a diaphoretic.

An infusion may be made by pouring a pint of boiling water on an ounce of the bruised root, and two tablespoonsful of this should be given three or four times a day, or the powdered root administered in doses of 10 to 30 grains. The infusion will relieve flatulence, and is also of use as a stimulating bronchial tonic, and as an emmenagogue…used for indigestion, general debility and chronic bronchitis. For external use, the fresh leaves of the plant are crushed and applied as poultices in lung and chest diseases.

The following is extracted from an old family book of herbal remedies:

‘Boil down gently for three hours a handful of Angelica root in a quart of water; then strain it off and add liquid Narbonne honey or best virgin honey sufficient to make it into a balsam or syrup and take two tablespoonsful every night and morning, as well as several times in the day. If there be hoarseness or sore throat, add a few nitre drops.’

Angelica stems are also grateful to a feeble stomach, and will relieve flatulence promptly when chewed. An infusion of Angelica leaves is a very healthful, strengthening tonic and aromatic stimulant, the beneficial effect of which is felt after a few days’ use.

The yellow juice yielded by the stem and root becomes, when dry, a valuable medicine in chronic rheumatism and gout.

Taken in medicinal form, Angelica is said to cause disgust for spirituous liquors.  (*It occurs to me that this might be beneficial to alcoholics). It is a good vehicle for nauseous medicines and forms one of the ingredients in compound spirit of Aniseed. Gerard, among its many virtues that he extols, says ‘it cureth the bitings of mad dogs and all other venomous beasts.’~

Cadfael, starring  Derek Jacobi, is a fascinating mystery series set in the old Norman England town of Shrewsbury featuring a Crusader turned monk, skilled in the use of herbs and solving murders.  A healer atoning for the lives he took as a soldier, Brother Cadfael is often in his herborium at the monastery, busy with his mortar and pestle or distilling some potent elixir.  Dried herbs hang in bunches from the rafters overhead, fill baskets and shelves alongside glass vials, crocks and other medicinal vessels made of pottery… kewl stuff.  He also loves to be among the herbs in his garden.  But mysteries often summon him from these simple joys.

The opening theme features sacred Medieval music, haunting voices from ages past.  The show is available at netflix, some in instant streaming.  Listen to the clip below…intriguing.

***Royalty free images of old stained glass windows, medieval apothecary and pharmacist, monastic gardens, and herbs

My Ancestral Ties to the Salem Witch Trials


(Reposted from an earlier post, mysteriously lost from my blog)

In 1760 a plot of land was laid out like this: “Beginning at a beech tree marked, it being the northeast corner, boundary of Samuel Gustin’s land; thence north 11 rods to a beech…” and thus it goes around the perimeter of the property from beech to spruce to the hemlock with stones by it.  Quaint.  And so it was while perusing old Mack family annals (Highland Scots who settled in New England) that we came upon something quite interesting but not nearly as charming–a direct link to the infamous Salem Witch Trials.

According to these records, the first Mack arrival in the New World, John, (born in 1653) emigrated from Inverness and married Sarah Bagley in Boston in 1681. She was the daughter of Orlando (note the name) and Sarah Bagley. Orlando Bagley was a man of considerable influence in the district, a constable, who apprehended his friend and neighbor, Susannah Martin, for a witch.  Good heavens, we have an ancestor at least partly responsible for the death of this unfortunate woman. (I have since learned, that Orlando’s son was also called Orlando, and it is likely he was the one responsible for arresting Susanna, as the older Bagley was deceased by this time.)

Back to the Macks; an early genealogist says the name wasn’t an abbreviation of some other such as MacDonald or McKenzie, but that they were a family of sufficient importance to have a Coat of Arms in Scotland with a Latin motto indicating they were hard workers and hopeful, of good estates and families, of liberal education, and of large experience, and they were strict Puritans. Seems it was a good enough family name to warrant admission into the upstanding Bagleys who were among the earliest Puritan settlers of Amesbury, Massachusetts.

I discovered more about Orlando Bagley and his ill-fated neighbor, Susanna Martin, at these sites:

http://famhist2.blogspot.com/2009/03/murder-in-salem.html

I watched (on Netflix) a History Channel documentary about the Salem Witch trials and combined that with the information I’ve gleaned elsewhere.  A most bizarre period of history.  Adolescent girls and young women insisted specters appeared to them in various forms, as animals or that of the accused themselves, and cruelly abused them.  Pinching and hitting them…the girls then continued these hysterics in court with lethal effect.

Panic spread far and wide with neighbor after neighbor falling under the malignant shadow until “From June through September of 1692, nineteen men and women, all having been convicted of witchcraft, were carted to Gallows Hill, a barren slope near Salem Village, for hanging. Another man of over eighty years was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to a trial on witchcraft charges. Hundreds of others faced accusations of witchcraft; dozens languished in jail for months (*some of them dying there) without trials until the hysteria that swept through Puritan Massachusetts subsided.”
The above quote is from:
http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/salem/salem.htm

Women in that rigidly defined community had no voice or authority, but these girls wielded an almighty power over everyone by simply pointing their fingers.  The power must have gone to their heads, along with the dizzying attention they gloried in.  However, I wonder, had they no conscience?  So many innocent people suffered and died as a result of this craze.  For a people obsessed with the fate of their immortal souls, would this not weigh heavily upon them?  Only one girl ever offered an apology.

Oddly, the individual who bore any real resemblance to a witch, the young slave woman, Tituba, who lit the initial powder keg with strange Voodoo practices from her South American background, was never hung.  She confessed (possibly after a beating) and then joined with the girls in naming suspected witches. Maybe it was payback for her slavery.  I don’t know, but she’s also responsible for taking a lot of people down.

I’ve also read about and seen a documentary suggesting there may have been an outbreak in Salem at that time of ergot poisoning (a mold similar to LSD) on the rye used for bread making.  Symptoms of such poisoning include hallucinations and physical pain which may account for some of the girls symptoms, but why only them?  Wouldn’t more people have been afflicted? Maybe more were and that’s why they tossed all reason to the wind.

As for allowing ‘spectral’ evidence as testimony, this was previously unheard of at witch trials and Salem is unique in that regard.  There were other time-honored methods for ferreting out a witch.  For example, the water test–if you sank you were innocent; if you floated, guilty, of course, and then you were put to death.  Or, strip the supposed witch, shave her entire body, then carefully examine every inch of her for a ‘devil’s’ mark.  I’ll bet a lot of men preferred this method. Woe unto you, if you had any funny shaped moles or birthmarks.

Spectral evidence based on gyrating girls shrieking that you came to them in a way that only they could see and caused excruciating torment while enticing them to make a pact with Satan was a no win scenario for the accused.  Any and all denials were met with increased screams and accusations.  Only if you confessed your sin,did they fall silent.  Then you were free to go; God alone being your judge, which makes no sense to me.  Crucify the innocent, or gain confessions from the so-called damned, thus freeing them.  But those truly concerned for the state of their souls refused to make such a blasphemous admission, preferring death.

To understand the mindset of these Salem Puritans is almost impossible, but I’ll try.  It seems they were terrified of the dark forest.  Though only six miles from the coast, Salem was on the edge of the wilderness.  The dreaded Indians dwelt in the woods, and the settlers feared Satan also brooded over the forest.  Disease and misfortune were attributed to evil entities.  Deeply insecure and preoccupied with horror of the dark forces, they sought its manifestation in everything and everyone.  And you tend to find what you look for.  Particularly when fear of the demonic is mixed in with an extremely judgmental community, resentment toward your neighbor, a means to get even, and young actresses happy to oblige you with a stellar performance.

There’s a vast deal more to be said on the subject and I may continue this post another time.  Meanwhile, if you know anything of my distant ancestor Orlando Bagley (sounds straight out of the Shire) and his part in the trial and execution of Susanna Martin, I’d be glad to know more.  And to her descendants, in behalf of our family, I offer my deepest apology.

*Two more interesting sites about the Salem Witch Trials:
http://www.salemfocus.com/index.htm

http://www.bloodlinesofsalem.org/HISTORY.HTM