The Contemporary New England Witch

The Contemporary New England Witch
Author Ms.Faith

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pilgrims, Puritans and religious tolerance?

Evening Greetings,

With Thanksgiving right around the corner people tend to think of the origins of Thanksgiving with the common imagery of the Pilgrims, ' Indians' and the first  Thanksgiving feast.    Yet by 1621, the legendary date for this first Thanksgiving,  settlers had been here for almost fifty years prior.

Early settlers had settled at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 and many trips backs and forth to England had already taken place. What has always surprised me was the apparent lack of survival  skills the settlers had.  They came to this land with a few soldiers leading them, remember Captain John Smith.  They had of course the captains to sail the boats, and precious few other resources. Both the settlers in Jamestown and later in Plymouth suffered from lack of food and supplies.
Why? Europe had been farming and agriculture was a known concept  for several hundred years by this point, so planting seed and harvesting at a later time was common. These early settlers appeared extremely religious, so much so, they sought out a separate land to practice their faith in.  They appeared to be ill equipped to survive on their own. We've all heard how Squanto helped the new settlers. He was a Native American who showed a deep  compassion, especially for one kidnapped by white explorers and stolen from his family and familiar lands only to be returned  years later. Yet, he showed them what was needed to survive. He showed them simple planting techniques, along with fishing skills. 

When discussing the Plymouth colony, the Pilgrims were surrounded with the abundance of the land we're familiar with here in New England. The forests are replete with large deer, turkeys and many other animals and birds that were familiar in the old country, not to mention the abundant fishing, lobsters and shell fish the shores provided. To me, a resourceful Yankee, a country girl by upbringing,  its surprising that they hadn't a stronger ability to hunt, trap and fish their way through the first few years.   If it hadn't been for Squanto,  they wouldn't have survived at all, according to the historic record.

The early settlers were also not, in this witch's perspective, the wisest with inter-personal relationships involving the Indians. The Jamestown settlers needed desperately for the Native Americans to help them survive, yet they would accept their help one day such as learning to fish with a net, and the next kidnap and torture members of their tribe for  information.  The Native Americans from the  Jamestown area took this badly, as one would expect, and allowed the settlers to fend for themselves one winter resulting in 'The Starving Time' when over 400 settlers died with only a few dozen survivors.

Almost fifty years later in Plymouth colony and Massachusetts bay colony, there were two distinct groups of new settlers.  The Pilgrims who left England were Puritans and considered themselves 'separatists' as they sought for religious freedom separate from the Church of England, while the Puritans also left England as pilgrims, those on a religious quest,  for religious purposes and believed in 'purifying' the Church of England from the influence of the Roman Catholic Church.  They wanted a 'pure' religion without the flavor of Catholicism  in the Anglican Church.

The two groups did not agree with each others religious views.  The Pilgrims as 'separatists' ran the risk of being accused of treason against the Church and State of England.  The Pilgrims remained the smaller of the groups with the Puritans religiously controlling Boston and Massachusetts for several years.  The Puritans passed the law making Catholicism illegal in Massachusetts, and it was until until the Revolutionary period in the 1700's

 Yet , while today we tend to look at this period of time, the founding of our country, as a basis for our country's strong foundational principle of religious freedom, do not make the mistake of thinking that freedom at this time meant free or tolerant.  You had the freedom to be a Puritan or Pilgrim depending in which colony you resided. Period. 
I see a strong reason why these groups left the old country seeking a far away place to practice their religion intolerance, as they saw fit.  They wanted no tolerance for any other belief but their own. The Pilgrims and Puritans though both strongly religious groups did not see eye to eye with each other,  but tolerated living in the same general area.  But for those who differed from their ways, Quakers, Catholics, Baptists etc  were treated horribly.  Aside from the witch trials that started creeping up in the early 17th century, many people were horribly tortured, humiliated, and ostracized from society as well as being forced to flee for their very lives, just because they believed in God, but just in a different way.

Yes, the Quakers for instance, have records detailing the tarring and feathering of believers before being run out of town. Sounds kind of tame if cartoons are to be believed, but imagine being dragged out of your home, your clothes torn from your body until you were naked.   Then hot pitch was poured over your body. It would not kill you, but take hot tar, like hot gravy and pour it over your body, it would burn awfully. It wouldn't clean off either. It would have to wear off. They would then cover you with feathers which would stick and cling, a form of public humiliation.

They would often be tied by their wrists to the back of a horse drawn cart and the animals spooked and set to run. You would be dragged behind the animals and this would have the affect of scaring the animals further. It was very possible to die from being dragged behind any horse drawn conveyance. Knowing the 'tolerance' of our fellow man even today I can only imagine the stones and rotten vegetables and other unmentionables thrown at those being 'run out of town' . History has a way of sanitizing the past, where we can read of it with fascination yet never fearing it could happen to us.

The early settlers and then immigrants have been discriminated against, and the Native Americans fared even worse. The Puritans and Pilgrims agreed in one area. They believed the indigenous peoples were not human. As the Native American did not believe in the white man's God so therefore they were not equal with the human race, in their eyes. There is much accepted history as to the Native Americans plight since the settlers came to these shores.  

Interestingly though, the only tolerance shown in these early days were from the Native Americans towards the settlers who were as different from those living in the tribes as one could be, yet the initial interaction between the Pilgrims and Native Americans only demonstrated tolerance on one side.  The so called heathen or what was seen as the Godless side. 

I can see these times setting the concepts, that our founding fathers in later days would use, as a basis for our Constitution and Bill of Rights, but it was not because of the 'love of ones fellow man'  as practiced by the Pilgrims and Puritans. 

I do believe in the adage that "Those that do not remember the past, are condemned to repeat it."- George Santayana   Those who have been reading The Life and Times of a Contemporary New England Witch may wonder at this choice of topic.  I live in a country that allows me religious freedom by law, and sadly enough the same religious intolerance is still found in our country amongst those in many communities. Oh, I'm not talking just about witches now, but other 'accepted' religions also. For instance religious beliefs based on Middle Eastern culture is now openly suspect, and it seems every decade provides a new 'witch hunt'.

As I write this, I just saw a newscast on the local nightly news about two women who were not allowed inside a recreational facility because of religious head ware,The Muslim woman's hijab, scarf.  This is 2010, they were going to a little girls birthday party. This happened locally for me, just in the next town over. In Connecticut, in the United States.

Today the word 'witch hunt' is used to label any group that is singled out with an especially vigorous fervor.  We've had  McCarthyism, with Communists targeted,   Japanese Americans held against their will  in government  internment camps during World War II, Gays targeted during the first years of the Aids crisis, Muslims are regarded with suspicion and distrust.  I speak about this because I'm a witch. The original target.

For centuries it was considered a good thing, the right thing to torture and kill people who differed in political, religious and social beliefs. Whether it was state or church sanctioned, execution for being different was engaged in and condoned for  far longer,  thousands of years longer, then the mere fraction of time we've been so-called civilized. .

Could we have true witch hunts again today? I've been asked this often.  I believe we can, should we ever allow our laws to be shaped in a way that goes against our Constitutional foundations. They have held us in good sway for over 230 years, because the law, unlike humans can be unbiased and just, if we allow it to be. 

  Groups and beliefs that have been targeted in our country's history : witches, women, immigrants, gays, communists, Muslims,  The Irish, Africans, Italians, Greeks, Japanese, Chinese, just name every immigrant culture! Catholics, Quakers, Gypsies, the homeless, the mentally ill, orphans, the elderly .  .  .

That's not to mention groups people seem o.k. with hating i.e attorneys, politicians, entertainers/ athletes who get caught being human and not superhuman.  But I would bet if you had a politician or attorney in your family or friend set, you would be proud of them. Yet its culturally o.k. to say some pretty horrid things about them on late night t.v, for humor.  It's o.k. to publicly speculate about entertainers that go into rehab, have their lives ripped open on a very public stage, their private mistakes becoming public humiliation, and so many people salivate at the entertainment value.

It does remind  me of the stocks and pillory back in the day. That we allow any group to be belittled, denigrated or humiliated for any reason today, and we stand by accepting it socially, makes me cautious that what we've done in the past we may be condemned to repeat.  Can witch hunts ever happen again? Of course, absolutely. They're happening all the time. 

Peace and Happiness

© 2010 Enchantments, LLC Portions of this blog posting may include materials from my book “Enchantments School for the Magickal Arts First Year Magickal Studies.” For more information, see 

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