A brew of two extremely bitter herbs. A tall, woody plant that is considered a weed in North America, wormwood’s unappetizing qualities owe to the chemicals it secretes in its leaves to put herbivores off from eating it. Its bitterness has been proverbial since ancient times and is referred to often in the Bible (see, for example, Lamentations 3:15 and Proverbs 5:4).
Aloes, species of succulent native to Africa, likewise store a harsh-tasting yellow sap in their fleshy, tentacle-like leaves to deter would-be grazers. They also vie with wormwood as being a plant of axiomatic bitterness. In the Hadith, for example, Allah claims, “I have created creatures whose tongues are sweeter than honey and their hearts are more bitter than aloes.”
Both these plants are also known for their purifying, medicinal properties.
John Endicott (1601-65) assumed the role of governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony on May 2nd, 1649. Strictly speaking, he was not new for he had served as the colony’s first governor for a brief period in 1629 and was elected to a year-long term once more in 1644.
Endicott was one of the chief founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, arriving in Salem from Devon, England in 1628, and its moral climate owed much to his influence. Both despotic and impulsive, Endicott deported settlers who continued to use the Anglican Prayer Book and was responsible for amongst the harshest persecution of the Quakers. He chopped down Thomas Morton’s Merrymount maypole, which he regarded as a pagan idol, and defaced the English flag on the grounds that the Saint George's Cross was a papist souvenir. Under his lead, a 1637 expedition to avenge the murder of a trader by a Pequot Indian escalated into a campaign of destruction that saw villages, crops and canoes annihilated and lives extinguished. It was this overzealousness that led to the tragic Pequot War. Despite his rashness, Endicott’s honesty and commitment to the colony saw him re-elected governor several times more before his death.
The lord mayor’s show, which its current website extols as “the oldest, longest, grandest and most popular civic procession in the world,” has brightened the streets of London since King John made the city’s mayorship an elected office in 1215. A mayor at his inauguration was required to travel from his home ward to Westminster to pledge his loyalty to the crown, going on horseback or by barge along the Thames in sumptuous livery. Further pomp was supplied by the accompanying procession, with its dramatic pageants and tableaux of islands, temples and wildernesses, its dancing and singing. The main aim, of course, was to establish the power and authority of the office of mayor and to reinforce the social hierarchy. Nonetheless, the entertainments, coupled with the rare opportunity to see the people who governed them, made the lord mayor’s show a hotly anticipated event among the public.
Watch the procession at the 2011 lord mayor's show.
Merry Andrew was the name given to a clown or mountebank’s assistant. When his master’s audience began to tire of the performance, he would pop up with a quip or a piece of slapstick to keep them entertained. The name allegedly comes from Henry VIII’s physician, Andrew Borde, a man known for his quick wit and humorous repartee.
Devon and Cornwall are adjacent counties lying on the south-west coast of England which, in centuries gone by, had very strong wrestling traditions. In many respects, Devonian and Cornish styles were similar but whereas in the latter the emphasis was on overthrowing your opponent, the former relied far more on footwork. Not only was kicking below the knee allowed (all kicking was banned in the Cornish version), but special hardened shoes were developed for the purpose. This frequently resulted in badly bloodied shins and, on a few occasions, death.
Quarterstaff is the name for both a form of stick fighting and the long wooden pole the assailants weild against each other. For many years, this weapon — which was between six and nine feet long and sometimes tipped with a metal spike — was the common man’s main means of combat. Opponents assumed a sword-fighting stance and, through a series of thrusts and parries, used the staff as both a rapier and a spear. Read a succinct account of the quarterstaff’s history here.
A buckler is a small, round shield which, in the Medieval and Renaissance periods, was used in hand-to-hand combat together with a sword. Measuring between six and eighteen inches in diameter, the buckler did not so much to protect the body as actively fend off the thrusts of an adversary’s blade and could sometimes be put to use as a weapon.
The broadsword is also known as a basket-hinted sword on account of the latticed guard that protects the fighter’s hand. With its hefty weight, it was popular as a military weapon throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Wampum is the term for the small shell beads sacred to Native Americans. There are two types: white ones made from the inner spiral of whelk shells, and purplish-black ones from the growth-rings of the quahog shell. These are traditionally woven together into belts, the dark beads forming symbolically significant patterns against the white field. Wampum belts are used to commemorate important events, such as the signing of treaties, and are presented ceremonially at marriages. When the European settlers arrived, they quickly realized how vital these belts were to their new countrymen and seized upon them as a trading currency. Wampum were demonetized in the New England colonies in 1663.
Watch a video demonstration of how to weave the leaves of a palm tree into a hat.
Prohibitions against smoking were so draconian in seventeenth century Boston that the recent measures introduced across the western world seem laissez-faire by comparison. Anti-tobacco tracts of the time show that the weed was viewed by Puritan eyes as a bewitching corrupter, a pagan idol and the work of the devil. From the outset, settlers were forbidden to grow it except in small quantities for the health-giving effects it was then believed to bestow. In 1632, the General Court of Massachusetts Bay passed a law banning smoking in public upon pain of a fine. In 1634, this was ramped up to prevent the use of tobacco at inns and public houses, in company or the presence of strangers, meaning that it could only be enjoyed in the solitude of one’s own home.
The Library of Congress has an online exhibition of booty hauled from a Spanish treasure fleet here.
Before practicing their magical arts, witches are said to create a ritual space for themselves by drawing a magic circle on the ground around them, sometimes marking it out with chalk or salt. The magic circle is supposed to create a portal in which supernatural energies can be concentrated, but it also has a protective function. Witches summoning up dangerous spirits had to remain within the safety of the circle: even flailing an arm outside it laid them vulnerable to the grabbing hands of the demons they had conjured. Magic circles could also be formed by a coven of witches joining hands and dancing around in a ring, focusing their powers at its center. Because of this, it’s equally possible to read into this simile the implication that Hester is a witch or that the townspeople who resolve into a circle are so themselves.
Scurvy is practically synonymous with seafaring. On long voyages where it was essential that food provisions must not go off, sailors lived on a diet of salt meat, bread and dried goods. Without fruit or vegetables, they had no source of vitamin C and after several weeks began to suffer. Their gums swelled up, their teeth fell out, their bodies became stiff and racked with pain, and they developed purple splotches on their lower bodies. Death was inevitable and came swiftly, sometimes cutting off the sufferer’s life while he was mid-sentence.
The Military Company of the Massachusetts was formed in 1638, making it the oldest military organization in America and the third oldest in the world. Chartered by John Winthrop, it began as a citizen militia with officers chosen by election. By Hawthorne’s time, it had assumed the longer and grander title of The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts.
Chartered by King Richard III in 1484, the College of Arms is an English institution responsible for all matters relating to armorial bearings, including issuing coats of arms; maintaining records of arms, peerages and genealogies; and advising on flags and other national symbols. Its heralds are appointed by the monarch.
A Christian military order which flourished during the Middle Ages. The Knights Templar were not only one of the most fearsome fighting forces in the Crusades, they were also an incredibly wealthy and powerful trading organization, holding vast tracts of land across Europe and the Middle East. Their unaccountable power, together with the perception that they were becoming increasingly secular and decadent, gave rise to a general loathing and in 1307, Philip IV of France and Pope Clement V ordered their persecution. Interestingly, the charges against them closely mirrored those that would be laid at the feet of the Salem witches centuries later. Their secret initiation ceremonies, which the devil was said to attend in the guise of a black cat, apparently included spitting and stamping on the cross, worshipping satanic idols and roasting children. With large numbers of Templars executed or imprisoned, their order was finally suppressed in 1312.
The Low Countries lie on the coast of north western Europe, embracing the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. From 1568 to 1648, this region was rocked by the Eighty Years’ War as it attempted to throw off the colonial rule of Spain. Not only were the Seventeen Provinces subjected to extortionate taxation, they were also devastated by Philip II of Spain’s attempt to impose Catholicism on this increasingly Protestant area through church reforms and the execution of “heretics.” England became embroiled in the ensuing rebellion when its original leader, William of Orange, died suddenly and the Dutch sought support from other European sovereigns. Though reluctant to get involved, Elizabeth I guaranteed aid for the Dutch rebels in the 1585 Treaty of Nonsuch. The ultimate end of the struggles was the separation of the northern and southern Netherlands and the establishment of the Dutch Republic.
Like John Endicott and Richard Bellingham, whom we have already met, Simon Bradstreet (1604-97) and Thomas Dudley (1576-1653) were governors of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Bradstreet departed from Lincolnshire, England in 1630, settling first at Boston, then at what is now Cambridge (then Newtowne). Deeply involved in the colony’s organization and politics from the outset, he served for six years as its secretary before being elected commissioner in 1644, a role he shared with Hawthorne’s ancestor William Hathorne. He became governor in 1679, remaining in post for seven years and then being re-elected for a second three-year term in 1689. In contrast to the other names listed here, he was reasonably moderate.
Thomas Dudley set sail for Massachusetts in 1630 on the Arbella, alongside John Winthrop. He was the chief founder of Newtowne and the builder of that colony’s first house. He served four year-long terms as governor in 1634, 1640, 1645 and 1650, in which he distinguished himself with the more-than-typical harshness of his policies.
This is the ceremonial name of the British House of Lords which occupies the upper chamber of Parliament, the House of Commons occupying the lower chamber. The two bodies operate independently but share responsibility for passing laws, with the upper chamber providing oversight of the lower. This two-tier system originates from the fourteenth century when the Lords consisted of Lords Spiritual (bishops, archbishops, abbots and priors) and Lords Temporal (noblemen). After the suppression of the monasteries in 1539, Lords Spiritual, other than bishops, were excluded, giving dominance to the nobility and thereby the principle of heredity. In 1649, the narrative present, the House of Lords was abolished by the revolutionary Oliver Cromwell, who declared that it was “useless and dangerous to the people of England.” It was re-established in 1660.
The Privy Council of England was a body of advisors to the monarch, composed of members of the House of Commons and House of Lords, church elders, diplomats and military leaders. Expressing its authority through the conciliar courts, it was, until the development of the cabinet system of government, the main source of executive power in England.
The wonderfully-named Increase Mather (1639-1723) was one of the most prominent Puritan ministers in New England. With politics and religion so intimately entwined, his ministerial responsibilities dovetailed with his involvement in government and he served as envoy to England from 1688-92. His greatest achievement was securing a new charter for the colony which restored many of its earlier privileges. Mather was also of a scholarly bent, serving as the president of Harvard College and penning several blistering jeremiads. These evidence a dogmatic Puritan mind which saw everything from bad weather to Native American warfare as tokens of God’s wrath at the colony’s back-sliding. He did, however, offer a tempering influence at the witch trials, arguing against the use of spectral evidence and torture to extract confessions. “It were better,” he famously declared, “that ten suspected witches should escape, than that one innocent person should be condemned.”
The bubonic plague is an extremely virulent and highly contagious disease which can bring on death in as few as four days. Sufferers are afflicted with a fever, painfully swollen lymph glands, and, most notoriously, red lesions which quickly darken to black all over the skin. Gruesomely, the victim's body begins to decompose while he or she is still alive.
During the middle ages, the plague — in the guise of the Black Death — wiped out some 25 million European lives, 30-60 per cent of the population. Over the following four centuries, recurring epidemics were a constant source of panic across the continent. Although America remained mercifully free of the disease until 1900 (by which time effective treatment had been developed), its threat would have been heart-stoppingly real for recent migrants. At the time, the plague — like most disasters — was understood as a moral judgment from on high.
Watch the first part of a dramatic recounting of the Black Death below. The full playlist can be accessed here.
“Somebody” is, of course, the devil. His love of music is well-known and his way with the fiddle is said to be particularly brilliant — so much so that the instrument is sometimes called “the devil’s box.”
An interesting expression of the devil’s expertise in this field is The Devil’s Trill Sonata by Guiseppe Tartini. Its inspiration apparently came from a dream in which, having sold his soul to the devil, Tartini challenges him to play the fiddle, which he does with breath-taking virtuosity. On awakening, Tartini seizes his own instrument and tries to replicate the devil’s playing: the resulting sonata, he claimed, was a pale imitation. Meanwhile, the Charles Daniels Band’s The Devil went down to Georgia tells of Satan’s failed bid to win a man’s soul through a fiddle-playing contest and features a solo reputedly by the Dark Lord himself. Listen to both pieces below.
In Native American usage, a powwow was a priest, shaman or healer. The word translates as “he who dreams,” reflecting the powwow’s role as a contact with the spirit realm. Entering into a trance, he (and sometimes she) was afforded visionary glimpses of spirit animals preying on the diseased and was thereby able to provide them with fitting charms and cures. To New England settlers, powwows were diabolical personages. The first recorded English use of the word comes from Edward Winslow’s Good Newes from New England (1624), whose assertion that “The office and dutie of the Powah is to be exercised principally in calling vpon the Deuill” typifies Puritan thought.
Dwelling in a landscape of mossy tundra and lichen-encrusted forest which for half the year was enshrouded in midnight darkness, even those in neighboring countries believed Lapland's handful of inhabitants were all wizards. The powers attributed to them were peculiarly Scandinavian: they specialized in whipping up great storms at sea by twisting the wind up into knotted ropes. They also allegedly communed with both their familiars and the spirits of the dead, possessed second sight, and could inflict pain on people who weren't present. Read more here.
A selection of some of the enchanting fairytales telling of the exploits of wizards hailing from Lapland and surrounding areas can be accessed here.
Along with the Enemy of Righteousness, the Father of Contention, the Prince of this World and the Son of Perdition, the Prince of the Air is an alias for the devil. The name comes from Ephesians 2:2: “ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience.”
Pearl’s threat hardly contradicts Chillingworth’s accusation. Her words echo the imprecations of the first witch in Shakespeare’s Macbeth as she plots her revenge against a woman who refuses to share her chestnuts. The woman’s husband, a sailor, is at sea and the witch, aided by her sisters, vows to plague his ship with blasting gales: “Though his bark cannot be lost, Yet it shall be tempest-tost.”
Centrifugal force is that which pushes a rotating body outwards from the center of rotation.
Despite its status as the Promised Land, the coming destruction of Israel is the main message God has his prophets deliver. Warning that its inhabitants will lapse into sin whilst continuing to hypocritically maintain they are God’s chosen, Micah proclaims that Zion will be mowed flat (3:12). Daniel, meanwhile, prophesies that if the Israelites do not turn their back on sin, then their capital, Jerusalem, will be destroyed by the prince’s soldiers and swallowed up by a great flood (9:26).
In fact, Puritan settlers already felt that the mission to establish an earthly kingdom of God had failed. Human frailties and worldliness, they believed, had thwarted the grand visions of the colony’s founders, and far from flattering the congregation’s vanity in the way that Dimmesdale is here said to do, sermons were typically filled with dire warnings of the destruction that would fall on the settlers’ heads if they did not turn back to the path of righteousness. It was not until Hawthorne’s own time, when the idea of Manifest Destiny took hold, that preachers sought to uplift the people by declaring that they were paving the road to a new heaven on earth.
The power of a kiss to undo a curse is evidenced by countless fairytales. Sleeping Beauty is awakened from her death-like slumber by the kiss of a rescuing prince, as is Snow White; and the princess of the Frog Prince restores her amphibian suitor to his original manly form by the same technique. Pearl, however, diverges from her forebears by being both the author of the kiss and the beneficiary of its disenchanting force. At this instant, with the blood-bond she shares with Dimmesdale ritually affirmed, the wild, fairy-witch nature that has kept her apart from her fellows dissolves. She enters at last into the fold of civilization and undergoes the princess-like transformation of which every fairytale heroine dreams.
Watch the famous scene in which Snow White is restored to life by a kiss from the 1937 Disney film.
This mischievous invitation for the reader to take on the author’s role in deciding the novel’s outcome is a typically Hawthornian ploy. It’s what gives his writing, for all its rooting in nineteenth century assumptions, its strangely postmodern feel, anticipating as it does Roland Barthes’ theories of the “writerly text.” If the more traditional approach places the author, as the arbiter of meaning, in the position of God, then Hawthorne’s refusal of this role also implicitly undermines the idea of a single and all-determining divine authority. His rhetorical strategies thus reinforce the novel’s questioning of the Puritan belief in predestination.