Early New Englanders used magical techniques to divine the future, to heal the sick, to protect against harm, and to inflict harm. Protestant ministers of the time claimed that religious faith and magical practice were incompatible, and yet, as Richard Godbeer shows in this book, there were significant affinities between the two that enabled layfolk to switch from one to the other without any immediate sense of wrongdoing. The Devil's Dominion examines the use of folk magic by ordinary men and women in early New England. The book describes in vivid detail the magical techniques used by settlers and the assumptions that underlay them. Godbeer argues that layfolk were generally far less consistent in their beliefs and actions than their ministers would have liked; even church members sometimes turned to magic. The Devil's Dominion reveals that the relationship between magical and religious belief was complex and ambivalent; some members of the community rejected magic altogether, but others did not. Godbeer also argues that the controversy surrounding astrological prediction in early New England paralleled clerical condemnation of magical practice and that the different perspectives on witchcraft engendered by magical tradition and Puritan doctrine often caused confusion and disagreement when New Englanders sought legal punishment of witches.
'Godbeer shows us that popular belief in magic underlay most accusations of witchcraft, even in the Salem epidemic, and he also shows that popular belief did not necessarily ascribe the efficacy of magic, and by consequence of witchcraft, to the devil.' Edmund S. Morgan, The New York Review of Books 'This short, crisply written book makes a major contribution to our understanding of magic and witchcraft in the culture of seventeenth-century New England. Amidst a plethora of American witchcraft studies, this one stands out for both the unusual topics included and for its provocative interpretations ... This is a remarkably intelligent and intelligible book that should be carefully read and considered by anyone interested in the religious and cultural history of early America.' Richard P. Gildrie, The Catholic Historical Review 'Godbeer gives a cogent analysis of the political and religious climate that led to the Salem outbreak, acknowledging other historians' extensive work in this area while presenting his own argument in the context of surviving folk practices.' Tides