This section is from the book "Faith - Healing. Christian Science And Kindred Phenomena", by James Monroe Buckley. Also available from Amazon: Faith-Healing, Christian Science and Kindred Phenomena.
In the progress of science principles have been established and illustrative facts accumulated whereby the greater part of the authentic phenomena can be fully explained. There was a large amount of fraud and jugglery. Dr. Hutchinson of England, the second edition of whose work appeared in 1720, has a chapter on " Seven Notorious Impostures Detected".
Seventy-eight years after the Salem witchcrafts, at Littleton, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, a case involving three children whose performances were fully as remarkable and mysterious as those of the Goodwin children attracted great attention. But several years later the oldest girl offered herself as a candidate at the Rev. Mr. Terrell's church in Med-ford. "Her experience was considered satisfactory, but the minister chancing to preach against liars" (though he had not the least idea that she was an impostor), his sermon so powerfully affected her that she went to him and confessed the whole imposture, and showed how her sisters were drawn into it, " by-love of mischief, imitation, vanity, and necessity of going on after they had begun," In the case of "the afflicted girls " of New England there is positive evidence that some were consciously and intentionally performing a part.
If those who were not intentional deceivers believed that they were afflicted by the accused, their evidence and actions become simple. If the accused moved her head, they would move theirs automatically. Hypnotic performances, now well known, furnish a perfect analogy. Every hypnotizer has to be constantly on his guard lest all with whom he is experimenting should do whatever is done by one. That this is an adequate explanation appears from the fact that in those parts of the world where witchcraft is still believed in, and where a scientific knowledge of epidemic hysteria and of hypnotism does not exist, such attacks are believed to be produced by witchcraft.
The "London Medical Record" has recently published an article quoted from an Italian medical journal, giving an account of an epidemic of hysteria among the peasants of Albania. The priests had tried to exorcise the evil spirits, but without success. Fourteen girls under twenty years of age, one boy of eleven, a woman of fifty, and a robust peasant of nineteen were carefully studied. The muscles of the face and neck became rigid, and afterward those of the limbs. The woman went through the most violent contortions and muscular motions, beating her chest with her hands and then falling motionless. This was sometimes repeated again and again. She said that during the attacks she "saw the figure of the woman who bewitched her." The origin and history of the case are here given in brief:
A band of seventy girls had agreed to work for an old woman in rice-fields. Thinking that they could make a better bargain, they broke their engagement. The old woman w.is an pry, and as she was generally supposed to possess the power of witchcraft, the girls were constantly in dread of being bewitched. As they worked eleven hours a day. standing in water in the hot sun, living chietiy on unsalable beans, bad bacon, and decaying rice, they were reduced "to a state of very unstable mental equilibrium, which was completely upset by seeing the hystero-epileptic fits of the first patient.'" The medical men sent them off to their own homes, thus isolating them, and they were speedily cured.
The imitative principle in such cases sometimes goes so far that what one thinks he sees hundreds will think they see; what one does scores and hundreds will do. The precise manner of dissemination of the dominant idea is well known.
Testimony to marvels of a different kind is occasionally introduced, such as mysterious noises, the fastening of doors, overthrowing of chairs, tables, crockery, the extinguishing of lights without apparent cause, the entrance of hogs and other animals into a house, the appearance of lights the origin of which is not understood. A case of this kind occurred in New England in 1680, and was before the courts at Ipswich. William Morse and his wife, with whom in the house no one but a grandson lived,were disturbed by such occurrences. A neighbor, Caleb Powell, looked into the matter, and declared that the boy played the tricks; and that he had seen him fling things at his grandfather's head while the old gentleman was at prayer. But the mere attempt to explain the mystery nearly cost Caleb Powell his life, for he was arrested on suspicion of witchcraft, and many witnesses were brought to swear that he said that by astrouomy and astrology he could find out, as he " knew the working of spirits, some in one country and some in another." Little investigation could take place in any country where the investigator was liable to be accused of witchcraft and to lose his life for denying its reality.
Scientific investigation, with the meaning which is now given to these words, was never applied to the phenomena. Drake does not exaggerate when he declares that, during the period, "if anything occurred, the origin or reason of which was neither understood nor comprehended, and appeared stranger than usual, the mind instead of investigating fell back upon the ever-ready and easy solution that such was caused by witchcraft." There were a few doubters; but they seldom obtained access to primary sources of information, and when they did were denounced as " Sadducees," " defenders of witches," or " agents of the devil." So strong was this influence that certain clergymen who plainly did not approve the proceedings, were compelled to reaffirm continually their belief in witchcraft, and to protest against being considered defenders of witches. If persons became aggressive in the defense of the accused they were cried out upon by the accusers, and a mortal terror of the consequences led many to avoid being present at the investigation.
Electricity, magnetism, and the action of gases, as well as meteorological phenomena, were imperfectly understood in the times of the epidemic of witchcraft. Many mysteries then inscrutable could now be easily explained. The science of bacteriology, a discovery of the present generation, illustrates many of the facts which, being misunderstood, were supposed to indicate the presence of the devil, and to be the results of witchcraft, Dr. Prudden's " Story of the Bacteria, and their Relations to Health and Disease " gives many instances, and a circumstance easily explained recently occurred which two hundred years ago might have been the means of the death of many. Some time since there was brought to the physiological and pathological laboratory of the Alumni Association of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the City of New York, for examination. " a cluster of sausages which had been destined to grace a boarding-house breakfast-table. To the consternation of the maid who went into the dark cellar for them in the early morning, there hung in the place of the sausages a fiery effigy, which seemed to her more like the quondam spirits of their mysterious ingredients than the unctuous, homely friend of the homeless boarder." The microscope revealed at once the bacteria which produced the effect.