Tag Archives: history

Salem Witches

‘ As an anthropologist, I spent decades interviewing people in the Mayan highlands, throughout central America and Mexico, and the Andes all about their folklore, ghost stories, and witch stories… but I want to tell you the one that I grew up with in New England, a piece of folklore so important to me it changed the way I live. When we were kids, the histories and the stories of the Salem Witch Trials are something that everybody was taught. We were told these stories from our first grammar school class. I grew up during a period in the 70s where there was a whole revitalization of interest in witches. Because of the feminist movement, there was a retelling of who these women were. It is said that in 1692, the craze started… it went for a full year. Anyone who was considered an outcast or spoke out, were all accused of being witches. Here, in these little towns of New England, people were paranoid beyond belief. They were having heavy winters, people were starving, they were jealous of each other… there was so much religious belief that the devil was constantly surrounding them… he’s in the goats… he’s in your neighbor… he’s everywhere. So, in the late 1600s, this group of girls sitting around the fire, with a Caribbean woman named Tituba and the girls asked her to tell them a story to pass the time. Her story was about the devil, and the devil turning girls into witches. This got in the little girls’ heads, and before long, all of them start to have these visions of witches… that people are having paralytic attacks, epileptic attacks, visions and hallucinations, sleepwalking… They say this was all because of the witches. During this brutal Winter, the town of Salem used a book written by a British King called “How to Tell a Witch”, and they used this book to identify the ‘witches’. Over 200 people had been accused as witches. So, when I was growing up, I grew up with pictures of the Devil with puritanical etchings, pictures of the devil riding goats in the churches… These things were in my brain as real things that really happened. I was taught that the history is in my house, my clothes, the furniture, everywhere. Somehow, I am connected to them. So, I grew up with this belief that witches were our friends… that witches were these falsely accused woman… not falsely accused because witches don’t exist… we believed they did, and that they were killed because they were smart woman who spoke out and killed for that. Many of us identified as witches growing up… I did. So many of us growing up during this time thought we were witches and led a life to resemble the tales we heard of our ancestors.” – JB

JB has a personal connection to the tales of the Salem Witch Trials, specifically to the tales that were revitalized during the 70s. JB grew up very close to Salem Town, in which the trials happened. They were passed down to her throughout her childhood in places like school, or from friends and their parents. She felt so strongly about these tales and memmorates that she began to live a life similar to that of a witch. She believed she was one, she decided that her and her friends were the “new witches” and with that she prayed to the trees, the rivers, and to something much older than any religion she knew. JB recalls that the story she tells now, the tales she passes down to her own family are intertwined with those of the Salem Witches.

To me, this piece of JB’s life was very interesting, as I also grew up learning about the Salem Witch Trials, but not during a time where these stories were regenerated and strengthened. I learned about it more in the historical sense, what my teachers believed to be factual events during this time period. I was not told any tales or legends of these times. JB’s recounting of her experience shows how much historical folklore can be passed down through generations and continue to take effect on those who hear them, as it did to her and her peers. Additionally, the cultural beliefs of these legends have continued to adapt and be passed down to many audiences across the world. The adaptation can even be seen in JB’s interpretation of the legends, as in the 70s, the theme had changed to show the power of the women, rather than the ‘sin’ many past tales condemned them to have. It can also be assumed that these tales in the late 1800s and early 1900s were performed for audiences, as much folklore is. This folklore also took hold in shaping many communities throughout the last centuries, growing over time and bringing people together, fostering a sense of connection to such historical events.

Atlantis

My informant for this collection talked about the famous lost city of Atlantis. Said to be a fabled island city which vanished beneath the waves in a catastrophic event, Atlantis is a myth which has been told and retold for centuries. Its exact location remains unknown and has remained a topic of speculation for some time. Atlantis was a civilization which was known for its advanced technology. Despite its achievements as a progressive civilization, Atlantis eventually fell and its downfall remains one of the greatest mysteries in history. Atlantis still impacts our world today as an inspiration for numerous filmmakers, novelists, and video game creators. 

Although the abstract my informant recounted was brief, the connection they have with Atlantis stems from a deep appreciation of the myth. To my informant, the story of Atlantis has captured the imagination of people around the world, including Americans, who continue to speculate about its existence and significance.

The lost city of Atlantis has its fair share of cultural symbolism, captivating the imagination of countless works in literature, art, and pop culture. This myth originated from the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, who mentioned it in his dialogues “Timaeus” and “Critias” in the year 360 BCE. The recounts of the city were that of a powerful advanced civilization which met its demise in a single day of cataclysmic destruction. The story of Atlantis acts as a symbol for humanity balancing greatness with the consequences of moral decay. I believe that this story serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of excessiveness on the fragile human experience.

Paul Revere

“So I went to high school in Boston, and we talked about Paul Revere in history class, probably because of our location and being in a city with so many historic sights—we even got to go on a class field trip downtown to see some of these sites he visited, such as the Old North Church, where Revere’s lanterns were hung as a first warning.
What I understood was that during the Revolutionary War, Paul Revere was summoned as a rider to carry messages across cities, and one day he got wind that the British soldiers in Boston wanted to go and arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were founding fathers, so he rode through Arlington and Medford (right by where I live) and yelled “The British are coming!” So that they’d be aware of this threat and could escape.
Later on I learned he didn’t actually yell that famous phrase, but I think the rest of the story mostly adds up.”


Context:
This was an in-person interview with another classmate of mine who told me about her experiences with this historical legend during high school. The text was taken from and recorded during our conversation.


Interpretation:
Paul Revere’s legendary ride served as a symbol of bravery and patriotism, representing resistance against imperialism and tyranny. It also serves as a nice source of historical pride for the New England region with its many similar figures.

Bomb Shelter High School – Legend

Context:

This legend is from K’s friend of a friend. K was born in Canada but moved to southern California when they were 10 where K went to school. K is currently a sophomore studying Screenwriting at SCA.

Text:

K’s high school circulated a story about a bunker under the auditorium that had built as a bomb shelter that had been built during the Second World War. “Which, in retrospect doesn’t really make sense because our high school was built after that.” Basically, one of K’s friends wanted to confirm if it was true. There was an upper-field area that he searched in, the auditorium area that he searched underneath, and eventually he gave up trying to find it. But, K’s AP Environmental Science teacher was like “Hey, don’t worry, it definitely exists.” So, K’s friend went back and tried to find it. K believes it might have originated from the orchestra pit, and a student seeing something freaky down there. Regardless, the story has become something the seniors tend to pass on to the freshman.

Analysis:

This narrative is a legend; it is set in a time in history that’s remained to the present and the basis of the story is whether or not it is real or fake. Legends often explore if the improbable or impossible is, in fact, possible and in doing so make their audience question whether or not the impossible truly is possible in the real world. The readers can examine their perception of what the real world may be. In the case of the school, the students will always have something to be curious and engaged about. Most children’s lore, including teenagers, are anti-hegemonic for the larger education system. For high school, this evolves into a more intentional and rebellious perception of the outside world. To have a story that introduces inherent falsehood in the school, I believe these teenagers will have something to place their growing pains and rebellious energy in. The backstory of the bomb shelter being built during World War II, or even the Cold War, easily becomes both a flashback into the power of the past and also the absurdity of it; the very thought of a nuclear bomb now seems ridiculous and unlikely. When students place their interest or belief into this possibly true blast from the past, they will place themselves on a high moral pedestal from which to judge history. This encourages childhood anti-hegemony and confidence in themselves, that we have evolved past a time where we needed bomb shelters.

The Whaley House

Context: Z is a 21 year old Filipino American man. Growing up with a close community of Filipino friends and family. Z went to an elementary school within California. This story was collected over a Discord audio call.

Z: “The one that I thought of the other day, which is ‘spooky’ but not really, is The Whaley House. Which is like the only ghost house I know of, like, a unified school district takes everyone in the school district out of class to go visit it for like a week. There’s like a bunch of weird stories, and I don’t know a lot of the history off of the top of my head, but I know there was a family that lived there in the 1800s, and they all had some untimely deaths. Then there was some guy who was hanged who got buried in the graveyard adjacent to it.” 

Intv: “So there were just a ton of stories surrounding the place?”

Z: “Oh yeah, and you know one thing that I think really contributed to that, were the people who would always be walking around in period dress, like era accurate garb to the 1800s and you’d wonder if you saw a ghost. You know, it’s supposedly one of the most haunted houses in America, but I’ve never seen a ghost there, and I don’t know if I really believe in all of it. I think it’s probably just an old house, but it at least made an old house fun.” 

Analysis: I find it very interesting that the Unified School District of San Diego actually pulls  children out of class for a week to go and study the myths of The Whaley House. While some historical activities are present (like children learning how early settlers panned for gold) it really is a week that glorifies to the children of San Diego just how important culturally folklore can be. As Old Town and The Whaley House are two major tourist attractions within an already tourist heavy city.