Fashions in fear change, but do people?
No one is really very much afraid of witchcraft any more...
February 20, 1962
Dear Young Reader:
No one is really very much afraid of witchcraft any more. If the bewitched children of Salem Village came screaming and writhing into a modern courtroom it would probably be assumed—and with some reason, too—that they were the willing victims of a new teenage dance craze. Fashions in fear change, but do people?
We are not more tolerant or more valiant than the people of Salem, and we are just as willing to do battle with an imaginary enemy. Santayana says that “if we do not learn from history we are sentenced to repeat it,” and if we cannot see clearly how the good people of Salem were deceived by their fears we cannot act honestly today. The people of Salem hanged and tortured their neighbors from a deep conviction that they were right to do so. Some of our own deepest convictions may be as false.
We might say that we have far more to be afraid of today than the people of Salem ever dreamed of, but that would not really be true. We have exactly the same thing to be afraid of—the demon in men’s minds which prompts hatred and anger and fear, an irrational demon which shows a different face to every generation, but never gives up in his fight to win over the world.
Letter written by American novelist Shirley Jackson upon republication of her non-fiction book, The Witchcraft of Salem Village, originally released in 1956. Taken from The Letters of Shirley Jackson by Shirley Jackson, edited by Laurence Jackson Hyman in consultation with Bernice M. Murphy, copyright © 2021 by Laurence Jackson Hyman, J.S. Holly, Sarah Hyman DeWitt and Barry Hyman.
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