A DELUSION OF SATAN: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials by Frances Hill. (Doubleday: $23.95, 256 pp.) It is amazing that more literature and film has not been produced concerning the Salem witch trials since, dramatically speaking, this short period of history has it all. Twenty people were put to death and hundreds imprisoned on the say-so of a small group of hysterical people, all women, mostly girls. Why were the accusers female? What was happening culturally and politically that created a witch-hunt environment? Were the girls faking? In “A Delusion of Satan,” Frances Hill examines these questions along with many others to give us a complex psychological portrait of those involved.
Impeccably researched and intelligently written, “A Delusion of Satan” is unique in that it looks at the concept of a witch hunt overall, linking what happened in Salem with the McCarthy era and today’s accusations of Satanic sexual abuse. Stylistically, Hill is unafraid to describe various scenes in less-than-objective terms, which works both for and against her. “By this time the mood of the crowd was that of a mob bent on lynching. All eyes were directed at Martha with the loathing that turns the flesh and blood of humanity into the substance of evil. [Martha] denied everything she was charged with and, brave and still confident of justice, said they could not prove her a witch.”
Technically, since Hill is not quoting from a source, none of this can be seen as fact, yet her personal read on what it must have been like is often given with the same authority as her other, easily provable, data. This makes for a more exciting, yet less trustworthy book. In spite of Hill’s bias, “A Delusion of Satan” is an informative, fascinating depiction of mass hysteria. This is an academic yet lively book that would be particularly wonderful as a college text since its vivid description gives the feeling that the Salem witch hunt happened five minutes ago.