On October 12, 1692, the court trying the Salem witches was officially dismissed. This was not the end of the episode. Additional trials were held to wrap up the remaining accusations, and while there were a few more convictions at that stage, there were no more executions ordered. In all, 19 of the accused were executed. An additional 3 died either in custody or as part of the torture imposed during trial. Two-thirds of the dead were women. Witches have been a source of fascination and fear throughout human history. Living an oddly empowered life on the margins, the witch has been associated with healing and cursing and has played the role of muse to countless poets through the ages. Here we read an old favorite: Robert Herrick. This poem describes fearful night, which still gives rise to many an imaginative flight. Read it and work a spell or two. You don’t want to let those charms go to waste ladies!
By Robert Herrick
(published in Works of Robert Herrick, vol II. Alfred Pollard, ed. London: Lawrence & Bullen, 1891.)
The hag is astride
This night for to ride,
The devil and she together;
Through thick and through thin,
Now out and then in,
Though ne’er so foul be the weather.
A thorn or a burr
She takes for a spur,
With a lash of a bramble she rides now;
Through brakes and through briars,
O’er ditches and mires,
She follows the spirit that guides now.
No beast for his food
Dare now range the wood,
But hush’d in his lair he lies lurking;
While mischiefs, by these,
On land and on seas,
At noon of night are a’working.
The storm will arise
and trouble the skies;
This night, and more for the wonder,
The ghost from the tomb
Affrighted shall come,
Call’d out by the clap of the thunder.