When you think of October you may imagine brightly colored leaves, carved Jack O’Lanterns, candles in lanterns, spooky cemeteries, witches on broomsticks, or kids in costumes. You may think of partaking of cider and donuts while you slip into your first warm sweater of the season. Such a fun month!
Drawing from all those scenes, sensations and experiences, I will share my love of October with you by sharing fun and weird facts all month.
Keep Scrolling down each day for more!
If you lived during the 1600s, do you think someone could have accused you of witchcraft?
My family has a legend that one of our ancestors was convicted of being a witch in Boston. I have yet to validate that lore, but I can believe it because my family has always had strong willed, out spoken, and quirky women. And that is the type of woman that would have been targeted back then. Women who didn’t act proper. And in 1600s America, if you are a woman with those characteristics, you best stay under the radar or out of Connecticut.
Why? Because 45 years before the Salem Witch Trials, Alse Younges was the first in America to be accused and executed for being a witch and it happened in Hartford, Connecticut, in the spring of 1647. Little is known of her trial, or her, just a jotted note in a couple places. She may have been the wife or daughter of John Younges of Windsor, CT.
CT had just adopted their first capital laws in 1641: Right near the top of the list for capital offenses (above committing a murder) is “If say Man or Woman be a witch, that is, hath er confulteth with a Familiar Spirit, they shall be put to death.” The courts got busy and over the next 20 years they hung 11 people accused of being witches. Years before Salem. Though I am not sure CT should advertise they were the first to believe in and punish witches too loudly.
Now back to could we be accused of being witches? Well, by temperament possibly. Do we say those things to influence the supernatural to harm others? No. But if you are living in the 1600s, good luck proving that!
Wait, what is that about consorting with a Familiar Spirit? Learn more tomorrow in Part Two!
Don’t get too Familiar
Yesterday we came to the conclusion, just by our attitudes and out spoken independent personalities, we probably… might be…accused of being a witch if we were alive in 1600s America. Now I have to add, if you own a cat, your possibility rating just went up a bit.
Keep in mind these villages were small. The scary outside world of unfamiliar forests, weather, and animals were a daily threat to them. They needed to somehow explain failures and weird stuff happening so they fell back on their beliefs that it was caused by evil spirits or the devil influencing someone local. And why not accuse that person you don’t like, or the person who gives you the creeps, or who won’t sell you something you need? It’s middle school to a high degree!
OR, maybe it is the cat that is aloof and independent and slips about in the night, with eyes that can glow in the dark? Yes, that must be the cause of the crops failing, the old woman we don’t like and her cat that is full of evil whispering to her to do harm! The witch and her familiar! Yes, they are to blame!!
Remember the wording of the 1641 Connecticut capital law? “If say Man or Woman be a witch, that is, hath er confulteth with a Familiar Spirit, they shall be put to death.”
Also during that time, William Jones, Deputy Governor of CT wrote on how to detect a witch. Included was this line: “or, if ye party hath entertained a familiar spirit in the form of a mouse, cat, or other visible creature.” (You have to love the old type of wording. Haven’t we cat owners entertained them?)
So how did cats become supernatural creatures and evil influencers? It all started in the 1200s when a Pope tied cats to satanic rituals. This in turn caused cats and especially black cats to be tortured and killed. Did that reduction in cats available to kill rats and mice cause the bubonic plague to run wild? Depends on which source you read. I will say it probably helped, but other animals more than likely carried the plague fleas including people. Thankfully the cats survived, but the myths of them being evil lingered on for several centuries bringing us back to the 1600s.
I can tell you from experience having had a black cat when I was young, they don’t whisper evil and she didn’t influence me to misbehave. I did that all on my own! What she did do was listen to my tales of woe, snuggled me when I needed “a hug” and drove our dog nuts sneaking up on her. I will bet your cat is like that too!
Let’s Get Bewitched!
I have to confess, I was bewitched by the classic TV show “Bewitched.”
Not only was “Samantha Stevens” beautiful and funny, she was a good witch with unlimited powers! With regards to the few good witches in the vintage TV universe, I felt she upstaged Glinda of the Wizard of Oz movie, who I thought was a bit creepy, and Wendy the Little Witch from the Casper cartoon, but was on a likable level as Mary Poppins who I always considered a witch.
The “Bewitched” TV sit-con started in 1964 and had a whole cast of colorful supporting magical characters like Endora, Dr. Bombay, Uncle Arthur, Aunt Clara, Esmeralda, Maurice, and her alter-ego Serena. You can catch them all in reruns on several streaming channels. I dare you not to fall in love with her. In each half hour episode all havoc breaks out until she saves the day with her magic that she promises her bumbling mortal husband to never use again- until the next week’s show. The series was also ahead of its time as it experimented with just emerging special effects.
During the 1970 season they filmed a bunch of episodes in Salem, MA. prompting an increase in tourism. Then in 2005 a bronze statue of “Samantha” in her iconic dainty riding a broom pose was unveiled. A few years later I visited Salem to do research and made a point of visiting her. I was glad I did!
Itsy Bitsy Spider!
Who really likes spiders?? I will tolerate them because they eat the bugs that are annoying. I just don’t want them hanging out near my bed, or over my work desk. When that happens I will be obsessed staring at it, thinking it ’s going to drop down any second and eat my face!!! (shivers)
You can see I am not a fan, but there was one spider who captured my family’s attention in a big way. She was huge, her web magnificent, and she taught us a great deal about adaptation and “the creeps”. Her name was “Diesel” and here is her story….
This is the month of magic and I am including trivia about saints because their stories can be mysterious, powerful, inspirational, and yes, magical.
For Indigenous People’s Day, I would like to talk about St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native-American to be made a saint on Oct. 21, 2012
I “met’ her during a recent trip to Santa Fe, N.M. There is a beautiful bronze statue of her outside the Catherdral Basillica of Saint Francis of Assisi, made by Estella Loretta and dedicated in 2003. I knew nothing about her, but wanted to learn more, so I bought her postcard so I would remember her name.
Several sources state she was born in 1656. Her mother was a Christian Algonquin who was captured by the Iroquois and given to a Mohawk to be his bride. At 4yrs old she contracted smallpox that left her half blind and her face scarred. When she became old enough to be married off, she refused. She was punished by having to do hard labor, which she did without complaint. At age 19 she converted to Catholicism and took a vow of chastity. She was very devout and performed rituals and behaviors her neighbors found odd. Rumors started of sorcery. To avoid accusations and persecution, she walked 200 miles to join a Christian community near Montreal, Canada. There she prayed for her people before dying at the age of 24. Several miracles of healing have been attributed to her and it was reported that after her death her smallpox scars vanished and she glowed.
Son of a Witch!!
Connecticut was the first state to have witch trials. In 1662 Andrew and Mary Sanford went on trial in Hartford, CT. They were both accused of familiarity with the devil and having “preternatural” knowledge and secrets that caused harm to others. There was a judicial process in Hartford that consisted of a few layers of courts, but in the end Andrew was set free and Mary in June was found guilty and committed to death. The fact they had several children didn’t matter. Their oldest child Andrew Jr. was around seventeen years old at the time, the youngest six.
Andrew Sr. after Mary’s death moved to southern CT, remarried, and had more children. Poor Mary would be accused again after her death in Rebecca Greensmith’s witch trial, who stated Mary was one of a group of witches who drank and partied in the woods. Can you blame her for wanting a little me time with that husband and a bunch of kids??
I heard that an actual headstone for Andrew Sanford still existed. In the 1600s and early 1700s headstone were very plain, with maybe a name and date carved into it. It would be a miracle if one existed for Mary seeing she was seen as a witch. She would not be buried with “good folk”.
Now I needed to find this headstone because I doubted as other sources on line doubted, it was actually the man accused of witchcraft but more than likely his and Mary’s son, Andrew Jr. Being a fan of old New England graveyards, I had visited this one before, and it took only a few minutes to locate the headstone. I am constantly amazed how these early stones still exist. My son pointed out.. (yes, haunting old graveyards looking for cool headstones is a family hobby).. if you stand to the side, you can read the writing better. This Andrew Sanford died in August of 1705. Was he really a son-of-a-witch?
What’s Your Spooky Number?
For the longest time I kept seeing the same set of numbers. I would glance at my clock, or phone and it was be 1:11, or 11:11. It happened so often it was starting to weird me out.
Hmm, for the heck of it, let’s look it up.
Well, come to find out seeing the same numbers everywhere, is called Angel Numbers. There are all sorts of websites that tell you what your series of numbers mean. I like what mine are telling me: 111 means growth, prosperity, inspiration, protection, working toward a goal, and that the spiritual world/divine powers are urging me on to follow my passions.
Just like a daily horoscope in the newspaper, these definitions are pretty broad and you can take them anyway you want. Today, I will smile and feel like my Angel Numbers are speaking to me. I have finally carved out the time and given myself permission to put my energy and focus into my passion for writing stories and illustrating them without being weighted down by guilt that I am taking that time away from giving to others. Now that I have done that, my attitude for life is more joyful and positive. So thank you to the universe or my angels for cheering me on! I will keep pushing forward.
Now for something completely different!!
I love medieval history and I love medieval art. That said, some of it is just plain weird. There are examples of old illuminated manuscripts with evil bunnies in the margins doing all sorts of mayhem (they are my favorite). A 14th century one that has circled the internet shows women or nuns collecting/picking phalluses out of trees and putting them into baskets. What the heck?
A century later the horrid German witch hunting guide called the Malleus Maleficarum that resulted in hundreds and hundreds of poor people being accused and executed was written. Supposedly within it are warnings about witches that have the power to steal men’s genitals. They might use magic to make them vanish, or make they hidden, or they can remove them into bird nests where they live off oats. Hmm, sounds like that earlier illumination, huh?
How were judges suppose to assess if that accused witch in front of them had done that? Make all the men in the village drop their pants? Can you image you are foraging in the forest for wild fruit and come across a tree with a witch’s secret stash? Do you run away, or do you pick out the best one to keep as a back up?
If you are like me you laughed at the idea that men back then actually believed a woman was out to steal their genitals and they could eat oats. But they did believe in magic and women could be very magical. They had those monthly bleeds that they did not die from. They could create life, and they had intuition, and their mothers and objects of their desires held strong power over them. So I guess its not a huge leap for them to think that if they put their precious in the wrong woman it might be damaged, broken off or even stolen. But eating oats?? Where did that come from?!
Happy Halloween!! No peeking in nests and guys, wear your codpieces!
Whose Haunting my Park?
There are Many Spooky Cemeteries in the Northeast (and some are not even outdoors!)
When the city of New Haven, CT was young, they used the center of town as their burial ground starting in 1638. As time went by, it got a bit crowded so they decided to close it down in the early 1800s and open the Grove Street Cemetery. Did they move the bodies? Nope! Just the gravestones. They left several thousand bodies buried under what would become the new town green. They are still there. People walk over them everyday. Concerts and special events happen over them all the time.
If you want to get a glimpse of what the old cemetery looked like, visit the Center Church on the Green which was founded in 1639. The 1812 version of the church was built over a portion of the burial ground and they preserved some of the graves and monuments. The basement crypt contains over a hundred identified remains, and close to 1000 that are unidentified. It is quite an interesting and odd little place, with some fine examples of early gravestone art.
Let’s head over to New York City: Many people pass through and enjoy walking around Washington Square unaware that beneath their feet is an old graveyard.
Unlike New Haven, the city used this land as a place to bury the poor and unidentified starting in the late 1700s till the early 1800s in unmarked graves. The original planned capacity was ignored during the yellow fever epidemics of 1797, 1798 and 1801 that killed thousands. Bodies were stacked and with the last wave not just the poor were buried there, but everyone in order to keep them isolated from the public.
In 1825 the land was turned into a public park ignoring what was below their feet. Activities were held there and life went on-above. Out of sight-out of mind, until 1965 when a utility worker stumbled on an underground chamber filled with skeletons. Since then more graves have been found during construction and with archeological digs.
I am sure if you spend some time researching you will find other places where the dead are not resting because their burial sites were reclaimed, such as under highways and airports. As for the New Haven Green and Washington Square, next time you attend a night concert there, keep in mind that being dancing next to you might be a ghost from 1707!
Happy All Hallow’s Eve/ Blessed Samhain!
This spooky article is © Atwood 2022 for Archer Atwood Books. All content and images are copyrighted unless otherwise noted. Please do not use in any form without request of author. Links to our articles, short quotes with credit, and associated links are allowed.
For information on more spooky graveyards check out this article:
Black Cat Illustration is from a 1925 poster by Louis Kalff
“Samantha” illustration is from the 1960s board game “Bewitched”
Postcard purchased at Catherdral Basillica of Saint Francis of Assisi, Santa Fe, NM