Catherine Brekus assesses the “reality” of witchcraft in early modern America.
In the popular imagination, Salem is a place where there actually were witches who were practising witchcraft. We have no evidence that this was in fact the case. It seems likely that in a culture that believed in the reality of witchcraft, that there may have been a few people who tried to practise it, and it is true that a lot of Puritans were using sort of magical or what we could call occult practices to try to predict the future. But we don’t have any evidence that people identified themselves as witches, that there were actually any gatherings of people who described themselves as witches. And yet Salem, I think, has made an industry out of selling themselves as a place where witches actually lived and tried to practise their witchcraft.