Mercy Riot, by Kelly Grieve [Catechize #8]

Salem Witch Trials Increase and Cotton Mather

In the late 1600’s, a young girl, not older than 12, lived at home with her family in Maine. They were suddenly attacked one day by the Wabanaki Indians and most were slaughtered with the exceptions of the young girl and a sibling, whom she was parted from. The girl was then taken into the care of a local reverend who had been civil and traded with the Wabanaki at one time. He himself relocated to escape the wars and ended up taking the girl under his employ, as a servant for him, to Massachusetts. For one reason or another he was unable to continue taking care of her and she wound up in a household, one with yet another reverend who had close ties to the family.

The young girl tried to resume having a normal life, but the threat of war remained. Only 25 miles away from the town she relocated to more raids were happening, and upon hearing this the girl became terrified and at times literally, physically petrified. Nowhere was safe anymore. Her family had been killed. She was devastated; and on top of that she attended church regularly, where she came to feel not only afraid of life in the physical sense, but also the spiritual one. There seemed to be no sanctuary left. Everywhere she went she could not escape fear campaigns. In her mind it never ceased. She could feel the vacuous emptiness where the love and safety of her family used to be. It was hard to hold it in from everyone. She would be extremely restless in her sleep and have nightmares. Since she did not sleep alone, she would unintentionally disturb and awaken a girl named Ann, close in age to herself, in bed at night. Ann was distraught and concerned by this so she would try to comfort or at least understand her friend’s plight. It was difficult to avoid as Ann lived with her; attended the same perturbing church sermons and was also anxious of the impending wars. She didn’t wish to, but the girl was obligated as a bunk mate to share with Ann the horrors of her family’s massacre just so as to explain and validate her extreme emotional, unpredictable, and sometimes irrational behavior. She felt so very helpless and unsafe and no one seemed to understand, until she told Ann.

Within the society of the late 1600’s, anything beyond the realm of normal was construed as threat on a grand scale to the community. Today our culture can be oppressive in some of its “set” ways and be capable of dismissive and cruel judgments. Our society is still only waking up to acknowledge that the impact of psychological trauma can be as crippling as physical injury. In the age of Puritan reign, there were no psychotherapists, there was no Xanax and there was no compassion for a person cursed with a mental disorder. That person was either labeled insane or bewitched.

At this point, I disclose that the victimized little girl’s name was Mercy. In some documents her name had been written “Marcy” as well. The consensus has, over time, come to refer to her commonly as Mercy Lewis and her roommate as Ann Putnam.

It may be impossible to ever know if the girls conspired, collaborated or just ad-libbed what happened next, but my suspicion is that Mercy was even more afraid of being labeled insane, discounted or ignored. Having already suffered through the traumatic ordeal of her family being murdered, Mercy became triggered. She entered into such a state of helpless fear that it could no longer be kept secret. Her pain was severe and her torment of mind either unavoidable or so alarming that along with her friends, Ann became incited herself and started panicking. Perhaps they even agreed to fall into a terror together, feeling a greater safety in their shared friendship to confess their uncontrollable distress.

It may have never been talked about back then but speaking in the present day, being a person with episodes of severe anxiety myself, I have been in so much mental pain before that the physical state I am in becomes unmatched and it feels better to reconcile it with the application of physical pain, so I strike myself. A close friend of mine used to cut herself on her feet so others would not see her doing it. I am not comfortable with breaking skin, so if I am to match the emotional state with the physical one, it is done by hitting the skin with an electrical cord only until the endorphins begin to work, then it is stopped. For some reason, the chemical change will not occur only psychologically. There must be a physical threat for the body to wake up and send its chemical rescue remedies out into the bloodstream. Knowing this, I imagine Mercy’s agony and also recall the account of another young girl from the court trials, reportedly being stabbed – sources say having stabbed herself – by a knitting needle or something of that nature and bleeding in the courtroom; blaming the accused. I’ve felt so helpless and desperate to escape both my physical and emotional environment that I would self-harm to either chemically endure it or express it outwardly as a plea to others to save me from my suffering. Mercy was definitely there. She was that terrified and traumatized. It is said that she would “fall silent for hours” which heavily suggests that she might have landed upon the spectrum of a depressive or traumatic stress disorder; potentially even manic depression as she had the energy to provoke and rouse others in the courtroom. This is something that I, in a strictly depressed phase, am not ever inclined to initiate.

Mercy and possibly others may have engaged in these acts of self-harm, citing any potential self-inflicted wounds as the work of a “specter”; one “pricking and pinching (them) most grievously.” Using their injuries as evidence to prove the guilt of the accused. It’s merely a theory but in a time of crisis and rampant fear-mongering, adding the pressure of religious strangulation could bring anyone to the breaking point. I remind readers that combined pious and manic conditions did precisely that and tragically “strangled” those targeted by it.

Let us never permit the evasion of classism’s effect on these most dreadful of occasions. The utmost pervasive and endless war of them all: elitism versus poverty. The bourgeois and the proletariat. In this scene, where Mercy initially felt utterly disempowered, the credibility bestowed upon her once she surrendered to the chaos and pandemonium of fear instilled within her a contaminated power. She could indeed decide the fates of others and herself. Not only that, her maelstrom could bring upheaval to government. The Salem witch trials had begun. The show was on and she could sway the winds of the judicial system in whatever direction she chose to take them. She had an omnipotent authority now, greater than any house of worship. She was imbued with an evil spirit. A servant turned lackey in the dominion of the devil and now she could point HER finger and strike fear into the hearts of all those “holier than thou” if she so wished. So, with that bonus, after setting into motion and culling the momentum to bring about the elimination of six men and fourteen women, including my 9th great aunt, Sarah Averill Wildes, hanged at 65-years-old. Mercy showed none and those who had jumped on the bandwagon of rampant persecution with her began to mark the prominent and wealthy in high positions. It wasn’t until this point that the madness was terminated. Even the influential minister, Cotton Mather came to watch the hangings, coaxing on the murders even with the victims recitations of the Lord’s prayer upon the gallows which authentic witches weren’t supposed to be able to utter. The sickly blood lust was shared by those who held prestigious titles and persons who were presumed to be guided by exalted rational authority – members of the court. It took Cotton’s father Increase to publish a piece denouncing the use of spectral evidence saying, “It were better that ten suspected witches should escape than that one innocent person should be condemned.” to arrest this epic tragedy from continuing.

The saddest part of this story is that were Mercy shown the proper care, compassion, attention and empathy without guilt or judgment, all these lives may never have been lost. I can’t pretend to know the excruciating trauma she was exposed to but I can look deep into her story and see, through the eyes of an empath, a person who might have felt just like I do today. Misunderstood, lost, stigmatized, lonely, desperate, unempowered and ultimately shunned had she not found a way to turn what might have been her undoing weakness into what dismally became her, albeit cataclysmic, advantage. Her determination to be spared from becoming an exile compelled her to pull off quite the performance. Imagine the insurmountable misery it took to carry that on for months on end watching others die just to spare your own life. Truly a potent illustration to exhibit in gruesome candor “the survival of the fittest”.

The prevailing epidemic of mental disorder that chokes our country must be validated and authenticated. This way of life is decommissioning humanity by psychologically incapacitating the populace. Our citizens are becoming destitute, dreamless and shutting down. I see this every day in the eyes of my beloved millennial companion. The light is fading. It will take another and a more catastrophic event to blast the resigned and comatose boomers out of their cocoons of consumerism to realize that the pursuit of happiness is going extinct for their children. Will they even care since they’ll be dead in a few years anyway? Their offspring can only hope that they will. I watch more and more people in their third decades seemingly too despondent to want children as it takes every ounce of their energy and spirit to stabilize themselves independently. Next generation be damned; our weathered youth can’t handle the financial burden of nurturing new life, which explains the declining birth rate. They’re too preoccupied now being torn between saving the environment and getting trashed to know what the hell its all for.

The U.S. calls it “mental illness”. From a shamanic point of view our Western culture discounts “the birth of a healer”. The spirits and ancestors are ignored. At least in puritan times, a person like Mercy could be legitimized in some respect through the spirit realm, if only they hadn’t been corrupted by single minded authoritarian concepts of divinity. Mercy could have been a healer attempting to be born and because our sorrowful species has an image over substance bottom line they don’t recognize and completely denounce a genuine spiritual transformation. The shamans regard the way we sedate and institutionalize our “healers attempting to be born” as a “total loss” and claim that “it is the overload of the culture they’re in that is just wrecking them.” They refer to our society as: “frenetic, bombarding and violent.” These quotes are cited by an article in titled “What A Shaman Sees In A Mental Hospital” by Stephanie Marohn. The Shaman observes that heavy dosing prevents the integration and reception of energies, blocking the growth and development of the soul from merging the world of the spirit with their community.

A reprehensible amount of the people I know are regularly medicated because life simply ISN’T GOOD. It’s to the point that people think I’d be a better person drugged up then I would be sober. So that I could be “functional” for a profit-centric nation that’s truly become the realm of the zombies. Don’t like tyranny, they’ll drug you and send you back into the trenches where we’ll do what they say only because they said it; not because we have a calling or are inspired to carry out our birthright or purpose but because they want you to shut up and put up with a world that exploited them and now that they’ve died inside, they simply don’t have the heart to care what happens to their legacy. Follow your dreams has been replaced by swallow your nightmares. I bid you goodnight prozac nation. May you be so blitzed that you stop dreaming entirely and “if this dog do you bite, soon as out of your bed, take a hair of the tail the next day.” Because what they mean by dreams is your financial means and the trophy you become that they can display. We need another Mercy riot in this lifetime. I hope to live to witness it with my own eyes and be there to see my child’s smile and relief when the witch hunt of loving life is over.

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