CAT'S CRADLE (with Peter McLean). 1992.


When the daughters and niece of Samuel Parris, village minister, began their “afflictions”—antics of fits, cho0king, crying, and pretending to be pinched and pricked—they were probably just expanding their games, “sport” and childish copycatting for the benefit of their peers.

This “play” seemed to evolve in frequent meetings with Tituba, a Carib domestic employed in the Parris household. Here she entertained the girls with stories of West Indian magic, charms and enchantments. However, when adults started to observe these activities, and especially one day when the three girls were found cringing, crying and convulsing under chairs in the Parris’s house, the afflicted young girls and women were taken much more seriously.

With Salem’s mounting difficulties and increasing reports of “spectral” appearances throughout the region, observers came to believe the girls’ behaviors were authentic bewitchments. Perceiving the powerful effect of their acting—now more than half serious—on the adults around them, a vicious circle of mounting drama, fear and belief affected all the participants and observers.

The “afflicted” now began pointing out specters in the presence of others, and began “crying out” or naming them whether they were close at hand or at a distance. Specters and witches, witches’ familiars, and the Devil’s troops seemed to be operating everywhere in the environment. What started as a simple child’s charade or a game of cat’s cradle with a few interwoven strings in play became a sweeping hysteria entangling many lives in a deadly set of consequences.