Sunday Sermon: The ballad of Giles Corey

On this date, in 1692, Giles Corey died in Salem, Mass., after two days of constant torture, having heavy stones laid on top of him in an attempt to force him to confess to witchcraft. His last words were “more weight.”

This is remarkably similar to a passage in Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses,” except there the victim is a Muslim being forced by Hindus to “confess” to the existence of a multitude of gods. He dies while repeating “one, one, one,” making an indelible impression on the Hindu narrator watching the scene (it must have made an impression on me as well, since I still remember it 20 years after reading it).

And it turns out Corey was used as a character in Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible,” based on the Salem witch trials but also intended as a commentary on the McCarthyist hysteria of the time.

It’s entirely possible that Corey wasn’t acting entirely out of principled opposition to the witch hunt, since his refusal to plead meant he got to keep his estate and pass it on to his family, rather than have it seized by the government. But still, 2 days of religiously inspired torture is a pretty intense thing to be able to stand up to.

I don’t know exactly what all of this means. But it’s worth reflecting on what religious hysteria is capable of doing, and what ordinary individuals are capable of doing in response.

(via Reddit)

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