Good and Evil Through the Eyes of Cotton Mather

Essay by femmefatale27College, UndergraduateA+, November 2004

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As a descendant of two of the most influential Puritan colonists in Massachusetts and son of a very accomplished political and religious leader, Cotton Mather was raised to follow in his family's footsteps. He graduated at age sixteen from Harvard College, where his father, Increase Mather, was president. He later went on to become the pastor of Old North Church, a position his father had previously held for many years. At this point, however, the similarities between Cotton Mather and his father ended. Cotton both supported and participated in Salem's witch trials while his father could not fathom his defense of such an "embarrassment." His views, however, were not entirely seen as unorthodox. On the contrary, many shared the same idea. Common belief amongst Seventeenth-century Puritans was that of the concreteness of G-d, Satan's power on Earth, and their influence in the outcome of earthly events. Whether it be through freak hailstorms or the conjuration of demons and succubi, the existence of "Good and Evil" was quite evident in the world.

Like Cotton Mather, many Puritan ministers of his generation began to see a "gradual abatement of religious fervor" and spiritual decline amongst the Puritans in the late 17th century (495). This was primarily an effect of political and religious upheavals within the British Empire that resulted in Great Britain's interest in stripping the Boston leadership of its charted powers. In an awesome religious maneuver, the Puritan ministers made an attempt to recover from this spiritual decline after seeing the afflictions of their community as "the signs of G-d's displeasure (496)." Women in Salem had already begun to be tried for witchcraft by the 1690's and the Native Americans continued to fight against Protestant oppression.

Mather used the Indian wars and the witch trials to produce a set of...