Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Most Certain, Strange, and True Discovery of a Witch, 1643

Did you know that one time in 1643, some people killed someone for surfing! The story goes like this: some Parliamentarian soldiers are walking along and see a tall woman walking on water (like Jesus? No, not like Jesus at all!), but as she nears the soldiers see that she is actually standing on "a plank overshadowed with a little shallow water." One soldier says that he's heard of men saved by the providence of God after a shipwreck by clinging to broken boards (so God saved this woman from drowning? Wrong, because she's a woman, and is therefore evil). Anyway, they see her give the board a push and she surfs to the shore. It probably looked a lot like this:

The soldiers decide surfing is proof of her witchcraft and satanism, so they all decide to shoot her in a most un-tubular fashion. The men open fire, "but with a deriding and loud laughter at them she caught their bullets in her hands and chew'd them." Now the soldiers are really convinced she's a witch, so one guy walks up and, so he's sure he won't miss, "discharge[s] a pistoll beneath her eare, at which she straight sunk down and dyed, leaving her carcass to the worms," never to hang ten again. Wipeout.

Isn't that a good story? A young surfer persecuted for her thrill-seeking spirit by a bunch of uptight puritans who don't understand the freedom of riding the waves. Then there's a bodacious showdown where the surfer dies for daring to dream. Now is it just me, or has a certain film already mined this 350 year old pamphlet for script ideas?:

Damn you Keanu Reeves! Point Break is so obviously A Most Certain, Strange, and True Discovery of a Witch reworked. Swayze is the witch, Reeves is the doubting soldier, and the giant wave at the end that kills Swayze is intolerance and injustice.

But seriously, I was reading an article by Malcolm Gaskill that discussed this pamphlet briefly, and he tells us all about so-called "witch hunts" carried out by soldiers during the English Civil War. He says that the war "disrupted the civil administration that had done so much to restrict what was admissible as evidence. Worse, people took the law into their own hands. In some regions a military presence had a brutalizing effect, and at least two lynchings of suspected witches by soldiers are recorded for 1643. Everywhere the fact that Parliament was at war with the king ‘gave an entirely unprecedented tangibility to the workings of Satan’, and raised the devil's profile in discourse and debate."
"Witchcraft and Evidence in Early Modern England" (Past & Present 2008 198(1):33-70.)

There you go...surfing was only evidence of witchcraft when roving military bands catch you. Although I don't condone killing surfers, I do feel that white people with dreadlocks who wear stylized floral prints and listen to Jack Johnson are asking for a bullet in the head.