(HOST)Commentator Joe Citro joins us today with a story about an old woman and the difference between witchcraft and predictions.
(CITRO) Recently a friend directed me to a story I’d overlooked in my book about New England curses. It’s of special interest because it makes us consider the difference between a curse and a prediction.
In the early 1800s, in New Hampton, New Hampshire lived a solitary old woman called Granny Hicks.
Her house was surrounded by lovely herb and flower gardens where a variety of birds made their homes. Children loved Granny Hicks. She was gentle, kind, generous, and took great delight in their company.
But she had a mysterious side. She offered little information about her past and family, while her seclusion inspired dark village gossip.
This was over a century after the infamous Salem witch trials. Still, witchcraft belief was very much alive in New England. Exactly why suspicion fell on Granny Hicks is a bit of a mystery.
One day she stopped in town to borrow some yarn from an acquaintance. She was greatly surprised when the woman refused, and turned her away.
The next morning a passing villager saw a woodchuck sitting in the woman’s open doorway. Before nightfall her baby took sick and died. The cause was obvious: Granny Hicks had come as a woodchuck and bewitched the baby.
Fear escalated. People worried about their poultry, their livestock, and their lives.
One night five young men tanked-up on rum, concealed their faces, hiked out to Granny Hicks’s place and burned it down.
Though she begged for mercy the men only laughed and continued their notion of God’s work. As the flames began to subside, Granny climbed onto a stump and, in turn, pointed her finger at each man. In spite of their masks she called them by name and revealed how each would die.
Years later a famous Boston preacher, Dr. A.J. Gordon, studied the lives of those men and declared Granny Hicks’s prophecy – or curse — entirely fulfilled.
Then he speculated about the nature – or supernature – of such occurrences. He said, “There are eternal laws of retribution as sure in their working as the ordinances of the heavens. Who knows but this poor woman’s mind may have struck the deep undercurrent of these laws and obeyed it in her predictions, as the needle yields to the electric stream and points to the pole? And, going still further, who knows that He who is the avenger of the widow and the helpless may not have flashed a ray of superhuman illumination upon this poor soul whom men misnamed a witch. . . , enabling her . . . to discern farther than she could see, and to speak more wisely than she knew?”
This is Joe Citro, wondering if we have analogous situations today…
Novelist Joe Citro is a native Vermonter. He lives in Burlington.
Thanks to Joe Doherty of Sutton, Massachusetts. Information gleaned from NEW HAMPSHIRE FOLK TALES, compiled by Eva Speare.