Download Full Text (1.4 MB)
Cotton Mather’s mythic image rests largely on his involvement in the Salem witchcraft debacle (1692–93) and on his Wonders of the Invisible World (1693). The work aims at several purposes. On the one hand, Wonders is New England’s official defense of the court’s verdict and testimony to the power of Satan and his minions; on the other, it is Mather’s contribution to pneumatology, with John Gaul, Matthew Hale, John Dee, William Perkins, Joseph Glanville, and Richard Baxter in the lead. Before Mather excerpts the six most notorious cases of Salem witchcraft, he buttresses his account with the official endorsement of Lt. Governor William Stoughton, with a disquisition on the devil’s machinations described by the best authorities that the subject affords, with a previously delivered sermon at Andover, and with his own experimentations. Mather’s Wonders, however, does not end without a due note of caution. While exposing Satan’s plot to overthrow New England’s churches, Mather also recommends his father’s caveat Cases of Conscience (1693), thus effectively rejecting the use of “spectral evidence” as grounds for conviction and condemning confessions extracted under torture. What ties the various parts together is Mather’s millenarian theme of Christ’s imminence, of which Satan’s plot is the best evidence. Robert Calef ’s accusation that Mather and his ilk incited the hysteria is, perhaps, unfounded, but Calef ’s charge of Mather’s ambidextrous disposition seems warranted. For while Mather defends the court’s verdict and justifies the government’s position, he also voices his great discomfort with the court’s procedure in the matter. Wonders appeared in print just when the trials were halting, but it remains, in his own words, “that reviled Book,” a bane to his name.
Mather, Cotton and Smolinski, Reiner , Editor, "The Wonders of the Invisible World. OBSERVATIONS As well Historical as Theological, upon the NATURE, the NUMBER, and the OPERATIONS of the DEVILS." (2011). Zea E-Books. 4.