Witches in The Scarlet Letter

Topics: Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, New Testament Pages: 5 (2000 words) Published: April 3, 2014
 Many of today’s classics are read without consulting the backgrounds that the author used to write the novel. This may then cause interpretations of a certain subject or symbol of the novel. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter’s case, this touchy subject is witchcraft. The theme of witchcraft is carefully woven into the fabric of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. The introductory includes an appeal by the author to remove any witch’s curses on his family. Once he takes readers back to the Boston of the 1640's, he frequently hints about the cohorts of the "Black Man", who symbolizes the devil (Hawthorne 271) and abides in the woods beyond the town. But if the reader understands the classical meaning of the word witchcraft such as used in the Bible and other classical works, then it is understood that Hawthorne had something more in mind than sad cultists like Mistress Hibbins. The real witch of The Scarlet Letter is a far more sinister character whose personality Hawthorne uses to makes a significant statement about the nature of man. There is little to none question that Hawthorne was aware of the Biblical and classical views of witchcraft. He has researched both the rules and lifestyles of the Puritans and the types and uses witchcraft; he would have also known of the Bible's use of the term. The prescribed course at Bowdoin College in Hawthorne's day "included a heavy concentration in Greek and Latin” (Mellow 29). In 1821, the year Hawthorne enters college, admission requirements included knowledge of the Greek New Testament, and Greek and Latin writings made up half the curriculum until the senior year (Bradley 14-15). Stories such as his “Tanglewood Tales” and “Wonder-Book for Boys and Girls” show that Hawthorne knew The Metamorphoses, a Latin narrative poem by Ovid that chronicles the history and myths of the world (Levin 351). The Scarlet Letter itself contains at least one allusion to a story from The Metamorphoses as seen by the mention of Cadmus and the dragon's teeth (Hawthorne The American 71). Hawthorne noted the connection between heartless evil and herb-medicine a number of times in his work including "Rappacini's Daughter," "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment," "The Birthmark," and his unfinished “Elixir of Life” or “Dolliver Romance” (McFarland Pennell 5-7). It appears to be one of the most common motifs in his work. The view on witchcraft that Hawthorne has is based on the Greek New Testament. However, witchcraft is not a popular subject in the Bible. In fact, it appears only once in the King James New Testament and sorcery is mentioned twice in Galatians 5:20 and Revelation 9:21 and 18:23. The Greek word used in all three cases is ‘pharmakeia’, derived from the word ‘pharmakon’ or drug, the source of the English word pharmacy and its cognates (Bagster 227). The standard Koine Greek-English Lexicon translates the word as "sorcery" or "magic," but its cognate "sorcerer" (pharmakous) used in Revelation 21:8 and 22:15 is translated into “mixer of poisons" as well as "magician". The root of both words, pharmakon, literally means "poison" or "drug"(Arndt & Gingrich 861-862). A few key Old Testament passages about witches which are often associated with the Puritans such as Exodus 22:18 ("Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” – KJV) use ‘pharmakous’ in the Septuagint – the word translated as “sorcerer” in Revelation 21:8 and 22:15.The Greek New Testament and the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Scriptures use different words such as mageia, "magic", when referring to other types of occult practices, like calling on spirits or using curses. In English, such words are usually translated as "wizard," "necromancer", or some other appropriate word or phrase (Arndt & Gingrich 458). Because of the Greek word chosen in each case, it appears that the New Testament authors and Septuagint translators understands the idea of witchcraft in terms of the use of drugs or poisons. The ‘real witch’ of The Scarlet...
Continue Reading

Please join StudyMode to read the full document

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

  • Essay about The Scarlet Letter
  • Essay on Scarlet Letter
  • The Scarlet Letter Essay
  • Scarlet Letter Essay
  • Scarlet Letter Essay
  • Scarlet Letter Essay
  • The Scarlet Letter Essay
  • Scarlet Letter Essay

Become a StudyMode Member

Sign Up - It's Free