A long history of research on the witchcraft hysteria in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692 contends that a group of Puritan ministers, including Salem Village’s Samuel Parris, developed and used the witchcraft hysteria in order to boost religiosity and church attendance in an effort to augment corporate and personal wealth. In carrying out this effort, these ministers pitted churched colonists against unchurched colonists, resulting in the wrongful convictions of 20 American colonials. This study argues that it might have ended without the executions of the colonists, and perhaps in even greater corporate wealth for the Puritan church, had Puritanism been receptive to the potential market-pull innovation represented by exorcism. Scrutiny of this proposition through the lens of rational choice theory suggests, however, that exorcism was inferior to executions as a technology choice for the congregant-maximizing Puritan ministers in Salem Village in 1692.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
As Boyer and Nissenbaum (1974: 29) indicate, the Northampton congregation was “ever eager to hear... the words of the minister as they came from his mouth...[and t]he place of resort was... no longer the tavern, but the minister’s house.”.
During the Middle Ages exorcism was associated with the Cult of the Saints, and seen as the “premier miracle” and mark of true sanctity (Bhogal 2015).
As Bhogal (2015: 162) explains, cessationism is based on the idea that miracles were permitted for three main reasons: to demonstrate the power and glory of God, to demonstrate the power and glory of Jesus in order to confirm his status as the Messiah and Son of God, and to aid in the spread and confirmation of the truth of the Gospel. Once the identity of Jesus as the Son of God and the truth of the Gospel had been firmly established, there was no longer any need for miracles because believers live by faith, based on scripture, alone (Bhogal 2015: 162).
As Bhogal (2015: 153) asserts, this controversy highlights the issues that arose at the intersection of demonology and cessationism.
Both sides of this debate accepted the doctrine of cessationism (Bhogal 2015).
Darrell viewed possession as a natural disease and exorcism-based “prayer and fasting” as its ordained remedy because it provided a means of worshipping God and humbling the soul in the face of the affliction (Bhogal 2015: 169).
This episode became known as the “Darrell controversy.”
As Bhogal (2015) indicates, Darrell’s method was based on scriptures found in “Matthew 17:21” and “Mark 9:29,” wherein Jesus proclaimed that “this kind can come out only by prayer and fasting.” Bhogal (2015: 156) also adds that the publicity that Darrell’s activities garnered was in fact integral to their purpose because exorcisms were meant to be public displays of God’s glory and power that exhorted people toward a holier life.
As Bhogal (2015) explains, passage of canon 72 allowed the Church of England to police ministers and deprive any minister who performed exorcisms of his livelihood.
This doctrine meant that one’s admittance into Heaven was determined prior to birth, and, as a result, the Colonial Puritans who inhabited Massachusetts Bay Colony sought to outwardly reflect that they possessed the personal qualities of one who was predestined for Heaven. Such a process required hard work, doing good deeds, having strong faith and attaining Church Covenant membership (Yerby 2008; King and Mixon 2010).
Massachusetts Bay Colony’s Puritan church traditionally followed the practice of conversion relation, through which prospective members of the Puritan church were examined by members of the congregation, a process often described as unpleasant (Mixon 2015; Bridges and Mixon 2020). The Halfway Covenant, on the other hand, allowed prospective members to attain at least partial church membership without a conversion relation (Ahlstrom 1975; Bridges 2014; Mixon 2015; Bridges and Mixon 2020).
See Boyer and Nissenbaum (1974) for the origins of this assertion.
See also Weisman (1984).
Starkey (1963) indicates that spectral evidence was the acceptance by the court of dreams, hallucinations and fancy as factual evidence, not of the accuser’s psychological condition, but of the actions and behavior of the accused.
One of Ekelund et al.’s (1992b: 7) final observations regarding demand considerations in the emergence of Purgatory is that innovations, when they arise, come in clusters. The “cluster effect” was evident in medieval Roman Catholicism given that no fewer than three interrelated doctrinal innovations—Purgatory, indulgences, and auricular confession—emerged within a relatively brief span of time during the thirteenth century. Interestingly, had the Puritan church allowed for the practice of exorcism in the middle of the seventeenth century, a small cluster of doctrinal innovations would, given the acceptance of the Halfway Covenant, have arisen in a relatively brief span of time.
One could also argue that Massachusetts Bay Colony’s founding as a religious state offers even stronger evidence in support of the point that the Puritan church operated within a legal/institutional environment that permitted it to protect its doctrine as a rent-yielding asset.
As Starkey (1963: 19–24) asserts, once the girls’ afflictions had been relegated from the physical world to the spiritual world wherein the doctors where helpless, the responsibility for their treatment was thrust upon the Puritan ministry.
According to Leeson and Russ (2018: 2069), religious beliefs often facilitated criminal justice in medieval Europe, while ritual-purity beliefs have promoted social order in American gypsy communities (see Leeson 2013b) and witchcraft and divination beliefs have resolved conflict between neighbors in early twentieth-century Africa (see Leeson and Coyne 2012).
Similarly, Leeson (2012a: 193) argues that medieval clerics used maledictions—“fulminating their foes, humiliating saints, and casting calamitous curses”—in order to protect their property against incursion when and where government and traditional forms self-protection were ineffective. Relatedly, a contemporaneous study by Leeson (2012b) asserts that the use in criminal proceedings of clergy-conducted physical tests known as “ordeals” leveraged the medieval superstition of iudicium Dei (i.e., judgments of God) in order to separate the guilty from the innocent. The manipulation of these ordeals by medieval clergy worked to exonerate the innocent, while the guilty would, based on their belief in iudicium Dei, be expected to confess (Leeson 2012b).
See also Ellsberg (1997).
See also Faber (1970).
See also Crawford (1970).
See also Bremer (1995).
See also Bremer (1995).
See also Roach (2002).
In the case of Biblical scriptures, the ministers availed themselves of the argument that if someone fearing a witch (Satan) sought protection, it is not logically consistent to consider a witch (Satan) as a source of that protection (King and Mixon 2010: 681).
See also Blumberg (2007).
See Leeson (2012b) for a deeper discussion about how priests manipulated ordeals in a way that produced a separating equilibrium.
The subject of spectral evidence fell under the expertise of Puritan ministers, who published papers and books on how to deal with witchcraft accusations (Mixon 2015).
Ahlstrom, S. (1975). A religious history of the American people. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Bhogal, H. (2015). Miracles, cessationism, and demonic possession: The Darrell controversy and the parameters of preternature in early Modern English Demonology. Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural,4, 152–180.
Blumberg, J. (2007, October 23) A brief history of the Salem witch trials: One town’s strange journey from Paranoia to Pardon. Smithsonian Magazine. SmithsonianMag.com.
Boyer, P., & Nissenbaum, S. (1974). Salem possessed: The social origins of witchcraft. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Bremer, F. J. (1995). The Puritan Experiment: New England Society from Bradford to Edwards. Hanover: University Press of New England.
Bridges, R. S., III. (2014). This fire of contention: Factional conflict in Salem Village after 1692. The Gettysburg Historical Journal,13, 7–25.
Bridges, R. S., III, & Mixon, F. G., Jr. (2020). The economics of conversion and salvation: an examination of puritanism’s halfway covenant.Forum for Social Economics (in press).
Craker, W. D. (1997). Spectral evidence, non-spectral acts of witchcraft, and confession at Salem in 1692. The Historical Journal,40, 331–358.
Crawford, D. (1970). Four women in a violent time. New York, NY: Crown Publishers.
Deacon, J., & Walker, J. (1601). Dialogical discourses of spirits and devils, declaring their proper essence. Cambridge, MA: Academic Press.
Demos, J. P. (1982). Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the culture of early New England. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Ekelund, R. B., Jr., Anderson, G. M., Hébert, R. F., & Tollison, R. D. (1992a). The crusades: A monopoly-interest group interpretation. European Journal of Economic History,21, 339–363.
Ekelund, R. B., Jr., Hébert, R. F., & Tollison, R. D. (1989). An Economic model of the medieval catholic church: Usury as a form of rent seeking. Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization,5, 307–331.
Ekelund, R. B., Jr., Hébert, R. F., & Tollison, R. D. (1992b). The economics of sin and redemption: Purgatory as a market-pull innovation? Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization,19, 1–15.
Ekelund, R. B., Jr., Hébert, R. F., & Tollison, R. D. (2002). An economic analysis of the protestant reformation. Journal of Political Economy, 110, 646–671.
Ekelund, R. B., Jr., Hébert, R. F., & Tollison, R. D. (2005). Adam smith on religion and market structure. History of Political Economy,37, 647–660.
Ekelund, R. B., Jr., Hébert, R. F., & Tollison, R. D. (2006). The marketplace of christianity. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Ekelund, R. B., Jr., & Tollison, R. D. (2011). Economic origins of roman christianity. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Ekelund, R. B., Jr., Tollison, R. D., Anderson, G. M., Hébert, R. F., & Davidson, A. B. (1996). Sacred trust: The medieval trust as an economic firm. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Ellsberg, R. (1997). All saints: Daily reflections of saints, prophets, and witnesses for our time. NewYork, NY: Crossroad Publishing Company.
Faber, D. (1970). Anne Hutchinson. Champaign, IL: Garrard Publishing.
Gomes, P. J. (2002). Anne Hutchinson: Brief life of harvard’s ‘midwife’, 1595–1643. Harvard Magazine,105, 32.
Gragg, L. (1992). The Salem witch crisis. New York, NY: Praeger.
Kamien, M. I., & Schwartz, N. L. (1982). Market structure and innovation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
King, E. W., & Mixon, F. G., Jr. (2010). Religiosity and the political economy of the Salem witch trials. The Social Science Journal,47, 678–688.
Kreutter, S. (2012). The devil’s specter: Spectral evidence and the Salem witchcraft crisis. The Spectrum: A Scholar’s Day Journal,2, 1–27.
Leeson, P. T. (2012a). ‘God Damn’: The law and economics of monastic malediction. Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization,30, 193–216.
Leeson, P. T. (2012b). Ordeals. Journal of Law and Economics,55, 691–714.
Leeson, P. T. (2013a). Vermin trials. Journal of Law and Economics,56, 811–836.
Leeson, P. T. (2013b). Gypsy law. Public Choice,155, 273–292.
Leeson, P. T., & Coyne, C. J. (2012). Sassywood. Journal of Comparative Economics,40, 608–620.
Leeson, P. T., & Russ, J. W. (2018). Witch trials. The Economic Journal,128, 2066–2105.
Levin, D. (1960). What happened in Salem?. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace and World.
Lockridge, K. A. (1967). The history of a Puritan church 1637–1736. The New England Quarterly,40, 399–424.
Middlemore, M. (1934). The treatment of bewitchment in a Puritan community. International Journal of Psychoanalysis,15, 41–58.
Mixon, F. G., Jr. (2000). Homo economicus and the Salem witch trials. Journal of Economic Education,31, 179–184.
Mixon, F. G., Jr. (2005). Weather and the Salem witch trials. Journal of Economic Perspectives,19, 241–242.
Mixon, F. G., Jr. (2015). Public choice economics and the Salem witchcraft hysteria. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Mixon, F. G., Jr., & Upadhyaya, K. P. (2018). Quality choice and product differentiation in monopoly theory: An application to the Puritan church. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion,57, 173–182.
Pelikan, J. (1984). The Christian tradition: Reformation of Church and Dogma, 1300–1700. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Ray, B. C. (2008). The geography of witchcraft accusations in 1692 Salem Village. William and Mary Quarterly,65, 449–478.
Ray, B. C., et al. (2008). The Salem witch trials documentary archive and transcription project. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia.
Roach, M. K. (2002). The Salem witch trials. Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing.
Rosenberg, N. (1976). Perspectives on technology. London, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Shaw, J. (2006). Miracles in enlightenment England. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Starkey, M. L. (1963). The devil in Massachusetts. Chicago, IL: Time-Life Books.
Weisman, R. (1984). Witchcraft, magic, and religion in 17th-century Massachusetts. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.
Werking, R. H. (1972). Reformation is our only preservation: Cotton Mather and Salem witchcraft. The William and Mary Quarterly,29, 281–290.
Yerby, L. (2008). The Salem witch trials. Cypress College. (Unpublished manuscript)
The authors thank two anonymous referees, Tobin Grant and Alain Marciano for many helpful comments and suggestions on a prior version. The usual caveat applies.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
Mixon, F.G., Upadhyaya, K.P. The economics of Puritanism’s treatment of bewitchment: exorcism as a potential market-pull innovation?. Eur J Law Econ (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10657-020-09659-1
- Market-pull innovation
- Rational choice theory
- Public choice theory
- Witch trials
- Economics of religion