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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Tituba: Our Lady of Conjure

Tituba: A Brief History 

History remembers Tituba as a slave-woman owned by Rev. Samuel Parris. Though she has been described as an Indian, a Negro, or both court records from that time describe her as “Indian woman, servant”. Little is known about her early life except that she hailed from South America where lived in an Arawak Village from which she was captured and taken to Barbados as a slave. As a teenager, she was purchased in Barbados by Samuel Parris who brought her to Boston in 1680 and later to Salem.

In early 1692, two girls named Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams began to exhibit strange behavior that could not be explained or diagnosed by medical science at the time. Doctors eventually declared that their condition was caused by the Devil himself. The Reverend Parris conducted a prayer service in hopes of banishing the evil that he believed had come to Salem to torment the girls.

Though some sources have claimed that Tituba practiced Voodoo which she taught to the girls of Salem in the form of fortune-telling or doll-magic, no sources from the Salem Witch Trials make any such reference. However, it is known that Tituba, along with her husband, John Indian, and a woman named Mary Sibley baked a “witch cake” using rye meal and the urine of the two girls which they fed to a dog. This was done in order to attempt to reveal the identities of the witches who had afflicted Elizabeth and Abigail. Under pressure to name their tormentors, the girls accused Tituba, Sarah Goode, and Sarah Osborn.

Sarah Goode and Sarah Osborn maintained their innocence. At first, Tituba denied practicing witchcraft but later confessed under pain of torture of having spoken with the Devil, traveled on sticks to various places, and seeing various familiars in the form of black dogs, hogs, red cats, a wolf, and a yellow bird.  She also maintained that a cabal of witches were living in and acting against the populace of Salem, inadvertently sparking the witch-craze that lead to the Salem Witch Trails of 1692.

After Tituba’s confession the isolated behavior exhibited by Elizabeth and Abigail became an epidemic resulting in many more townsfolk finding themselves on the wrong side of an accusing finger. They went on to label many others as witches, many of whom were subsequently tortured, tried, and executed; before which, like Tituba herself, named other supposed witches repeating the cycle of accusation, torture, and confessions.

In spite of confessing to what was, at the time, a capitol offense punishable by death Tituba inexplicably avoided both a trial and execution. As the trials went on, she recanted her confession saying that she had lied to protect herself, but it did little to improve her situation. She endured in jail for a year as Reverend Parris refused to pay for the cost of her imprisonment. Eventually, she was released when an unknown individual paid her fine and spirited her away from Salem Village after which she seems to fade into history.

Tituba: Our Lady of Conjure 

Despite the facts of her trial, the historical Tituba has grown into an almost mythological figure. Today many folks see her as the link between Hoodoo and Witchcraft --and by extension Wicca as well. In addition to her own image, that of her husband John Indian can often be found on her altar. This dovetails beautifully with the Wiccan idea that the divine often takes on both male and female form. That being said, I am in no way suggesting that Tituba and John Indian are Gods but rather are two very powerful spirits.

Her altar consists of the four elemental tools associated with Modern-Wicca (the wand, cup, athame, and pentacle), as well as Tarot Cards, Poppets, a crystal ball, incense, candles etc.... In our temple, her altar also holds an obsidian egg on its own stand as Tituba is thought to have taught the practice of divination by eggs. However, ritual divination is often performed on the temple altar by cracking eggs in a clear glass of water and reading the signs. Finally, whether is is love, prosperity, health, protection, justice, divination, cleansing, or crossing, or road-opening.... Tituba's altar encompasses all petitions.  

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