First Congregational Church
164 Deer Hill Ave.
Danbury, CT 06810
Phone:(203) 744-6177

Beyond Halloween

Witch trial lessons that transformed our church.

Posted October 22, 2020)Reverend Pat Kriss

“From Ghoulies and Ghoosties, long-leggety Beasties, and Things that go Bump in the Night, Good Lord, deliver us!” --- from an English Prayer

It’s the time of the year when each day seems to bring less and less light, and that prompts our minds turn to darker things. Halloween is actually a contraction of All Hallows Eve, referring to November first, when our churches celebrate our departed, sainted members. But of the images of Halloween in American culture, none stands out with more regularity than the image of the Witch. 

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'Owning' the Salem Witch Trials

Now, most of us, when we think of witches, are automatically drawn to 1692’s Salem Witch Trials. And the truth must be told by us Congregationalists.

When it comes to the sheer awfulness of injustice, torture and death that defined the Salem Witch Trials, we all OWN IT. Yes, we are the direct spiritual descendants of the Puritans and Pilgrims who sought to come to this continent to escape religious persecution. But as soon as they arrived, they began to persecute those who were different from them. And, because local government was completely based in the Puritan Church, every accusation of sin that was tried in court, was decided by the church, and then the punishments executed by the church. Our own gathered congregation came into existence just four years after the sin of Salem.

Witch Trials in Connecticut

Did you know that it wasn’t the Massachusetts Puritans who first persecuted people it branded as witches, but right here in Connecticut? Puritan Connecticut made witchcraft a crime in Connecticut in 1642, declaring, “If any man or woman be a witch – that is, hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit – they shall be put to death.”

More often than not, the accused were women, viewed as second class citizens– mainly poor women, single mothers, widows women over the age of 40, and living on the edge of society. Their communities often viewed older women as having no purpose. If they had land or money and there was no man to protect them, the town leadership might want to seize their assets as their own if they were considered sinful consorts of the devil.

The first woman to be hanged was Alys Young of Windsor, followed by Mary Johnson of Wethersfield, and not long after that Mary Knapp, not far from us in Fairfield, Connecticut. In all, Connecticut accused over 40 people and killed 11 of them in the name of “saintliness.” Even in the 19th century, one woman here in Danbury who lived on Town Hill, was viewed by the townsfolk to be a witch.

Lessons That Transformed Our Church

Even though centuries have elapsed, the ironic thing is that even today we humans seem to deal with uncertainty by having to identify someone as an enemy – you might say, creating a “witch” out of those who live or think differently than us. This Sunday we will explore the lessons we’ve learned as a denomination that transformed the rigid Puritans into our open and affirming church of today. 


First Congregational Church
164 Deer Hill Ave.
Danbury, CT 06810
Est. 1696

Phone: (203) 744-6177

Office Hours:
Monday Closed
Tuesday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Wednesday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Thursday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Friday Closed

Thrift Shop Hours:
Saturday 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.

Sunday Worship:
Sunday   10:00 a.m.–11 a.m.


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