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The Salem Witch Trials

A friend and I recently visited Salem, Massachusetts. I have taken an interest in the Salem witch trials, and after having read several books and numerous articles on the topic, I wanted to go find my way through their journey. Sue arrived at our Airbnb wearing a T-shirt that read, “We are the granddaughters of the witches you couldn’t burn.” Aside from the fact that no one was burned (they were hung, fourteen women during one summer 330 years ago), they also weren’t witches, never were, never will be. But in my mind, they were great leaders.

As part of the inner circle of Her Circle Leadership, my friend, colleague, and mentor Leslie Grossman and I sometimes debate the definition of “leader,” and I wonder why we even need the term. Why do people strive to be leaders, let alone great ones? In my (possibly messed-up) mind, the great leaders I admire never thought of themselves as such. They were simply on their own personal journeys, driven by their goals and beliefs, toward all they wanted to accomplish. Because of their brilliance, and their resultant good fortune, others were eager to go along for the ride. And so the leaders led. It’s not the specific traits of a leader that I aspire to have, but rather, a passion that puts me on a pathway that might be of interest to others … or not. Either way is fine by me. And so, back to the accused witches: These fourteen women were hanged from the gallows, with angry mobs spurring on their executioner. Not one of them was guilty. They were so entirely innocent, in fact, that a few decades later, the government apologized to their families and paid them restitution for the insanity of it all.

All of these women were leaders, if you ask me. Every single one of them, even when offered to be set free if she admitted her guilt in practicing witchcraft, stood tall and refused to admit to something she hadn’t done. Here are some of the statements these brave women uttered as they stood, waiting to hang:

“For my life lies now in your hands.” “If I would confess, I should save my life.” “Oh Lord, help me!” “I am wholly innocent of such wickedness.” “God knows I am innocent.” “I do plead not guilty.” “On my dying day, I am no witch.”

They were not willing to bend. Each was on her own course, not desiring to lead the others, but to respect her own journey. Her own innocence. Her own core values. Her own religious freedom. Her own sense of right and wrong. Perhaps knowing the other women were standing firm in their resolve to die rather than play the game of the incensed men who couldn’t make them bend gave each woman the strength to stand tall in her refusal to confess to an untruth. Today, we know the men were terribly disconcerted by the women’s courage and determination. We know the women stood together — leaders, all, if you ask me.

Later, in 1706, when the government offered an apology, the majority of those responsible for that summer of terror and assault remained silent. It was only the youngest accuser, Ann Putnam — the 12-year-old daughter of the pastor who everyone disliked and feared — who came forward and said, “I desire to be humbled before God. It was a great delusion of Satan that deceived me in that sad time. I did not do it out of anger, malice, or ill will.” Some believe Ann’s parents put her up to being an accuser, but either way, she was the only one of those responsible with the courage to stand up and hold herself accountable. Here is my takeaway: Live your life striving toward your goals, filled with your own individual core values. Work hard, very hard, and welcome into your life brilliant people who will add the tools you might not yet possess. You will come to find others watching you, emulating you, following you as you become successful. The only person one truly leads is oneself, but when we do so, and we stay the course, we are formidable. I am grateful to have met through books and other readings these leaders of that summer so many years ago. I have added some of their incredible skills to my toolbox. They are now part of my village that supports my goals and quests for greatness. Choose your posse carefully, fellow women, and then lead yourself.

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Footnote: When I sent this post to Sue for her approval before I used her name, she sent the following response. "Of course it’s fine. and I love article ... except... witches are healers, seers, clairvoyants, meditators and leaders of their covens. I am their granddaughter and proud of the witch that I am. We are not sorcerers or deliverers of evil as the church would make us out to be. But matriarchs of the YIN energy that is needed on this planet.


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