Mather, Increase (1639–1723) and Cotton
Father and son, two eminent divines of Boston, Massachusetts.
The Mathers were among the first to respond to the wave
of skepticism that assaulted Christianity at the end of the seventeenth
century and emerged in the next century as Deism.
Deism denied the possibility of human contact with what had
Mather, Increase Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
traditionally been thought of as the supernatural. Both of the
Mathers wrote books offering evidence of contact with the spiritual
world as an apologetic for Christian faith.
Part of their understanding of the supernatural was supernatural
evil. Witchcraft, which they equated with Satanism, was
one major form taken by supernatural evil, and they saw evidence
of witchcraft both among the Native Americans and
members of the Boston urban community. This caused them to
be seen as believers in the existence of widespread witchcraft
throughout New England. Though counseling some degree of
caution, especially in responding to the unsupported accounts
of people claiming to be afflicted by a witch, they were early
supporters of the inquiries at Salem Village (now Danvers),
Massachusetts, in 1692. In fact, Increase Mather had chosen
the governor, Sir William Phips, who was partly responsible for
the Salem Witchcraft trials. However, as the trials proceeded,
Cotton Mather especially became one of the strong forces arguing
against the litigation. His personal visit with the governor
was of great effect in this endeavor.
In the years immediately after the trials, as the people of
Massachusetts came to see the error of what had occurred, the
Mathers were accused by some of the more skeptical voices in
the community, such as Robert Calef, as the real cause of the
colony’s disgrace. Only in the twentieth century, with the massive
reevaluation of the whole of the witchcraft phenomenon in
New England, has the Mathers’ reputation been somewhat put
into a more balanced perspective.
Calef, Robert. More Wonders of the Invisible World; or, The
Wonders of the Invisible World Display’d in Five Parts. London,
Mather, Cotton. Memorable Provinces, Relating to Witchcraft
and Possessions. Boston, 1689.
———. The Wonders of the Invisible World. Observations as Well
Historical as Theological, upon the Nature, the Number, and the Operations
of the Devil. Boston Benjamin Harris, 1693.
Mather, Increase. Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Provinces.
Boston, 1684.