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A Month of Reflection

January 2023 is a month of reflection

All of us need a break from work every so often. I had the opportunity to go to Berlin, Germany for a few days to refresh and get a new perspective on life. I contemplated until the last minute, but in the end I am so glad that I did.

Berlin is a complicated city that reminded me of Salem in the presence of open wounds from the past that are still healing.  Both cities offer an opportunity to learn, grow and find spaces to think. They teach us that we have to remember the past in order to create a better future.

Both cities are also profound examples of how easy it is to look the other way and the catastrophe that happens when we stop questioning the reality that is presented to us. It happened in 1692 and it happened in 1939. At both moments in history, there were signs that were ignored and horrific events followed. Researchers refer to it as “group think”, when we think as one and forget to think for ourselves.

There are signs around the world that, if we are not careful, similar extreme movements are poised to take over. As we continue to develop THE LAST WITCH, I want to make sure that the film offers an opportunity for all of us to consider what questions we need to ask of ourselves and our leaders, and what actions we need to take individually and as a group to protect all of our human rights. We need to take the lead from Carrie LaPierre and her students and stand for humanity.

Be sure to follow us on social media this month to learn more about Elizabeth’s harrowing journey this month, 331 years ago and consider her experience is reflected in current events today.

Annika Hylmö, Ph.D.

Writer/Director THE LAST WITCH

January 11, 1693, the day that Elizabeth Johnson Jr's judgment fell - she would forever be marked as a "detestable witch". She was one of three accused that would be the last to be convicted after a fiery storm of accusations and executions that reverberate to this day. The other two were Sarah Wardwell, who had lost her husband to the gallows the previous fall, and Mary Post.

It is surmised that she protested her case in January but given that Elizabeth had confessed to witchcraft in September, 1692, it is not surprising that, as middle school teacher Carrie LaPierre says, she had everything going against her. Elizabeth pled not guilty at the hearing, but in doing so she reversed her previous plea that was entered four months earlier.

Elizabeth had given testimony against herself indicating that she had indeed entered a covenant with the Devil and had brought evidence in the form of poppets, her would be black magic tools. She had accused a number of other people of witchcraft in addition to the numerous people who testified against her. As far as a legal case goes, all the evidence pointed against her. Then as now, the court was not likely to change its mind even if she now presented a different story.

Elizabeth was found guilty of the crimes of covenanting with the devil and of witchcraft by a jury of powerful townsmen who turned her over to the Keeper of the Gaol to be dealt with in accordance of the law - the death penalty.

The Innocence Project and False Confessions estimate that around a quarter of those exonerated by DNA analysis in modern times had given a false confession. Many of them were interrogated for extended periods of time and/or had insufficient support. The fact that Elizabeth did not have anyone speaking for her during her trial weighted heavily for the middle school students who worked to persuade the Massachusetts legislature to exonerate her.

You can read the conviction of Elizabeth Johnson Jr in its full form HERE.


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