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Honoring an Ancestor

So today, on Samhain, I’ve been reminded of my longstanding sense of connection to Ann Putnam the younger, the second-youngest of the “afflicted girls” of Salem Village, and probably the most persuasive of all those who accused innocent men and women of witchcraft.
Ann Putnam, today, this day that is sacred to those of my religion, I claim you as
Howard Pyle: 1893
ancestor to my spirit. May your heart have found peace and your spirit, wisdom.
I realize this is an odd choice of an ancestor for a Wiccan to honor. Here’s why: the way that I view reincarnation is that we hold within us a part of the spirit of everyone who has lived before us. I hold within me, then, seeds of the greatest kindness and the most horrible cruelty of all humanity. This is who I am: in potential, at least, I am the same as the best and the worst of us.

In honoring the spirit of Ann Putnam, I honor that truth–and also the truth that, when we find ourselves in the wrong, we can choose to recognize that, and to change. Ann Putnam held no greater darkness within her than any of us, but she did terrible things. Men and women died because of her delusions. But what I honor in her spirit is this: She was the only one, out of the whole mad pack of accusers, ever to accept the guilt for what she had done, and to ask forgiveness of the surviving families and of God. And this in a day when women were so marginalized that she wasn’t even allowed to read her own apology in church: she had to recruit a man to do it for her.

That’s the heritage I hope to live up to. When I am wrong, I hope to admit it, to own it, and to ask forgiveness. Even when I am deeply ashamed. And even if I am the only one willing to speak the truth. I have within me the seeds of cruelty and indifference, and of compassion and integrity.
Like Ann, I hope that in the end, I choose rightly which seeds to nurture.

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