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Christian Shaw's torment

Christian Shaw's torment

Christian Shaw suffering - Christian Shaw suffering  

Christian Shaw was eleven years old when she fell into her illness. Not much is known about her personality, except that she was described as a “respectful and sensible child” in the original Narrative that was drafted after the events of 1697 had taken place. At the beginning of her descent, she was struck dumb, and exhibited various physical symptoms that to bystanders would have appeared unsettling. These ranged from fits leading to paralysis, to bodily contortion, be it her tongue being drawn over her nose or her stomach swelling to an unnatural size. After a while, she became able to speak during these experiences, and her accusations against individuals, beginning with Agnes Naismith and Katherine Campbell, are what sparked the witch hunt itself. She would go on to accuse a number of people in the local area of being responsible for her symptoms.

It was said that she knew when the witches were entering the room as she witnessed doors and windows seeming to open and close of their own accord. She declared that the witches, who were invisible to bystanders, attacked her with great ferocity, while at times she claimed that a benign spiritual presence communicated to her from above. On occasion she conversed with spectral agents in her bedchamber, in front of witnesses. She chided Katherine Campbell on the futility of her pact with the devil at one point. Later on, the devil began to present himself to her, whether in the shape of a pig, a black man, or a finely dressed gentleman. It would seem that he was unhappy with the inefficiency of his witches and sought to conclude proceedings personally.

Many theories have been promoted that attempt to explain her behaviour in what would be termed rational or logical language. These range from her being afflicted by mental and physical health problems, to her merely being a malevolent child with an axe to grind. She was said to be well versed in the Catechism, a source of religious education that covered the basics of the Christian’s relationship with God. This was not unusual for a child of her age, from a well to do family, during this period. She would no doubt have been aware of local folklore that emphasised the reality of witches, and the threat that they posed to the Godly community. She was too young to give legally acceptable evidence at the trial itself, but did communicate regularly with the Commission, who used her to perform certain tests on named suspects in order to determine their guilt. She also spoke regularly with various members of the Commission in relation to the sufferings that she endured.