Young Goodman Brown and the Perception of Witchcraft Then and Now

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The Perception of Witchcraft Then and Now
Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown was set in the seventeenth century when witchcraft was considered a wholly evil practice that would send the practitioner directly to hell. This sets the stage for the story as Young Goodman Brown meets with the devil in a dark forest and attends what is described as a meeting of the damned where fires blaze and people stand around talking and singing. One might wonder what would happen if Young Goodman Brown found himself in our world today. Witchcraft is no longer considered a soul-endangering, ticket to hell, but is now mainstream entertainment for our children.

The first and most obvious way witchcraft has changed is in the way it is portrayed. In the time of Young Goodman Brown witchcraft is cloaked in scary things like a “canopy of fire” (4), and a hollowed out alter that contained “water, reddened by the lurid light, or was it blood” (5). Today witchcraft is viewed much differently, mostly thanks to J.K. Rowling. Her series of books, Harry Potter, center on a young wizard and his coming of age. Young witches go off to a boarding school in a completely different realm to learn their art. They have are taught that there is good and bad, and that they should err on the side of good. Another very important concept is that the witches in J.K. Rowlings books are not humans that follow Satan attempting to corrupt all other humans; they are just kids that happen to have magical tendencies. In contrast, the witches in Young Goodman Brown are people that have made a conscious decision to follow Satan and use him to “penetrate, in every bosom, the deep mystery of sin” (4).

The second reason we see witchcraft so differently today can also be attributed to the Harry Potter books—education. In the seventeenth century children were taught to read from the bible. All of the blood, wrath, and exciting things they could imagine came from the bible. Today children are taught to read from...
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