Lore Report: “Persistence” (Episode 163)

The written language. The light bulb. Space Travel. We people are a lot of things, but persistent is at the top of the list. But every quality has a darker side. Yes, our refusal to give up might have empowered our growth as a species, but it’s also driven us to do things that aren’t as easy to brag about. Because sometimes that persistence has turned us into monsters.

A favorite topic of the Lore podcast is picked up again in Episode 163: the witchcraft trial. Host Aaron Mahnke takes us back to the Massachusetts town of Newbury circa 1680, where a farmer named Caleb Powell (who spoke a little too freely of his knowledge of astrology) was arrested as a wizard. Powell was ultimately spared from execution or imprisonment, but then the woman whose family he supposedly bedeviled, Elizabeth Morse, was herself arrested and put on trial as a suspected witch (during the course of the story, Mahnke also delves into the countermagic practice of nailing a horseshoe above a threshold, and shares the purported origins of such superstitious endeavor). The episode’s overarching theme does feel a bit forced (as is the podcast’s wont), “persistence” here referencing the Newbury community’s commitment to persecution. One also might wish that the discussion of the Marblehead-born prophetess Moll Pitcher (whose history proves richer and more interesting than that of Powell and Morse) wasn’t just shoehorned into the concluding segment. Nevertheless, this anecdote-saturated episode (Mahnke spends little time on historical overview before jumping into the tales) requires no persistent struggle; lore-loving listeners will be eager to follow its narrative path.


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