In the popular mind there exists a lot of confusion between witchcraft and Satanism, but they have no connection. Witches don't believe in the existence of an evil being, like Christians and Satanists do with a Devil, rather they believe in energies which can be used for good and bad ends. But there is still the fear that witches take part in Satanic rites involving weird things with children.
People could and did make a lot of money out of accusations of witchcraft, as as soon as you were arrested on a charge of witchcraft, all your goods were forfeit. In the film, you saw very clearly that Thomas Putnam was aiding in the accusation of some of his neighbours just so he could take their land.
The way the film depicted the persecution was also pretty realistic: a group of respected lawyers coming into the community to try and put it into some kind of order. This would have actually happened, as the church in the 17th century was by no means established, and any kind of female waywardness was seen by outsiders as dangerous and threatening. To have women killed on the basis that they were colluding with the devil was an easy way of imposing order.
The people who were accused of witchcraft in real life were those who were viewed as unorthodox, and in the main they were older women and odd men. It's gender-related hatred. If women are older and uglier they are not considered important in the great patriarchal scheme of things.
But things are different between older men and adolescent girls, as the film showed very well. There's something about old men getting all misty eyed about young girls. They want to see them as chaste and innocent, but of course they're not; they're as wicked as anybody.
Elizabeth Brooke is a writer who also describes herself as a white witch. Her latest novel, 'A February Cuckoo' (Women's Press, pounds 6.99), is out now. Interview by Nick Taylor.