“Pressed” to Death–Giles Corey and Fascination

Halloween is my favorite holiday; always has been.  And I’m pretty interested in Colonial American history, so you can imagine how excited I was to go to Salem, Massachusetts.  That was six or seven years ago, but I’m still intrigued by everything that transpired there.

I was recently reminded of the Giles Corey character from Arthur Miller‘s play The Crucible, which dramatizes the Salem Witchcraft Trials (but really sends-up McCarthyism).  As I so often do, I went on a wild Wikipedia chase starting with Giles Corey and ending up 45 minutes later in some dark corner of the Internet that I didn’t know existed.  But the story of ol’ Giles is pretty interesting on its own.

  • Giles Corey, a successful farmer and member of the church, was accused of “fascination” by three Salem residents
  • He didn’t plead either way, so by law at the time he couldn’t be tried
  • He was laid prone with a board atop his body to hold heavy stones as they were placed one at a time until he confessed (a judicial coercion technique called “pressing”)
  • He never confessed, and died asking for more stones


Pretty interesting, no?  What I like the most is the charge of “fascination.”  It turns out the word comes from the Latin fascinare, which means “to bewitch.”  How fascinating!  (Sorry.)  At the time, fascination was a condition characterized by the loss of faculties as if in a submissive trance.  Like hypnosis.  Corey was said to have the power to enchant the townsfolk, captivating them with fascination–mesmerizing them with

“Witchcraft of the eyes, or words . . . to so compel men that they are no longer free, nor of sane understanding.”  (Lewis Spence, An Encyclopedia of Occultism)

Many things fascinate me, though I never think of it in these terms.  Nowadays, it’s a pretty nice compliment to hear that a speech or presentation I give is fascinating.  In fact, I’d like to be more fascinating, so long as nobody mistakes me for a warlock.  There are many roadblocks on the way to becoming fascinating, though.  Chief among them: information overload.

Some days I feel like I’m taking in way too much information for any single piece to matter, or to stick.  Between the Internet, TV, music, billboards, cell phones, and all the conversations, there are so many interesting things going on around me that it’s hard for something to stick out and fascinate me.  Fascination involves, by definition, dedicated focus to a person, object or idea to the exclusion of all others.

What’s more, I think I like to be fascinated.  I spent last weekend at a cabin in Northern Minnesota with two close friends, and we had a wood-burning fireplace in the main room.  (You can see where this is heading, right?)  I could have stared at that fire for hours without noticing the time.  Fire fascinates me.  And fascination can control me.

So I’m pledging to be more aware of the effects of fascination in my daily life.  Some marketing messages hit me just the right way, for instance, and probably result in behavior I wouldn’t otherwise exhibit (buying a new cell phone when I don’t need one, for instance).  If I can increase my awareness, I can countermand it’s effects.  And maybe I’ll learn a thing or two about how to use fascination myself.

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2 responses to ““Pressed” to Death–Giles Corey and Fascination

  1. You’ve really lost it this time…………i like it.
    One of my favorite quotes by Warhol, “the world fascinates me”. You hit the mark when you describe how fascination can lead to epiphanies. (I think that’s what you meant). Anyways, interesting post!

    • Ooh — that’s a good quote from a fascinating man. I just found a book called . . . . wait for it . . . “Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation” that I ordered. I’ll let you know if it’s a good read.

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