Salem Witchcraft Hysteria By Chris Vegliante
In 1692 a small girl fell sick. Her “fits” – convulsions, contortions and outbursts of gibberish – baffled everyone who witnessed them. Other girls soon manifested the same symptoms. Their doctor could make but one diagnosis – WITCHCRAFT. This diagnosis launched a Puritan inquisition that took 25 lives of presumably innocent citizens and frayed the souls of a Massachusetts community known as Salem.
The Puritans were obedient to their beliefs and were always at the ready to be on guard against the devil and his snares.
In October 1691 the Reverend Samuel Paris was chosen as the village minister. Soon the power went to his head and he became something of a tyrant in terms of demands of monetary compensation from his flock. Seeking relief from the tension and pressures her father created among the villagers, Paris’ 9 year old daughter Betty spent a great deal of time listening to tales spun by a slave from the Barbados named Tituba. She and other local children listened intently as she spoke of events to happen in the future.
In February 1692 Betty began having “fits” that defied explanation. So did Abigail Williams and Ann Putnam, two local girls. Doctors and ministers watched in horror as the girls contorted themselves, cowered under chairs and uttered wild, inane ravings. Lacking a natural or medical understanding of the situation the Puritans turned to the supernatural – the girls were labeled “bewitched”. As the anxiety and paranoia began to increase among the townspeople the girls were pressured to tell who was controlling and tormenting them to behave in the strange manor they had been displaying. They named 3 women: Sarah Good, Sarah Osburn and Tituba, all of which could have been categorized as a “misfit” among the villagers. Osburn and Good claimed innocence but Good then pointed to Osburn. Finally, under physical persecution by Reverend Paris, Tituba confessed to being the culprit.
SALEM’S TIME TO KILL: all the more tragic for its theological roots – claimed 25 lives in all. 19 people were hanged at Gallows Hill in 1692 and one, Giles Corn, was tortured to death for refusing to enter either a guilty or not guilty plea upon being tried as a witch. 5 others, including an infant, died in prison.
There were 4 rounds of executions, which progressively deepened the fears of New Englanders as the witchcraft hysteria ran its insane course.
In October 1692, Reverend Mather, president of Harvard College, condemned the use of so-called “spectral evidence”, (circumstantial, often deluded as magical), when sitting in judgement of a suspected witch. Governor Phips of Massachusetts grew disgusted and outraged when the afflicted girls mentioned his own wife. He immediately suspended the special Court of Oyer ha had earlier initiated to hear witchcraft cases. He introduced a new Superior Court of Judicature, which invalidated, officially, spectral evidence. The court condemned only 3 of 56 defendants and they were pardoned with 5 others awaiting execution in prison.
In 1693 the Massachusetts colony observed a day of atonement. It prompted one of the judges to seek public forgiveness for his role in the witch trials. In 1711 restitution was awarded to the heirs of those executed. In 1957, Massachusetts formally apologized again and the city of Salem and the town of Danvers dedicated memorials to the slain “witches” in 1992.
The tragedy of the infamous Salem Witch Trials is replayed in modern times in many situations. We all have heard statements like “ the boss is on a witch hunt” and there is a “herd” effect, both in the family situation and job setting, of individuals not assuming responsibility for their actions. How quickly the finger of judgement is pointed at another, often for reasons of paranoia, fear, self-interest or in hatred. We need to call to mind an age old and simple concept: Fear, paranoia, self doubt, accusing without merit, lying and misrepresentation among many others ALL are manifestations of a dark force that seeks to guide and control our actions and ultimately our lives and futures – The Devil. Ponder and consider the previous statement for a moment: As thinking, intelligent and discerning individuals I suspect that we already know this to be true.