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The Salem Witch Trials were heavily driven by the superstition and general paranoia of the populous of Salem, Massachusetts (Gallagher 1). The very fear of witchery drove the town into hysteria, causing them to hang many of their own citizens (Gallagher 1). The people feared the devil working in their town and believed things not ordinary lead to witchery, and by extension, the devil (Gallagher 2).The imagination of the citizens got completely out of hand (Gallagher 2). People were accused of things that could in no way be done by them (Gallagher 3). The people’s accounts became little more than ghost stories (Folklore 21). The superstition of the Salem Witch Trials had its’ origins before Salem, the people were driven by their own paranoia, and the common superstition of New England.
The superstition of witchcraft started with the teachings of the Bible and the early church teachings in Medieval Europe (Linder 1). Since the early days of Moses, witchcraft has been considered a sin punishable by death (Linder 1). The Law of Moses urged that no one should become a true witch and that people who worshipped the devil through witchcraft be put to death, which drove characters such as Reverends Parris and Hale (Linder 1). The word witch is a translation from the Hebrew word “kashaph,” that means and is used as “one who whispers a spell” (Linder 2). Saint Augustine of Hippo, who was a great influence in the early Christian Church, argued that only God could break the laws of nature in the universe (Linder 2). Satan nor witches were capable of using supernatural powers or magic (Linder 3). The late medieval Church accepted St. Augustine’s view and felt no need to track witches or perform investigations (Linder 4). Pope Innocent III begun to attack Cather heretics who believed both God and Satan had supernatural powers and were at war with each other, during 1208 (Linder 5). A Domicican monk named Thomas Aquines presented a case for the existence of God in 1273 (Linder 6). His work, Summa Theologian, became adopted as the Church’s orthodoxy and argued that the world is filled with dangerous demons and evil (Linder 7). Aquines believed demons are not merely seeking their own personal pleasures, they have complete intentions on leading men into temptation (Linder 7).
During the mid-1400’s, many Catharism adherents were fleeing a papel inquisition, which was commenced against them for their alleged heresies, migrated into Germany and the Savoy (Linder 8). Alarming confessions were a production of torture inflicted on the heretical suspected of magical pacts or demon-driven actions (Linder 8).
In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII announced German Satanist were meeting with demons, casting crop destroying spells, and aborting infants (Linder 9). In 1486 Innocents’ friars published Malleus malefiarum (Hammer of Witches), a book that told the tales of women doing satanic spells and acts of witchery (Linder 9). Over the next forty years Malleus was reprinted thirteen times, and would be how the crime of witchery became defined (Linder 10).
The Reformation brought along mass hysteria and mass executions in the early 1500’s (Linder 11). Over the next one hundred-sixty years between fifty and eighty-thousand people were executed (Linder 13).
In 1591 King James married Princess Anne of Denmark (Linder 14). While they both sailed to the location of their marriage, they were each met with almost catastrophic storms (Linder 15). Six Danish women confessed to causing these storms, and James began taking witchcraft more seriously (Linder 15). The largest witch-hunt in the history of France took place in 1643-1645 (Linder 17). The Thirty Years War also commenced witch hunts, along with the already existing slaughter (Linder 18)
In 1682, the senile Temperance Lloyd became the last witch England ever executed (Linder 20). The Enlightment, which started in the late 1680’s, brought along the reasoning that there was no real evidence of witchery and the torture of the accused to force out confessions was inhumane (Linder 19).
It has been argued that the Puritans of northern Massachusetts had something genuine to fear over three centuries ago (Hansen 1). It may have not simply been superstition or paranoia that led the people to charge one hundred forty-six men and women of witchcraft (Hansen 1).
Salem was strictly a Puritan village of stern and self-righteous people who feared the devil and had no tolerance for wrong behavior (Siegel 2). A part of the hysteria may have stemmed from the Indian Wars happening in Maine (Hansen 3). Salem began at a place where there was refugees from the war, but also a culture that believes in the seen as well as the unseen (Hansen 5). It seemed that the residents of Essex County were suffering a crisis of what seemed to be supernatural terrorism (Hansen 5).
Susannah Martin was one of the first accused of being a witch in 1692 (Siegel 2). Though she took the initial accusations in stride, she became heavily insulted by the common indignities of those accused of witchcraft, as we saw with Proctor (Siegel 4-5).
The people of Salem were surrounded by events they did not know how to explain (Hansen 6). Everyone was frightened; neighbors, children, perhaps even the judges (Siegel 7).
The people of Salem were also surrounded by the Indians, who they felt were servants of the devil (Hansen 6). The Indians always knew where to make their move and how to slip away (Hansen 6). One of the main characters, Tituba, was an example of the Indian paranoia (Hansen 7). Despite her portrayal in the book, historical records indicate Tituba was actually an Indian (Hansen 8). She was often referred to as “the Indian woman,” and there is no evidence that she was anything but an Indian (Hansen 8). Which may be why she was the first person accused of being a witch (Hansen 9).
In the case of Betty and Abigail it could be said they were perhaps, at first, afflicted (Hansen 11). They suffered from fits such as the inability to speak or hear on different occasions, and Betty trying to fly or trying to jump onto the fire (Hansen 11).
The actual trials were more like examinations (Hansen 13). They were not Danforth and Hathorne simply asking questions with the “possessed” accusing people (Hansen 13). It was the hole town interrogating them, making the odds of getting out of the accusation next to impossible (Hansen 13).
The Reformation placed heavy stress on the realism of the Devil and the extent of his earthly dominion (Striech 3). The Puritans of New England were well aware of the witch-craze in Europe from the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries, and that it claimed the lives of over half a million people (Striech 3). Puritans view on witchcraft was a literal interpretation from the Bible saying witches could not be allowed to live (Striech 4). They heavily modeled their social structure on the Old Testament covenant system (Striech 4). If one member of the community sinned, everyone was punished (Striech 4).
In 1680, 1682, and 1656 there was an eclipse during each of these years (Streich 4). These three eclipses were perceived as bad omens that warned that the devil was preparing his final onslaught to disrupt the Puritan theocracy (Striech 5).
Peoples Imaginations escaped them (Gallagher 2). Such as when Betty was supposedly seen flying over a man’s barn (Gallagher 2). The citizens began to accuse people of things completely out of the control of the accused, such as Goody Putnam’s infants dying shortly after birth (Gallagher 3).
Every group that settled in New England brought their influences to the region’s multireligious culture (Folklore 1). The folklore of the region stretches back historically to the period of time when dozens of Native American tribes developed and sustained their own linguistic, material, and decorative traditions (Folklore 2).
The Salem witch trials were either a result of mass hysteria , the desires of the power hungry, or any other sort of supernatural phenomenon (Folklore 18). They were held at a time of great uncertainty and fear (Folklore 18). The accusations of the trials were clearly in a time where fear of the supernatural and other inhuman forces dominated most of the New England mentality (Folklore 24).
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