Salem Witchcraft

The paranoia surrounding witchcraft, which was so familiar in Europe, surfaced in North America, in the form of the infamous Salem Witch Trials. These trials, which took place in colonial Massachusetts from 1692 to 1693, are the only well-known manifestation of the witchcraft in Salem. Therefore, in order to have a true understanding of witchcraft in Salem, it is important to unravel the background to the accusations, the details of the witch hunt and trials, and the aftermath of these trials.

Background To The Accusations

In 1962, Salem’s Reverend Parris’ daughters, and another girl, started having strange fits, which were diagnosed by the doctor as being supernatural. When asked who was putting them through such torment, the girls named: Tituba, the Parris’ house slave, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne. The town of Salem housed Puritans who believed that the devil gave evil powers to certain individuals called witches and that these witches brought another individual under their spell to complete the pact. This explains why the townspeople believed someone was behind the suffering of the girls. Furthermore, economically, Salem’s resources were under a lot of strain due to overpopulation, an epidemic and a harsh winter. This could explain why these three socially and economically disadvantage individuals (a slave, a beggar and an old, poor woman) were specifically accused.

The Details of the Hunt and Trials

When brought before the judges, Tituba was the only one to confess, paving the way for more accusations. The accused ranged from promiscuous women to church members and even included a four year old. The trials resulted in the execution of twenty people. There were five types of evidence included in the trials: the ability to pass a test, physical marks that served as mediums for Satan to enter the body, witness testimony, spectral evidence and a confession. These types of evidence were themselves questionable.

Aftermath of the Trials

When the governor’s own wife was accused, he put an end to the arrests and dissolved the concerned courts. All those who were arrested on charges of witchcraft were released. Many involved in the trials later expressed grief at committing mistakes during the witch hunts. In 1711, a bill was passed aiming to restore the name of those accused, and to give restitution. A formal apology was also given by Massachusetts in 1957.

Hence, the question still remains whether the story of witchcraft in Salem is one of injustice or is in fact a narration of supernatural events. What can be safely concluded, however, is that there were other reasons that fed into the hysteria surrounding witchcraft in Salem and that there were grave errors made by those heading the witch hunts and trials.