The Salem witch trials Essay started in 1692 resulted in 19 executions and 150 accusations of
witchcraft. This is one of the historical events almost everyone has heard of. It is a topic that is
talked about, and can be seen as controversial. A quote by Laurie Carlson shows just how
controversial the topic can be. “(A) character myth is certainly what the witch hunts in Europe
and Salem have become, though they have more basis in fact than most myths.
The stories of
the witch hunts are character myths for our time, to be told by feminists, left-wing intellectuals,
and lawyers for President Clinton, each taking what he or she needs from the story, adding or
The trials began because three young girls, Betty Parris, Abigail Williams, and Ann
Putnam began having hysterical fits after being caught engaging in forbidden fortune telling.
That’s right fortune telling, not dancing naked in the woods like the story has been told to many
times (2). The fortune telling occurred because they were trying to find out what type of men
they were going to marry. Betty Parris’ father was a reverend of the town on Salem,
Massachusetts. The Reverend, Samuel Parris called in senior authorities to determine if the
girls’ affliction was caused by witchcraft. Although Betty was sent away fairly soon, and did not
participate in the trials, the remaining two girls were joined by other young and old women in
staging public demonstrations of their affliction when in the presence of accused “witches”.
The events in Salem have been used as a theme in many literary works. Anthropologists
also take interest in these writings because they display some of the characteristics of village
witchcraft as well as some of the features of the European witch craze. Many commentators
have seen the Salem witch craze as the last outbreak of the European witch craze which was
transported to North America. As in African and new Guinea villages, the original accusations
in Salem were made against people who the accusers had reason to resent or fear. Moreover, the
first few of the accused fit the definition of “marginal” persons likely to arouse suspicion.
However, as in Europe, the accusations spread, and soon encompassed people not involved in
any of Salem’s grudges or problems.
As in Europe, there was a belief that the accused were in
Supposed “experts” went out to do “scientific” studies to diagnose witchcraft.
Interestingly, during the colonial period in Africa, just after WWII, there was a number of witch
finding movements in Africa that closely resembled the Salem episode. Typically in these witch
finding movements, the witch finders would come in from outside a village and claim to be able
to rid the village of all of it’s witchcraft. At this period there was great dislocation, with people
moving around because of government employment, suitable farmland, and many other causes.
Some people were improving their economic status as a result of these change, and others ended
up being worse off. Whereas in the past, everyone in a location had followed the same religion,
people were now exposed to Christianity and the local religions of people who had moved to
their region, or whose regions they had moved to.
In the cities of central and Southern Africa,
many local religions and Christian sects could be found, as well as Islam. Belief in witchcraft
tended to unite people across religious differences. Frenzies increased throughout time, people
began to be accused who had not aroused any particular jealousies, possibly because they
possessed a peculiar looking item which might be said to contain magical medicine. These
crazes tended to die down, at least after considerable conflict and property damage, and the
witch finders would then move on to the next town. As witchcraft accusations still occurred in
the areas, we can conclude that the movements did not get rid of witches forever.
Witch Trials 4
There have been three basic approaches taken to the analysis of the Salem witch trials.
Scholars have sought psychological and biological explanations for the symptoms displayed by
the bewitched girls. Sexual repression in Puritan New England, the low status of women,
especially young women, in the community and the .