1692 Salem Witch Trials
When it comes to the topic of the Salem Witch Trials, most of us will agree that Mass Hysteria is a cause that’s most probable. In other words explaining how it was easy for a whole village to go completely insane all at once blaming their neighbors for crimes of witchcraft. Whereas some are convinced that the cause for the witch trials was Ergo a fungi that grew in the villages’ food supply, Others even maintain that a social issue was the catalyst that resulted in the disastrous events of the Salem Witch Trials. The many causes of the witch trials show that there is no definite answer as to why many people started turning against each other. I happen to agree that a social Issue was the reason why this absurdity lasted so long. Salem before the witch trials technically wasn’t steady, there was a swirl of tension among the people. A social issue depicts a probable cause on why the trials were instigated, with many factors, such as Salem before the witch trials, the feuds in Salem, the role of the church in their society, and the role authority had on their decisions.
New Beginnings of Puritan Society. The puritans originally came to the New World with the purpose of finding a haven that would allow them to be pure, and be cleansed from the sinful Church of England. There Ten Commandments served as the optimum of all things strict, with no reason of arguments to be allowed against them. In 1684 New England lost it charter therefore forcefully allowing new people who weren’t part of the puritan congregation into their territory. The new charter shattered their dreams of being to themselves away from all that was corrupt. That winter in 1692, the crops couldn’t withstand the cold dying, and people started to get sick. An article in the Humanists depicts “Cotton Mather, one of the colony’s most respected clerics, noted that rising incidence of suicide among the faithful, while contemporary sermons were filled with references to the Day of Judgment”. The article also assert that Salem Village was a section of, Salem Town, which was beside but the relationships of these places was strenuous. The author of the article also illustrates how the villagers perceived the woods around them as the devils’ haven (The Women’s Holocaust). Before the witch trials began in Salem, Salem began to be more secular from the rest of New England, cutting themselves off from the rest of the world. Doing that tension began to arise among the villagers, thus feuds began mostly those centered on the church, with the reverend Parris right in the middle. Things form, losing a charter, disease, dead crops, feuds, and suicides all were happening in Massachusetts. The events prior to the Salem Witch Trials show that, Salem was not in a place of serenity. The witch trials wasn’t something that shocked their quiet society, it just fed off all the tension.
Influence of Church on Puritan Society.The Church, in Puritan society was basically like our government, parents, family, police, and our authority figures all wrapped in one. The church was respected and feared among the people, and the clergy were at the top of the social pyramid. An Article in the Humanists illustrates a perfect image of the churches’ role in their society “almost every aspect of an individual’s life was closely regulated by church dogma…. Games, dancing, social, gathering, and physical recreation were all forbidden as evil practices” (The Women’s Holocaust). The church in Salem was a theocracy; there was no separation between church and state. The church played a vital role in what happened in the witch trials its authoritative figure made people believe that what it was doing, was correct.
Disunity in Salem.In the book Enigmatic Event, the author’s claim that feuds in Salem were centering on Pariss, who was the chief reverend in Salem village. While one side agreed and wanted him to stay, there were others that wanted to kick the reverend out. The author believe that this disagreement in the village was a significant link to the accusation taking place in the Salem Witch Trials (Blackwood 13). In Arthur Miller’s Crucible Parris speaks about his suspicions aloud
“Parris: There is a party in this church. I am not blind; there is a faction and a party.
Proctor: Against you?
Putnam: Against him and all authority!
Proctor: Why then I must find it and join it. There is shock among the others.
Rebecca: He does not mean that.
Putnam: He confessed it now!”(31)
Millers gives an insight of the towns dynamic, showing how there are people who don’t like the idea that he’s reverend. Millers also show how others are behind Parris a hundred percent, like Thomas Putnam, showing the breakdown of the village. These different sides’ people are on added with their desire’s results in them accusing innocent people like Rebecca Nurse.
Beginning of the Witch Trials.In 1692, Betty Parris along with her cousin, Abigail became ill, they would start twitching, and acting delusional shouting from feelings of being pinched by something. It didn’t stop they’re soon their friends, and children around the same age from 9-17 were starting experience similar symptoms. Jim McAllister a Salem historian notes in an interview “You know they would go into these trances, they would crawl around on their hands and knees and bark and whimper like animals. Eventually they would run around the house; and a lot of times they would just do it whenever there was a crowd around” (McAllister).The local physician William Briggs didn’t have any other explanation for what was happening to the girls except witchcraft, and with that all hell broke loose. Fear was soon injected in the town, with the girls having the most dosage. Soon the village wanted answers as to why witchcraft was rampant in their wake. The girls supplied them with the answer first blaming Tituba. They also blamed Sarah good, who was a beggar, and Sarah Osbourne who was rumored to having relations with an indentured servant.
The Accused .They first aimed at the people who no one would miss, but with the church listening to their every word. Then soon, others joined claiming others of being witches too. May that year 75 people were arrested, with more people on the way. Only a few people spoke out about how absurd it was to listen to children, one was Martha Corey. The authors of this article emphasize the power these girls had “(m) artha Corey drew attention to herself by showing skepticism about the accusations and was accused and hanged.” (Freidman, Howie). With the accusation you notice that group conformity is happening. The villagers were conforming to this ideology of witches being among them, and then they joined in and began to accuse others themselves. “For every individual who flees for refuge into the crowd, and so flees in cowardice from being an individual…, such a man contributes his own share of cowardliness to the cowardliness we know as the crowd” (Kiergagaard) . Kiegagaard demonstrates in that passage how the whole town contributed to the hysteria, because each individual fled for refuge, thus turning on one another, and joining the crowd. The Salem Witch Trials you had two groups the crowd and the accused, because even the people who spoke against the acts were considered witches. Mary Warren in The Crucible defines group conformity, in how she suddenly turns against John Proctor, fleeing to the crowd. In history Mary Warren, was 20 years old, and also stated having the symptoms, and John Proctor beat her because of it. Mary Warren later confirmed that John Proctor was witch, after Abigail Williams and Mary Walcott accused him. As you see people accused people, for revenge, the Salem witch trials was an excuse for oppressed people to have their voices heard.
Thomas Putnam’s Role in Trials. Thomas Putnam and his family were the third generation Putnams in Salem; Thomas Putnam owned a lot of land around the village and Essex. His daughter Anne Putnam Jr. was one of the girls who caught the symptoms of bewitchment. Thomas plays a role in the accusations from the start. He was one of the few men who went to the court and collectively complain on their children’s behalf. Putnam began send in letters to the judges thanking them, for the actions in helping the village from witchcraft. In one letter he says “was grievously tormented by witches, threatening that she should be pressed to death, before Giles Cory.” Putnam complains how witchcraft is still reigning in the village and how daughter is a victim to it. Putnam just kept on adding onto the flame, accusing up to 122 people by the end of the witch trials. In Arthur Miller’s Crucible Putnam’s motives for accusing all those people was to gain more land Miller portrayed him as a greedy man who used the accusations as an excuse to acquire new land. Thomas Putnam’s partner in the accusations, Anne Putnam Jr. was one the afflicted girl her father and her accused so many people. She even stuck pins in herself and blamed it on others. Later on Anne Putnam’s made a statement saying she was “deluded by the devil”. This was certainly an act of diffusion of responsibility, blaming all the lies, and the lives she ruined on the devil, and this act diffusion of responsibility doesnt all happen to her it happens when everyone in the village thinks there justification to hanging people.
Scott Millgram connection to Witch Trials. Scott Millgram experiment in 1947, wanted to test the negative effect authority has on people. He had two groups one that was the teacher the other the student. The student was strapped to a chair in a different room getting electric shocks whenever they answered a question wrong. The teacher would administer the shocks in another room with a researcher right behind them who represented the authority figure that would make them administer electric shocks. What teacher didn’t know was that they didn’t really strap the student. He wanted to see how far a person would go to kill someone, because another person told him to. The girls in Salem were of ages 9-17 and would have been easily persuaded to accuse people. Jim Mcallister notes that “Well, the girls didn’t do all the accusing. You know, they got started, they got the ball rolling, and then all of these other people, many of them with political agendas” (McAllister). In Millgrams experiment, the results showed that most of the population would go as far as kill someone because, an authority figure told them to. At a young age, we tend to listen to our parent until we reach adolescence. These girls were kids who were very impressionable, and could be easily persuaded by people. Their parents represent that authority figure, especially in the case with Anne Putnam Jr., her father and her were at the center of the accused, accusing most people. This experiment also shows the role the churched played with villages, because the church predominantly seen as an authority figure for the villagers all of them listened to the church and accused more people, they did not see any wrongs in the deaths that were occurring around them. Scotts Millgrams experiment shows how in the Salem Witch Trials authority swayed both the girls and the villagers in their decisions between right and wrong.
The Salem witch trials happened because people decided to ignore the unsettling feeling they got, and listen to others; they based their opinions mostly on the afflicted girls. Social issues in Salem before and during the witch trials resulted in people finding it okay to put people to death. Although the other causes, such mass hysteria happened it was just over exaggerated because people were accusing based on their own agendas. Those disputes further led to people bashfully exerting their hatred in the form of accusations. The Salem witch trials are merely a reflection, on how no matter what we do, drawing lines on maps and secluding ourselves to our own territories. These things lead to concrete ideals, which disrupt the relationship between fiction and reality.
“The ‘Women’s Holocaust’.” The Humanist 52.5 (1992): 5. ProQuest. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.
Alvarez, Kate. “Anne Putnam Jr.” Salem Witch Trials Notable Persons. University of Virginia, Sept. 2006. Web. 06 Dec. 2013.
Freidman, Susan H., and Andrew Howie. “Salem Witchcraft and Lessons for Contemporary Forensic Psychiatry.” Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law Online. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law, 1 June 2013. Web. 09 Dec. 2013.
INTERVIEW: HISTORIAN JIM MCALLISTER TALKS ABOUT MASS HYSTERIA SURROUNDING THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS. Washington, D.C.: National Public Radio, 2000. ProQuest. Web. 9 Dec. 2013.
Miller, Arthur. The Crucible (Penguin Classics). London: Penguin Classics, 2003
Svitil, Kathy. “Clues and Evidence.” PBS. PBS, 22 Aug. 2002. Web. 06 Dec. 2013.