Truly Bewitched: Looking back on the Salem Witch Trials (1962)


With spring right around the corner, we look back at the Salem Witch Trials which started at this time in 1692 and try to learn from it.

People usually only pay attention to dark stories of witches during autumn and Halloween, but this time of year marks the anniversary of a very dark period in America’s history. Granted, America has several shameful moments in its past but this one is a great example of hysteria, mob mentality and a blatant grab for land ownership. I am talking about the Salem Witch Trials that spanned many towns and villages in Massachusetts that began in March of 1692 and lasted until May of 1693.

Life in puritan New England was dark and superstitious filled with fear and piety. It’s natural for young children and teens to be curious about the world and the supernatural, but the combination of curiosity and fear of repercussion culminated in a perfect storm that ended in the deaths of 20 people: 14 women and five men by hanging, one man by pressing and at least five more died in jail.

It is theorized that it all started when a group of young girls would meet with a slave named Tituba in the woods. Tituba was possibly originally from Barbados or Central America and she may have known stories of magic, voodoo or the supernatural. Possibly the girls wanted to know these things too, which were forbidden and considered of the devil. The very first girls to begin having fits and attacks were Betty Parris (the daughter of Reverend Samuel Parris) and Abigail Williams (the reverend’s niece).

I use the words possibly or maybe because most of these are theories but seem to make the most sense. There is a chance that Tituba taught nothing to the girls and they investigated the supernatural on their own and used her as a scapegoat. In many theories, in an effort to deflect blame and punishment from themselves for breaking the rules and and discussing “ungodly” things, the girls fabricated a story and behavior to point their fingers at those in town that were easy to blame. Then the other girls joined in and a mass hysteria and mob mentality ensued.

‘Giles Corey of the Salem Farms’ Illustration by John W. Ehninger

It’s also thought that what started as a way to avoid punishment by young girls was then taken advantage of by money and land hungry adults in the towns. If someone wanted your land, well all they had to do was cry witch and all of a sudden your land wasn’t yours anymore. There is another theory, as well.

According to History, science cited a possible biological reason for the fits as more than just farce. Fungus ergot can be found in rye, wheat and other grains can cause similar symptoms to what the girls expressed. Fungus ergot can cause delusions, vomiting and muscle spasms.

More from 1428 Elm

While we would like to think the events that led to so many unnecessary deaths were out of their control, I believe more in the theory that some girls didn’t want to get in trouble and pointed their fingers at the old or the strange and then suddenly, everyone was finding a reason to cry witch. Tituba herself was accused and confessed, giving the name of several others, fueling the flames. Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne were the first accused. Giles Corey, an important member of the church, was the only person pressed to death, asking for more weight instead of confessing to false accusations.

The Salem Witch Trials were home to some disgusting tests, like being looked over naked head to toe to check for a witch’s teat, which could be anything from a mole to a birthmark that was insensitive to touch to make the accused end up at the end of a rope.

Whether it was a food fungus, girls avoiding the fury of their fathers, fear or land grabbing, the Salem Witch Trials are a shameful moment in the history of this country that isn’t much talked about but not forgotten. The reason to remember this period is as an example to what fear and mob mentality can do and how quickly it can tear apart families and lies. We remember to learn about what humans can do to each other and how to avoid it happening again.

dark. Next. The King cast in The Last Kids on Earth

There is so much information out there on this period of history, we highly recommend spending some time to read about it.