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The Roots of the Salem Trials Essay

Witches have always been one of the most popular characters in fairy tales. They characters who are described as those dressed in black, sports long unkempt hair, and flies around in broomsticks. There are even times when they are depicted as ugly-looking women. Although they are typically the antagonists, they remain as favorites especially during the Halloween. There are even some people of this generation who claim that they are genuine witches who are knowledgeable of the black art. They dress like witches, and act like ones as well.

It may even be considered as an already popular trend among the youth, which is generally accepted by the public (Purkiss 145). However, there had been a time when witches had to hide their true identities or risk being condemned to death. In 1692, there had been a series of trials, which aimed to find witches and bring them to death for the culture that they are practicing. Local magistrates raided towns looking for alleged witches or people practicing witchcraft. Whoever was caught and proven to be a practicing witch were hanged. About a hundred and fifty people died during that trial and conviction period.

To this day, despite the numerous studies done relative to this incident, the main reason for the sudden search for and condemnation of “so-called” witches remains vague (Linder n. p). Witchcraft and Witches During the olden times when people fall ill, there is not much medicine that may be provided. Capsules, tablets and suspensions are still non-existent and people resort to medicinal herbs or plants. Mostly the people who grow these kinds of plants and know how to use them properly are women. These women with healing capability were considered witches.

They are the town’s healers whom people easily turned to in order to get well (English 1). While this may point that witches are largely accepted by the public, it does not necessarily indicate that there are no negative gossips spreading around about them. One of the most common beliefs is that the ability of these women to heal was something that they have earned from making a pact with the devil. This pact is said to have granted them enormous powers, making them of different nature than ordinary people. It grants them the capacity to fly on broomsticks or any other means.

It is also known to enable them to speak with animals, making animals like bats and cats their constant consorts. It is also said that as the power enabled them to heal people, it can also cause or bring illness on anyone that they wish to hurt. As such, doubts on witches were as rampant as beliefs (English 4). During the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, the doubts on female witches intensified through a series of witch-hunting and condemnation done in Europe. From Germany to England, women who are allegedly pointed as witches were taken by authorities, tried and then punished with or without proper pieces of evidence.

They were tortured to tell of other witches and afterwards killed in the most barbarous manner (English 5-7). No one was able to oppose the said movement as it was both the state and the church which were behind it. Even though people were troubled by the increasing number of executions, there were no means to stop the movement. By the fifteenth and sixteenth century, there were already thousands of recorded executions, averaging to six hundred killings per day. In Germany, there was even an instance when nine hundred were tried and executed in the same year.

The disturbing part however, was that most of those dead were women, known to be the town’s or the city’s healer. It left some towns with only one or two women alive (English 5-7). Salem Story Other than the popular witch-hunting and witch-burning events in Europe during the middle ages, there is another event concerning witches that marked history. In the year 1692, the seeming quietness of life in Salem Village in Essex County Massachusetts was disturbed when nineteen men and women were carted to a barren slope near the Village to be hanged.

As it was in the medieval times, they were accused of being witches and were punished for inflicting injury to members of the village (Wilson 22-24). It was said to have begun with an illness that hit Betty Parris, the daughter of one of the popular townsfolk in those times. She was said to have exuded symptoms like dashing about, diving under furniture, contorted pain, and she complained of fever. Doctors who treated her could not decipher the cause of this strange illness. Then William Girggs came along (Wilson 22-24).

William Griggs is a doctor who was hired to look after Betty Parris and Ann Putnam, who was then found to have been evincing the same symptoms as the Parris child. It happened that before he stepped into the story, he was able to read a book by Cotton Mather which described an Irish washerwoman in Boston who is suspected of witchcraft. The woman’s victim in the book was found to be showing the symptoms that the little girls were having. As such, the doctor immediately concluded that the girls’ cases were of supernatural nature (Wilson 22-24).

It was not hard to believe Griggs’s conclusion as soon after the Parris and Putnam girls, some more of their playmates were found with the same strange illness. One of the neighbors then suggested that since it was caused by magic, there is a possibility that counter-magic may work to cure the girls. However, rather than thanking the people who made efforts to help the girls with counter-magic, they were even accused of being the ones who caused it (Wilson 22-24). Soon arrests were done and trials against the suspected witches were begun. The first one in the list who was arrested and tried was Tituba, a servant in the Parris household.

Another is Sarah Good, who was a beggar, and the third is Sarah Osbourne, who was a quarrelsome member of the village folks (Wilson 22-24). From this it may be found that the reason behind the series of Salem trials, which were found to have killed numerous residents of the said village and other villages near by, is the illness that have struck the children of the place and the conclusion that it has something to do with the super natural. While others completely believed this, others remained skeptical. Unexplored Grounds As mentioned, there are others who remained skeptical about the given reasons of the Salem series of trials.

The death toll was too high for witchcraft to be the main reason. Although this was the reason that was entertained, there may be other grounds that remained unexplored. For instance, the medical aspect of the event was not given due attention. It may be remembered that as the event in Salem is occurring, witch-hunting and witch-burning was also occurring in its mother country, England. Many women who are knowledgeable of curing people were accused of getting the knowledge from the devil, and thus were sent to their deaths. In this same period, the field of medicine was starting to flourish (English 3).

Since the witches were then the most popular healing and curing folks, it may have been that in order for professional medicine to have a successful entry, the witches had to be eliminated. The professionals had to be the only ones to be patronized in order for it to grow as a field in the society. Also, the trials and burning had to be done in order for the medical profession to be the only trusted source of information about illnesses (English 3). ` Another reason that may be pointed in the series of trials in Salem is that the events had a discriminatory nature. It is an action by a ruling class towards another class.

It is typically a battle between the high class and the peasant population of the women (English 5). It may be remembered that in the story of the beginning of the Salem trial, the first ones who were accused and taken to trial was an Indian servant, a peasant girl, and a woman who was quarrelsome. In addition, the group who was behind the accusation was children of upper class families, even daughters of two politically popular men (Wilson 22-24). From this, it may be derived that there had really been some form of discrimination. In addition, there had not been any person in the trial who was not of lower class.

It seemed that the main influence on the jury was the status of the alleged witches. This may be because the members of the jury of the trial in Salem were all members of good upper class families, people who were trusted due to their lineage and their influence on the people (Linder n. p). Conclusion From the following information it may be found that the series of trials that occurred in Salem was an extension of the occurring witch-hunting and witch-burning that was happening in Europe. It was said to have been due to the occurrence of a strange sickness that infected the daughters of popular families.

However, this may be considered vague as there are no proofs that the illness was not in actuality, a medical condition. As such, there may be other reasons for the event. One of the most obvious reasons is that it was due to discrimination as evidenced by the personality of the people who were accused and tried. The accused were mostly low-class citizens and people who are condemned by society. They are people who when touched, nobody would be brave enough to defend. Another possible ground that may be considered is that the time of trials was also the time when medicine was beginning to flourish.

It may have been a means to usher in a new era in medical history and to remove a more primitive method of curing and healing. Works Cited English, Deirdre. Witches, Midwives, and Nurses. New York: Feminist Press, 1973. Linder, Douglas. 2007. “An Account of Events in Salem”. Famous American Trials. 20 April 2009 < http://www. law. umkc. edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/salem/salem. htm >. Purkiss, Diane. The Witch History. New York: Routledge, 1996. Wilson, Lori Lee. The Salem Witch Trials. Colorado: Twenty-First Century Books, 1997.


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