What Caused the Salem Witch Trials? Essay
What Caused the Salem Witch Trials?
Puritans believed that every word of the Bible was the true word of God and was to be followed to the very last letter. Since the Bible mentions the existence of the Devil and witches, the Puritans were aware and suspicious of misdeeds and unexplained happenings. Once the word of witches tumbles from ones lips, it spreads like a disease throughout the community. The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 was the outcome of multiple factors. These factors include jealousy over people, the feel of power/control, and the fear and/or anxiety of their surroundings and the threat of punishment. Jealousy provided fuel towards accusing witches by venting ones emotions onto another. The accusers of the Salem Witch Trials were young girls and one woman, since the afflicted were so young, their own emotions clouded their judgment. For instance, if one of the girls developed feelings for a married man, the girl would become jealous of the wife. To be rid of the wife, the girl would only have to accuse her of witchcraft.
That could have been the case because as the majority of the accused, 76 married women were accused of witchcraft out of 176 single, married, and widowed (Document 5). The single women accused could have been associated with or have been friendly towards the person of the accusers’ affections. Additionally, because of the girls being young and impressionable, their parents could have urged them to accuse people of the community or men of valuable goods/land. The few men indicated as witches in the trials could have been at the receiving end of a person’s jealousy or greed (Document 2). The one woman accusing could have condemned others from past grievances or past family disputes. In the town of Salem, the young girls were seen as unimportant. The older women of the community were in charge, and/or, had power over the girls. As thoughts of witches invaded the minds of Salem, they could have been conjuring a way to reverse the power between them and the older women.
Once the girls began accusing those of witchcraft without punishment, they figured they could accuse the older women so they could be in charge, have power. “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” (Document 1). If the girls accused the older women of being witches and inflicting harm unto them, the accused would be put to death; while the accuser would gain power. The girl’s acts of torment could sway the community into believing the accused is a witch (Document 7). By the community believing them, and indulging their accusations, the girls hold the power of who shall live or be put to death (Document 6). This could have made the girls feel significant and gain attention from all, whereas before they were ignored. The accused may have been the only one defending themselves against the accusations and spectral evidence. During the witch trials, there were very few who defended the witches, therefore the girls words would be “on a pedestal” (Document 9).
Fear was an influential part of the Salem Witch Trials. The words of New England’s leading minister, Cotton Mather, were revered and taken seriously by the Puritans. “These evil spirits are all around…not only the wigwams of Indians…but the houses of Christians…,” (Document 3), this quote stated by Cotton Mather struck fear into the Puritans thoughts and made them cautious. By introducing the fear of evil all around, the Puritans will become suspicious of neighbors and even family members. The anxiety built within the adults of Salem because of their fear of the Indian’s and the idea planted by Cotton Mather of being surrounded by evil spirits of devils and witches. Increasing anxiety was also building from within the girls. A West Indies slave, Tituba, would describe tales of voodoo and teach the girls how to read their fortunes. As the months wore on, the girls would perform strange behaviors. It grew so grave the girls would experience “hysterical convulsive attacks” (Document 8).
Their anxiety could have built on the thought of voodoo and the image of magic threatening to overpower them. During the trials, the fear of witches escalated to the accused women being horribly mistreated. This treatment of the accused would include having the women strip until they were naked to examine them for devil markings (Document 4). Other mistreatments include being beaten until confession of being a witch and consorting with the devil. One try of a confession ended in death for Giles Cory; Giles was pressed to death with stones until he made a confession of being a witch.
James Davidson and Mark Lytle in After the Fact concluded that those afflicted were having bouts of hysteria or, their anxiety reached high levels due to the thought of a greater power harming them. While the afflicted were having fits of hysteria, the witnesses would view them of being possessed, and their fear of witches would make them demand for the name of the witch. The girls who would go through these fits would say the name of whomever the witness mentions; not wanting to be found out of discussing voodoo and fortune-telling with Tituba. This fear of punishment could have contributed to the start of the witch hunt.