Salem Witch Trials: a Mysterious Mass Hysteria

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The well fabled Salem Witch Trials took place around 1692, in a time and place copious of hysteria, condemnation and prosecution. During this early modern time period, science and the elements of the renaissance had already been taken to a place where it had not been before. Yet, societies in the colonial america still experienced sudden bursts of irrational frenzies. Of which the most recognizable frenzies in history, the Salem Witch Trials was responsible for the prosecution of more than two hundred women and the deaths of 14 women and 5 men. The well famed trials took place in a small town in Oregon: Salem. As the town was thorough of puritans, any activity out of the ideal moralistic life was irregular. People were of “great energy, courage, and resolution, well prepared to carry out to its natural and legitimate results any movement” and fortified in their belief on god (W. Upham 1969). This made for excessive irrational belief in anything out of the ordinary, chiefly witchcraft, and resulted in mass hysteria. The idea of witches and devils conduited the most concern to the Salem villagers than to the colonists, making scarce times the town faced feasible to be blamed upon the most common of people.

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In the month of February, 1692, many “afflicted girls” sought to have been acting methodically out of the ordinary (Brooks 2011). Young girls would endure fungal poisoning, throw excessive fits, spasm and contort. Examined by a doctor, “William Griggs diagnosed bewitchment” regarding the girls’ strange acting (A&E Television Networks 2019). This unusual combination of behaviors displayed as well as an assertive claim by a doctor raised many suspicions. Additionally, the suspicions further elevated when some women claimed to be possessed by witches around the town. Aware that witchcraft was being an act executable in the past by “europe between 1300 and 1330”, afflicted in panic amongst most of the crowd (Wallenfeldt 2018).

The following days, a mass number of townspeople were contemplating and panicking about the new news of witchcraft. This is how the notorious Salem Witch Trials had begun, from a fad that changed history for colonial Salem. The most immediate action taken was the hanging of the first “witch” accused of bewitching people: Bridget Bishop. Rather soon, authoritarians had begun witch hunting, not for those who were already prefaced to be witches but those who followed the demisely popular fashion of a witch. Witches were seen to have relationships with the devil Satan. This conveyed that the “witches” to have exchanged Satan’s help for their souls. Supernatural beliefs also stated that witches would do these bizarre deeds for magical purposes, transforming into different creatures, especially humans. All this social panic and social change led towards the executions and trials. Collective behavior started playing a role through society. Townspeople were “responding to similar stimuli” towards the whole event (Shepard 2014).

Typical rumors were spread about the “conditions” that witches were causing to the people. These conditions were of possessing and giving deathly diseases. But, what was even further appalling are the conditions to those convicted and accused of witchcraft faced. The Salem jails were filthy and foul. Those imprisoned were surrounded by complete darkness and a rat infested environment. In addition, those convicted had collectivity to each other, which reveals the unfair nature of the accusations. In total there were known to be one hundred fourteen people imprisoned of those who were accused of witchery. On rainy days, floods would cause the prisons to be flooded up to the prisoners’ ankles. These drastic conditions resulted in the death of around twelve people, not counting towards all those hanged at Gallows Hill. The cruelty faced to these innocent townspeople made certain intellectuals urge the truth towards the unfair conformity faced by the convicted. One profoundly educated man Thomas Brattle calculatedly scrawled a letter to Massachusetts, using technology, inscribing his letter with various sources of evidence proving wrong the hoax that was being spread.

Soon, on October 29th of the same year, Governor Philips issued a principle eliminating the arrestment of those accused and letting go of many imprisoned. Furthermore, Philips ordered any further trials to be supported with sufficient and legitimate evidence. This concluded to a much peaceful decline of the Salem urban legend. The effect of the letter the intelligent man had presented even caused “The General Court, on the 17th of October, 1710, passed an act, that the several convictions, judgments, and attainders be, and hereby are reversed, and declared to be null and void” (Hart 2006). This was a reformative movement to society, ending the false claims and hoaxes. The Salem Witch Trials that had occured did not just make for a historical event that ended quickly, it led to a slow, eventual equilibrium in society.

In conclusion, the Salem Witch Trials did what no other trial did in American history did; urge for a much better fair and justified court ruling system (in Salem). And, even up till this day, we still see the affects the trials had done to not just North America, but also the rest of the world. In Russia, to this day, women are accused of witchcraft, meaning social reformations are still to take place in the future regarding witchery. The Salem trials can be seen as something to learn from. Injustice that was out there in those times provoked the wiseman to stand up for what is right. We learned as a society through those times to justify everyone through correct evidence. Similarly, in society nowadays, same rules apply. Events such as large hate crimes remind us to never stop pursuing a better conformed society. Unknown illnesses that we discover make us want to gather information on how to avoid the spreading of it than just trying to get rid of the disease within a community, the opposite of what the trials did. The trials taught us not to conceal our destructive discoveries. The so called fungal disease the girls in the Salem Witch Trial were said to have been bewitched through turns out to be Ergotism. Turns out that Ergotism is a condition suffered through when the “fungus Claviceps purpurea, which affects rye, wheat and other cereal grasses” come in contact (THIRTEEN Productions 2019). The trials also urged a movement towards human rights. For example, today we have the Amnesty International Organization especially for cases like these that cause crowds of irrational fear and crime to occur in society. In modern context, the trials also extended the government aspects that are enforced in America today. Individuality of rights has been taken to the highest level it’s ever seen. Sociologists can conclude best that only through trial and error our society can evolve, and that changes do not take place over time, and that fads, rumors, hysterias, and hoaxes only cause harm to our community. The Salem Witch Trials did not only change society and the world forever, it taught us basic human rights an individual should have.

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