The Salem Witch Trials began in Salem, Massachusetts; the massacres could have been caused, historians believe, by many reasons such as the seclusion of the village, sickness, and overall boredom. The trials have many mysteries surrounding them. Historians still cannot come up with one specific cause that caused the ordeal to happen in the first place. They do have, however, the basics of it with some of the mysteries thrown in. Many accounts of the Salem Witch Trials all have something in common, the trials were instigated by eight girls. But then someone might wonder why would the girls start this ordeal in the first place?
What drove them to do it? Why would the village believe them in the first place? As explained in the book, The Salem Witch Trials by Lori Lee Wilson, these people that lived in the town of Salem were mostly Puritans and had a strong fear of devil worshipers, also known as witches. It did not help the villagers nerves that they were separated from society. The people that lived in Salem were a half a day’s travel from the next town. This alone could add to the paranoia of the people.
According to the interview with the Andale High School history teacher, Mr. Donals, he stated “Life in colonial New England was tough. Fear of disease as well as of attacks from Native Americans made the people of Salem cautious of neighbors and outsiders. ” They often quarreled with each other and were always on edge, afraid of an Indian or some sort of wild animal to come and attack them. This would put anyone on stress’ doorstep and with one push into the threshold, they would lose all common sense. That push was in the form of eight girls. At the start of February in 1692, these girls that lived in the village had started to convulse, spout gibberish.
Ultimately, it was processed as demonic activity in the villagers eyes. This is one of the mysteries surrounding the Salem Witch Trials, no one completely knows why these girls started to exhibit these signs. There are many hypotheses that can contribute to an explanation. Two of these are explained in the online journal, Weather and the Salem Witch Trials, written by Franklin G. and Mixon Jr. The first hypothesis has to actually do with mosquitoes. The born illness “can be explained by an epidemic of encephalitis, a mosquito-borne illness exhibiting many of the same symptoms possessed by the accuser” (241).
The girls’ symptoms are very similar to this sickness passed from the mosquito to the human, but the other hypotheses actually weakens this claim. In the journal, it also explains the “little-ice age” that Salem was experiencing during this time. It was harsh conditions for winter in roughly the 1600s to about the 1800s. Mosquitoes go dormant during the winter, and it was in february that the Salem Witch Trials began. So the “little-ice age” debunks the mosquito theory because the bugs would have still been dormant during that time. The third hypothesis is tied into the “little-ice age theory”.
In the short documentary from A&E Network, it explains the food born illness from the fungus ergot that is grown on the crop, rye. The fungus occurs when the crop goes through a harsh winter and into a warm, wet spring, During the spring of the trials, the weather matched this description perfectly. There are so many possibilities that could explain what had happened to these young girls, and who knows, they might all tie into each other. This is just one of the mysteries surrounding this dark time. There are other contributors to the Salem Witch Trials that don’t have anything to do with the weather and diseases.
The villagers all had a common religion, Puritan. The Puritan religion, as explained by the book The Salem Witch Trials by Earl Rice J. , saw many things as black and white. “… the forces of evil engaged in an unceasing battle for the souls of the Lord’s legions” (11). They were always weary of peculiarities and evil in people and in the world. Their religion did not leave much room for leeway in a person’s everyday life. The children could not go out and play a game or have a dance without being punished for practicing evil. There was no such thing as a social gathering or public affection in the Puritan’s church.
Even little things were considered queer or out of the ordinary, such as humming or daydreaming. This left a tremendous amount of room for boredom, especially for young women. In this religion, women were lesser than men. This boredom would easily be filled, for example, by fake accusations that would quickly be turned into an all out witch hunt. Putting aside all of the events that could have lead up to the trial, there is still the question of ‘how could the village let this happen? ‘.
Mr. Donals, in the interview, answered a question similar to this. It’s easy to try and find a scapegoat for the frustrations of society. We as humans want to be able to place blame on something for our struggles. ” The blame is easy to give to someone else when the pressure is upon oneself. The girls, when they started to hand out the accusation, might have been pressured to give the names of the so-called witches because they were not sure what else to do. They must have already been terrified of the sickness they endured. It was the doctor, Dr. Griggs, who had first mentioned the term witch because no other doctor had an idea of why the girls were acting in a such a way (Wilson 23).
When that thought was put into their head, after already being pressured by the sickness and the curious people, they instantly grabbed it and started to draw the attention away from themselves. Even in today’s society, in our government, schools, and anywhere one can think, it is so easy to just place the blame on a completely different person. An example of scapegoating is the United States and ISIS. The want to blame a person(s) for the treachery going on in the other countries make people turn to the closest thing resembling ISIS and that would be Muslims.
Not all Muslims are involved with ISIS, just like not all women during the time of Salem Witch Trials was a witch. In the end there were “more than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft and 20 were killed” (Brooks) in various manners out of the approximately “600 people” (MacBain 10) that lived in Salem at the time. The trials were a gigantic mess that historians can not fully explain even today. Maybe someday in the future, there will be a time machine and historians can solve all of the unanswered questions and mysteries that surround these dark days of our past.