From Witch-Hunt to Conspiracy Theories and Modern Forms of Exclusion: The Salem Witch Trials case "Examination of a Witch" (1853) by T. H. Matteson, inspired by the Salem trials

Micah 5:12: “And I will cut off sorceries from your hand, and you shall have no more tellers of fortunes”

T
he state of Holy Bible is a pivotal basis behind the curtain of mysterious witch trials in terms of identifying them in deep. Witchcrafts which were basically common in the American colonies such as Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Haven sparked the volcano of moral tensions amid XVII century in the colonies.

As a consequence, then the society of American colonies has been seized by the sense of trepidation of bewitchment, satanic witches, in particular, bizarre kinds of supernatural powers, but to a large extent, the focal causes of witch trials have lingered mysteriously. The paper has pointed out that there were several controversies in regard to these issues to reveal the main causes of witch trials in the American colonies. In addition, this paper scrutinizes the varied reasons why witch trials have been prosecuted in the colonies. It is undeniable fact that witchcraft can be identified as a chief example of not only the violations of human rights but also women’s rights. Throughout XVII century, it was identified as a malicious hazard against the Puritan community of the colonies, as well as positions of a local elite group.

Throughout XVII century, the widespread of witch trials sparked the seeds of moral hysteria putting forward that malignant satanic witches being worshippers of the Devil were engendering the evil-minded and ill-disposed menace to the whole Christian community in the American colonies. When it comes to identifying the main causes of witchcraft, it can be a key basis to take the certain alterations into account in the colonies. What did the demand for witchcraft stem from?! There was a different kind of reasons why people tried to deal with the sorcery and malicious activities. First and foremost, epidemic smallpox, plague, natural catastrophes, internal conflicts, wars, as well as hectic cold weather, (namely Little Ice Age). Amid that period, the residents of the colonies believed that Devil was trying to permeate into their lives and annihilate Christians, in particular, their communities. In addition, their beliefs and thoughts in Devil giving some certain people power in order to hurt others and basically in return for loyalty burnt the craze of a witch hunt.

The Salem Witch Trials started in the spring quarter of 1692, were a murky period in American history. The dark clouds caught the overhead of the Salem village when a wave of moral hysteria reached its apex point throughout the Colonial Massachusetts. More than 200 people were blamed for dealing with bewitchment; about 20 people were executed amid the term of hysteria. How do the main reasons of the trials can be considered?! – Before narrating the main point of the story, it can be better to identify the political, local, and religious contexts and origins of the Salem Witch Trials. England started the war known as King William’s war with France in its American colonies in 1689. As a result of the war, many refugees and displaced peoples were sent to the Essex County, particularly, the Salem Village (currently Danvers) located in Massachusetts Bay Colony. The widespread wave of refugees into the colony ignited the internal conflicts and animosity between local and displaced persons on Salem’s wealthy resources. Resentment against Reverend Samuel Parris, the first ordained minister of the Salem Village heightened because of his severe positions and gluttonous character. Therefore, the main origins of the trials premised on the attacks from neighbouring American tribes, personal differences, long-lasting disputes with the well-off society of Salem Town (presently Salem).

According to religious background, first and foremost, it might be a central part to take into account the insensitive realities of the Puritans’ lives in the community. The majority of Conservative Puritans secular leaders among local people in the village manipulated by Calvinism were opposing to traditions of the Protestant Church of England. The Puritans held the opinions that the main root of the simmering tensions and quarrelling within society as a Devil’s toil.

The event started with the afflictions of the two youngsters; Elizabeth Parris at 9 ages, and Abigail Williams at 11 ages, who was a daughter and a niece of Reverend Samuel Parris respectively. The two girls having fit madly screamed, exhibited weird sounds and distorted themselves into bizarre episodes. Shortly after, the same positions such as contortions, convulsions were experienced firstly by Ann Putnam, at 11 ages, and then other girls of the village. The event ignited the mass hysteria and moral panic among people. Eventually, a local doctor William Griggs was unable to reveal any kind of physical diseases, and then put “the bewitchment diagnosis on the afflicted maidens. The girls began to charge three women in bewitching them; the Elizabeth’s Caribbean slave, Tituba, a homeless vagrant, Sarah Good, and an older poor woman, Sarah Osbourne.

Afterwards, three women charged in witchcraft were arrested and questioned. During the investigation, the two women, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osbourne denied their deal with witchcraft and manifested themselves as an innocent, but Tituba made a scandalous acknowledgment that she had been engaged in the work of Satan along with two women aforementioned above: “The Devil came to me and bid me serve him” . After that, three women were put in jail. Ostensibly, the craze of witchcraft among the conservative Puritans in the Salem village sparked aggression and resentment against anyone who was alleged in charging with witchcraft. Shortly after, in order to examine and question people who were suspected of dealing with witchcraft, William Phips appointed to the newly minister position conveyed the foundation of a special court of Oyer (to question) and Terminer (to determine).

The first conviction of the court’s investigation was an older woman Bridget Bishop known as her bizarre habits and promiscuity claimed that she was an innocent as a child unborn, after that she was hanged in July of the same year at Gallows Hill who was an initial victim of the witch trials then.   During the severe trials, many people were executed, some were put in jail, and other people were sent to hang at Gallows Hill. The trials of many people engender the sense of fear among colonists that many innocent people were being annihilated as a result of “spectral facts”.

Local rulers started to pursue their stances against witch hunt and tended to convince local officials to suspend the trials against people. Hence, the conducting of trials resulted in the dissolving of the court of Oyer and Terminer by Governor William Phipps, and consequently, the use of ghostlike proof was declared unacceptable. After the disbanding of the courts, William Phipps ordered to establish a Superior Court of Judicature not allowing to the “spectral evidence”. As a consequence, at the beginning of the 1700s, the newly established court re-establish the good names of the condemned people, released many innocent people and granted financial restitution to their heirs, but indeed, acrimony and harsh realities lingered in the society and kept its hectic influences into XX century.

In conclusion, it is undeniable fact that the Salem Witch Trials were one of the severe trials against human rights in the history of mankind. In XX century, Historians preferred to base the trials in varied contexts. Some analysts and scientists were attracted by the pivotal causes of the trials for a long time and tried to find out the origins of the abnormal behaviours and positions experienced in the Salem village and focused on the severe effects of fungus ergot, hence eating ergot-contaminated foods could cause nausea, hallucinations, and exhibition of peculiar positions. Other scholars hold the opinion that the term of abnormally cold weather conditions destroyed many crops that lead to crops failures, in the society. Although, the Salem Witch Trials was over, it kept its severe effects on people for a long time. In 1953, Arthur Miller shed a light on the Salem Witch Trials and dramatized the 1692 events in his play titled “Crucible”. In his play, he used the trials as a metaphor for the McCarthyism paranoia performed anti-Communist positions, by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Thereby, this paper mainly identifies that the execution against innocent people is inadmissible that took many lives during the term of mass hysteria, in order that the Salem Witch Trials as a concrete indicator of violations of human rights, confessed the persecution of many innocent people alleged in witchcraft, and to date, the main reasons of the trials remained unknown.

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Nargiz Hajiyeva

Nargiz Uzeir Hajiyeva is a policy analyst and independent researcher from Azerbaijan. She holds master degree from Vytautas Magnus University and Institute de Politique de Paris (Science Po). She got bachelor degree with distinction diploma at Baku State University from International Relations and Diplomacy. Her main research fields concern on international security and foreign policy issues, energy security, cultural and political history, global political economy and international public law. She worked as an independent researcher at Corvinus University of Budapest, Cold War History Research Center. She was also a successful participator of International Student Essay Contest, Stimson Institute, on how to prevent the proliferation of the world's most dangerous weapons, by Harvard University, Harvard Kennedy School. She is also an independent researcher and a policy analyst at Observer.ge and Politicon.net platform, and Wikistrat.Between 2014 and 2015, she worked as a Chief Adviser and First Responsible Chairman In International and Legal Affairs at the Executive Power of Ganja. At that time she was defined to the position of Chief Economist at the Heydar Aliyev Center. 

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