The Salem Witch Trials are known from the history reveal the horrible and even mysterious event of accusation of young girls for the witchcraft. The trials that took place from February 1962 up to March 1963 accused many innocent people due to the fact that the Court could not decide the actual reasons of strange fits experienced by the young girls. Nowadays, many scholars try to reveal the facts about that period and to define what aspects of life influence the legal decision. In that regard, many scholars and researchers argue pertaining to the domination of church and social beliefs in judging the witchcraft. To understand this problem, it is necessary to pursue the history in order to indentify the events taking place in Salem and factors affecting the horrible accusations.
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Living in the patriarchal system subjected to Puritan views, people believed that women should be totally subjected to men. According the Puritan ideology, women are more inclined to the influence of Devil thus being considered more lustful creatures than men were. Therefore, women were the main object of control so that there was a rigid inequality in New England time. There were also some religious and political prejudices that might be the direct reason of those trials. However, it is worth mentioning that this issue should be also regarded pertaining to the race and ethnicity. Finally, the analysis of the above shows that Salem trials were based on a larger historical and political context so that the Salem tragedy is the result of some profound chain of economic, religious, political and social processes that were closely interconnected.
In his article Black Magic: Witchcraft, Race, and Resistance in Colonial New England, Timothy J. McMillan accentuates on the racial and ethnicity. He argues that idea that “scientists have examined New England witchcraft through analyses of economic tension, folk culture, gender, and politics, but rarely in terms of race and ethnicity” (McMillan 99). Therefore, his main goal is to explore the unconventional sources and preconditions of Salem mysterious outbreak, as he is sure that historical researcher failed to trace other aspects that caused the imprisonment and death of 19 people. In the article, McMillan relies on some researches made by Thomas Buckley that constitutes the presence of Euro centrism New England in the seventeenth century. The gender and racial bias were grounded on the lack of knowledge of women’s biological nature believing that menstruation indicates the women’s dangerous status. Ignorance made people afraid of such women regarding them as the threat of society. The article exemplifies the facts when race influenced the trial. Those issues especially concerned the first trials when among the first three accused was an Indian descendant. The author believes that the majority of the suffered people were the representatives of racial minorities. Regarding that, in seventeenth century Salem, people still had a prejudiced attitude to the ethnic communities. Moreover, due to the Indian intervention to Europe, Massachusetts did not feel credence in ethnical minorities and therefore, among the initially suspected witches were Indian women. Such an attitude was enhanced by the Puritan ideology so that people refuse to recognize witch whose origin is purely European. In this respect, McMillan said, “survival of the accusation of witchcraft also demonstrates Blacks’ insignificance in the eyes of Europeans. This contradiction in categorizing Blacks as both powerless and powerful actually served to empower Blacks in the society of colonial New England” (McMillan 99). By this, the authors underline the connection between social and economic situation and racial groups thus identifying these two realms.
The study witchcraft arose many questions, as the historians were obsessed with the mystery of the events taking place in Essex County. The above only touches upon one aspect of this event. However, many other persuasive issues are impossible to omit. Another interesting view was presented in John Demos’s article called Underlying Themes in the Witchcraft of Seventeenth New England. Like McMillan, Demos gives little attention to the external historic process thus paying more importance to some internal misconceptions that triggered the numerous trials and death of innocent peoples. In his article he did not blame the mere people but to the local authorities such as Cotton Mather. Demos also attached the importance to the culture of Puritanism that distinguished the “afflicted girls” as a separate of the community whose strange behavior was considered inadmissible. People’s ignorance of science and inability to find the explanation to girls’ fits also caused many ungrounded trials where girls were convicted of the unspecified crime. Demos states, “Witchcraft was an important matter from the standpoint of the larger historical process; it exerted only limited influence on the unfolding sequence of events in colonial New England” (Demos 1311).
Pertaining to Salem witches, the most interesting point of view was expresses by Franklin Mixon who managed to trace that there was an evident connection between the witch trials in Salem village and decrease of temperature throughout the seventeenth century. That period was called Little Ice Age. The changes in weather could be explained by fact that women altered the climate in order to control people. Such changes caused numerous epidemic outbreaks in the southern and central part of England as well as in England. Mixon believes that climate changes were predetermined by the emergence of witchcraft, as people could find not another explanation (Mixon 241).
Hence, Boyer et al. tries to reveal the history of the magic village and to disclose the social motivation and precondition of strange arrangement of young girls discussing future. In his book, Salem possessed: the social origins of witchcraft, he describes in detail the outbreak of strange phenomenon that captured the Salem Town where young girls were suffering from strange fits. The girls were imprisoned without being trialed the people were not aware of the actual reason of deviations (Boyer 6). The authors tried to investigate social and economic distinctions within the Salem Town community and to comprehend the accusations of witchcraft in 1692. The contradictions between the Putnam and Porter families fostered the communal fight that hide the religion intensions and forces that trigger the cruel ideology in terms of gender discrimination. Boyer and Nissenbaum believed that social division of Salem Town and Salem village served as the major reason for the contentious situation within the village. The agricultural traditions and activities of Putnam family strived to separated from the commercial town of Salem whereas other dynasty intended to establish trade contacts with the town. According to the author, the emerged conflict aggravated the events of 1962. The appearance of witchcraft was caused by the existing confrontation so that the book proves that these two phenomena are closely connected.
Mary Norton revealed the opposing opinion in her book In the Devil Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1962. Thus, the author uses the religion as the basis for consideration of Salem executions and trials. As Salem residence are mere peasant, they were subjected to the rules of the Church with patriarchal system. Under their influence, the villagers were imposed by the clerical ideology that women are already sinful creature so that they likely to be captured by the Devil. Such point could be deduced from the title of the book. However, Norton tried to give a profound explanation of how the wars of 1675-1676, that is King Philip’s war and of 1689-1697 called King William war or the Second Indian war (Norton 22). The author is confident that the main ground for the anomalous situation was not due to the continuous debates between two families. Instead, the book proposes during the second was the Indians caused suffering to their neighbors by tempting them to Satan causes. The war acquired the sense of the fight against the Devil where the colonists believed that “they were a chosen people, charged with brining God’s message to a heathen land previously ruled by the devil” (Norton 295). In that regard, witchcraft encouraged the understanding of the ambiguous challenges of hideous manifestation. In general, the book pursues that the histories of two wars and the Salem witch trials “intricately intertwined”. The duality of the situation is emphasized by the parallel stories of witchcraft institution and war so that this interrelationship made Salem story unprecedented. The author used the descriptive approach thus analyzing the parallel historical events.
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Together with Beyer and Nissenbaum, Norton managed to present an evidence-based explanation of Salem Witch Trials and Witchcraft. Hence, Beyer’s work affixes the Norton’s, as the former explained the socioeconomic situation of seventeenth century and its connection with emerged trials. As for Norton, she objectively presents in the book show the controlling tie between the historical wars as the starting point for the Salem chaos. Though both theories and approaches are different, they create a multidimensional view on historical events of 1692-1693. The detailed description given in the authors’ works helped to find the core line of those trials where they highlighted the two parts of the trial: the accused and the ministers.
Further, the articles under consideration opened a wide range of issues that were not included in previously discussed book. The papers reveal and unusual outlook on the notorious event in Salem village thus showing how race, ethnicity, and local traditions affected the general development of history. Particular climatic approach of Mixon uncovered how witchcraft influenced the people’s explanations of temperature fluctuations. Nevertheless all the works make a reference to the social and religious condition existed in Massachusetts, as it was the basis of appearance of other aspects.
In conclusion, though Salem Witch Trial is the most widely discussed issue nowadays, it is still a mystery for the historians. The main bias lies in the different approach chosen by the researchers that could cover all the point of this notorious event. The rigid divergence in opinions was also due to different assumptions and psychological explanations. The theories are also differentiated by different perceptions of the situation.
Boyer, Paul and Nissenbaum, Stephen. Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft. US: Harvard University Press, 1974.
Demos, John. “Underlying Themes in the Witchcraft of Seventeenth-Century New England”. American Historical Association 1970.
McMillan, Timothy “Black Magic: Witchcraft, Race, and Resistance in Colonial New England” Journal of Black Studies. vol. 25, Sept 1994, pp. 99-117.
Mixon Jr., Franklin G. “Weather and the Salem Witch Trials”. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 19.1 winter, 2005, pp. 241-242.
Norton, Mary Beth. In the Devil’s Snare :The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1962. US: Knopf, 2002.