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The History of Salem Witch Trials

The Salem witch trial – is a court trial in New England in 1692 in the settlements of Salem village and Salem town, in the state of Massachusetts.

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On the charges of witchcraft (“witch hunt”) 19 people were hung, 1 person was crushed by stones and from 175 to 200 people were condemned in prison (not less than five of them died). This essay addresses these trials as an attempt to analyze the factors that might lead to this horrible outcome from different perspectives including psychological and sociological.

Historical Background

Salem as a settlement has been established in 1629 by puritans. In 1641 under the English laws, the sorcery was equated to a criminal offense. In January 1692 the neighboring city of York has been attacked by Indians, as a result, its many inhabitants were lost or have been captured.

Sociological Factors and Analysis

Increased size of family generated disputes between neighbors and families for the right of possession of the ground, especially on the border of settlers’ advancement where the economy has been based on the farm.

Adverse weather conditions or illnesses of plants could lead to the loss of an annual yield. The farm which could provide existence for an average family could not provide it to the following generations anymore. This fact induced farmers to move ahead further, grasping the grounds of radical inhabitants – Indians. Being religious people, puritans explained the loss of crops, livestock, the death of children, earthquakes, and bad weather as the anger of God.

In the puritans’ point of view, the person is predetermined from birth, whether should he get his soul in paradise or, on the contrary, in hell.

Puritans searched in the visible world for signs which could specify the will of God. According to their belief in the invisible world lived the God with angels, along with the Devil (the fallen angel and a hostile essence). In addition, patriarchal orders created such a position when the women should be in full submission to men.

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It could be added that it was considered that women are more influenced by the devil than men. In small cities, it was difficult to keep secrets, and the opinion of people on their neighbors was accepted as a fact.

Children’s games and toys were considered useless and forbidden in general, however additional restrictions were imposed on girls. Boys could hunt, fish, investigate the woods, they often became carpenters’ and smiths’ apprentices, while girls learned to spin a yarn, cook, sew, weave and prepare to be in service of their future husbands and kids. From the above-mentioned factors, it could be understood how society was already prejudiced against women and influenced by superstitions.

Psychological Factors and Analysis

One of the psychological factors that could be considered as the cause for the trials and could be served as an explanation of the odd behavior of the young girls is the ergot. The ergot is a fungus that affects the grain and Rye in particular which was the main grain in Salem.

“The ergot fungus contains alkaloids including lysergic acid from which LSD is made. These compounds affect the central nervous system and also cause vasoconstriction. Initial signs of ergot poisoning, a.k.a., ergotism, include gastrointestinal symptoms followed by burning, itching or crawling sensations on the skin, convulsions, hallucinations, and psychosis, the exact symptoms displayed by Salem’s “bewitched.”(Vogel, 2006)

The disability of the people of that time to identify mental illnesses and what worse they were unable to deal with these illnesses led to the fact that incidents such as the ones in Salem’s trial were defined as the work of the devil.

Other factors that could be identified as the reasons behind the behavior of Salem’s residents might be the overall sense of distrust and jealousy that was overwhelming the town at that time. If asking a question as “How did a group of female children, the chief accusers, gain authority within the hierarchical Puritan societal structure?” The only possible explanation would be that not the kids who gained the authority, but it was more of a fear that led to the people’s attitude, the fear of the unknown or the unexplained. That fear justified the most suitable answer for the cause and connected the belief with preconceptions.


As it was analyzed in the article the Ergot possibility even if it was proved, the main factor will remain social. The times in which this event took place might give an impression that the overall mood of the people was set in such a condition that needs a little of a flare to find a target that would be responsible for all the misfortunes of the town’s residents. It took little effort to light up all the resulted consequences, relying on such evidence as little girls’ testimony. It might be evident that these trials were the peak of a long history of dogmas and religious zealotry which resulted in this dark mark in the history of mankind.

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Works Cited

“Salem Witch Trials: The World Behind the Hysteria.” Discovery Education. 2008. Web.

Van der Linde, Laurel. The Devil in Salem Village: The Story of the Salem Witchcraft Trials. : Millbrook Press, 1992.

Vogel, Mark R. “A WITCH IN THE RYE.” Food Reference. 2006. Web..

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StudyCorgi. "The History of Salem Witch Trials." October 23, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "The History of Salem Witch Trials." October 23, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'The History of Salem Witch Trials'. 23 October.

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