The Salem Witch Trials were a sequence of trials of witchcraft that occurred in Massachusetts in 1692. The trials were the most catastrophic events in the history of America. During the trials, almost two hundred individuals were charged with witchcraft offenses, and by the time the trials were ending, nineteen people had already been convicted to death through hanging and execution. Although history agrees that the Witch Trials were a result of public hysteria, there exist various theories that explain the causes of the Trials.
The primary causes of the Salem Witch Trials were disputes, rivalries, and personal differences among people. Most of the people who were blamed for witchcraft had unresolved issues with their accusers, or they were viewed as a danger to Puritan values. Nearly fifty individuals were either directly or indirectly accused by the Putnam family members who followed Puritan values and customs strictly (Lucas 433). The Putnam family members were staunch supporters of Samuel Parris, who initiated the witch manhunt.
Puritans Role in the Salem Witch Trials
The existence of a strong belief in the occult by the Puritans is another factor that caused the Salem Witch Trials. Puritans had a strong belief that witches and witchcraft existed. They believed that witches were collaborating with the devil, and it is that devil that gave them the superior power to cause harm (Baker 2004, pg 102). Witches were then accused of causing all types of unfortunate events and mishaps ranging from illnesses, bad weather, failed crops, and all other unfavorable things that had occurred three centuries before the Trials (Lucas 435). Due to their firm belief in sorcery, the villagers believed that witches and witchcraft were a real and dangerous threat.
Cold Weather Theory: Salem Witch Trials
Another cause of the Salem Witch Trials was the cold weather theory. Cold weather theory where accusers were looking for people to blame for the natural calamities and hardships such as crop failure and droughts. However vague this theory may sound, there are various historical records that support it by indicating that the years before the Witch Trials were in particular very cold. The tragic witch hunt also occurred at the time of the presumed Great Witch Craze, which is coincidental with what is known as the Little Ice Age, a period where the climate was abnormally cold between the 14th and 19th centuries (Roach 122).
Ergot Poisoning During the Salem Witch Trials
Ergot poisoning is believed to be another possible cause of the Salem Witch Trial. Consumption of the rye grain that had been contaminated with fungus famously called ergot resulted in hallucinations and sudden, violent, irregular body movements that were associated with witchcraft. In a study conducted by Linnda Caporael, a professor at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, all the conditions were available for the spread of ergot right before the Witch Trials (Lucas 433).
Girls Who First Started the Salem Witch Trials
According to some theories, the witchcraft claims started from boredom since the girls in the village were bored. Since the Puritans had very uncompromising beliefs that forbade most of the forms of entertainment, both for children and adults, the girls had little activities to engage in. The beliefs affected girls even more and were only allowed to read books, attend small circles that involved fortune-telling, and listen and tell various stories were the only form of entertainment they were allowed to experience (Roach 120) The storytelling involved telling witches and witchcraft stories. Due to their boredom and witchcraft stories, the girls believed in the occult and could often associate many things with witchcraft.
In conclusion, there are several causes of the Salem Witch Trials as outlined in the essay. The causes include personal differences, ergot poisoning, strong beliefs in the occults, cold weather theory, and boredom among the girls.
Baker, Emerson W. A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience. Oxford University Press (UK), 2014.
Lucas,Paul R, Paul Boyer, and Stephen Nissenbaum. "Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft." (1975): 432-435.
Roach, Marilynne K. The Salem witch trials: A day-by-day chronicle of a community under siege. Taylor Trade Publications, 2004
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