A lot has been written about the Witch Terror in Salem in 1692. To a modern eyes, the easy belief in the veracity of a group of girls is incredible. (Obviously, mean girls have been around for a long time). In another post I talked about the possibility of ergot poisoning (i.e. LSD) which I am sure would be terrifying, especially to a person who couldn’t explain to himself what was happening. But was this the whole story?
I think we all want to know what happened. It seems as though the town lost its collective mind.
We know it was a superstitious age. But I can’t believe EVERYONE believed in the supernatural. In fact, one of the essayists of the time, Robert Calef, believed that the trials had been engineered by Cotton Mather for personal gain. (I doubt that. Evidently fighting out different opinions in print is not a new phenomenon). And anyway, other motivations for accusing someone of witchcraft have been documented. It wasn’t only ergot poisoning or fear of the devil. Sometimes it was for gain:The old biddy hasn’t died and I want her little farm, for example. Sometimes it was to settle scores. Apparently at least part of the reason behind the accusations directed at the Nurse family had resentment and the desire for payback at the bottom.
I wonder about the girls. Clearly, once the excitement began, they kept upping the ante. I suspect they didn’t want to lose the attention. And, considering that girls were supposed to be docile and subservient then, one can understand why they would want to break out. Be the center of attention for once. Accusing half the town of consorting with the devil seems a tad extreme though. And if you look at their futures – what happens after the big crisis and the turn of the century – they pretty much disappear. Some are documented as getting married, several moved out of Salem. (No surprise there, right?) Was there a leader among the girls with followers too frightened to say anything? I wouldn’t be surprised.
What happened to Tituba, the black slave whose stories of her past are widely credited with starting the whole witch craze. Since the stories she told about her life and her religion, voodoo, found fertile ground among the girls and seems to have served as part of the bedrock, it is surprising to me that Tituba wasn’t hanged. But although she went to jail she was not hanged.