The Salem witch trials, which occurred in Massachusetts in 1692, were successive court hearings whereby approximately two hundred people had been accused of practicing witchcraft. The hearing led to the execution of nearly twenty people and of whom majority were women. These executions showed how isolationism, religious extremity and lack of tolerance could negatively harm the society.
In the colonial America, during the 17th century, people had beliefs in the supernatural powers and also had belief that Satan was present in the world. some Christian Americans in Massachusetts had convinced themselves that there were a section of people who were using charms to ensure increased agricultural produce and to harm others who whom they perceived as their enemies or competitors. Christians associated these charms with black magic and the devil and thus the persecutions of those who were thought to be involved in such devilish practices.
Before the Salem witch trials of 1692, rumors of witchcraft were spreading in the neighboring villages and Cotton Mather, the Boston’s North Church minister was one of those who played a very big role in spreading such news, which late came to destroy a whole community. He even went ahead and published books and pamphlets about the existence of witchcraft. Christians at that time believed that black magic and those who didn’t believe in its existence were not capable of believing in angels either. Therefore, Christians believed that witchcraft and magic were real. With Mather being a recognized church minister, his writings were greatly read throughout the puritan New England and thereby convincing Christians on the existence of witchcraft. The book by Mather was actually found in the library of Samuel Paris, a minister who was accused of starting the 1692 events (Adams, 2013).
Education was the only tool that could have averted the occurrences of Salem. Ignorance played a big role in the making people to be blind followers of religion. The deaths that were due to medical causes were attributed to witchcraft due to the lack of medical knowledge. For instance, medics and psychologists have argued that psychological hysteria and eating rye bread made from grain infected by the fungus could have such impacts.
With the high spread of information on witchcraft having been rooted in the American religious culture by the ministers, the Salem witch trials were inevitable. People couldn’t have avoided it. Religion and mostly puritan Christianity was the main religion which dictated the way of life of these people. When the ministers chose to advocate for the existence of black magic, which was the start of the problem that would later prove to be costly to the American community.
With the society of the New England having been inhabited by religious refugees, the puritans, who had come to seek refuge from the religious persecutions that were taking place in Europe, they attempted to build a pure bible society and thus the intolerance of anybody who seemed to associate with the powers of evil. The strong belief in the supernatural powers meant that they believed the devil could too give some people power to harm the society and those who were loyal to God. Salem village had a diverse population and had many cases of people disagreeing on agricultural land, ownership of property and grazing rights. The leadership in this region was also dominated by the conservative Puritan secular leaders (Adams, 2013).
The occurrences in Salem have been described as a result of religious fanaticism, ministers who wanted the power to control people, hallucinations, local disputes, psychological distress and mass hysteria, all of which led to the imprisonment of two hundred people and hanging of nineteen, one of which was a minister. The Salem witch accusations destroyed a community that had at one time lived together and in peace.
The Salem witch trials completely changed the American society. first, the setting up of a Superior Court of Judicature was formed that replaced the Oyer and Terminer court of witchcraft was a big milestone as it abolished the use of spectral evidence i.e. the belief in the power of the accused to use their invisible shapes or specters to torture their victims. This had an impact in that it led to the release of very many ‘’culprits’’ who were awaiting trial and this was the ending of the Salem witch trials.
During the civil war and reconstruction era, the memories of the Salem arose as the Northern commentators started describing the Puritan as “bigotry” and “intolerant.” The Puritans image had been greatly damaged during the Salem witch trials and thus, to many Americans, they stood no chance of being leaders and stirrers of political opinion in the society (Adams, 2013).
The building of memorial park and the clearing of the names of those who had been accused falsely meant that the society had learnt from its mistakes. The Salem witch trials were also an awakening point of the American society. Laws were put in place to ensure that such an occurrence would never be witnessed again in the modern society.
Adams, G. (2013). The Specter of Salem: remembering the witch trials in nineteenth-century America. University Of Chicago Press, 23(3), 503-505. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09612025.2013.824773