The underpinnings of paranoia are embedded deep inside our own fears, ever ready to be unearthed and manipulated by evil, unscrupulous individuals. (That’s why I read Stephen King during daylight hours. Although, Stephen King is neither evil nor unscrupulous!)
Although the history of Salem, MA is graced with an illustrious maritime history, today it may be better known for its disgraceful part in the witch trials of 1692.
Most people aren’t aware that, at the time of the witchcraft hysteria, Danvers, MA was known as Salem Village and Salem, MA was called Salem Town. During that time, rivalries developed between families from Salem Town whose wealth came from maritime commerce and those from Salem Village whose fortunes came from agriculture.
Puritan villagers found the squabbling factions so abhorrent, that they blamed all the vicious sniping on the devil, priming the superstitious populace for the explosion about to ensue.
At that time the oppression of women also played its role in the acting out of the young accusers. The attention they garnered was probably heady, the drama exciting. I’m sure those first young girls never thought out their actions to their deadly conclusion. The possibility has been raised that a fungus in the rye they consumed, may have given those girls the symptoms they portrayed. Perhaps that’s how it started. However, some accusers were “cured” immediately when the “witch” touched them. That argues for the influence of the devil or the devilish actions of pranksters.
It’s interesting to note that the first women to be accused of witchcraft included a slave, a homeless beggar and an elderly impoverished woman; each someone who could be seen as beneath the accusers’ station with no power to cause them any negative consequences.
Unfortunately, one of those first women to be accused not only confessed but embellished her confession. Whether from fear, hysteria, or her Caribbean beliefs, the slave, Tituaba, declared that there were other witches out there who wanted to destroy the Puritans. Her terrifying words fed into the Puritan fear of the devil and set the stage for one of the most shameful events in the history of Massachusetts. By the time the magistrates came to their senses, 19 people had been hanged and one person pressed to death.
If you’d like more information on the Salem witches, you can go to this website, http://www.salemwitchmuseum.com/about/ or visit the museum in person.
Wondering how something like this could happen? Look at our history: The Inquisition, The Holocaust, or any one of the Great Wars. Or check out the famous Orson Welles radio broadcast from October, 1938, called War of the Worlds. It played on listener’s fears of extraterrestrial beings. Ever seen a UFO?