Causes of Salem wWtch Trials

There was an influx of refugees in Salem village because of war outbreak in 1689, between the English rulers (William and Mary) and France. This made life too hard in this village, as people struggled with the available scarce resources for survival (Blumberg, 2007). In addition to this, the villagers faced diseases, harsh winters and crop failure. The Puritans believed that good fortunes always came from God and were a blessing to them, while bad fortunes were associated with the devil’s work. These people believed that witches were people who had deals with the devil and received powers from the devil in return, for doing evil. According to Puritans, a convicted witch was sentenced to death because it was believed that they could destroy communities and corrupt good Christian people. Although the Puritans had over the years believed in witches, everything changed in 1692, when witch hunt widely spread for the first time. The village of Salem was the centre for accusation. This was after two girls, Betty Parris who was 9 years old, the daughter of Reverend Samuel Parris (the first ordained minister in the village), and his niece, Abigail Williams 11 years old accused three women of casting spells on them. Two of the women were Puritan women and the other one was a slave woman. The two girls suffered from a strange sickness, acted oddly, had incomprehensible speech and their bodies were twisted from their original positions into uncomfortable ones. When the girls were diagnosed, there was no reasonable diagnosis found. The doctors tried to search in their medical books but it was unsuccessful. This worried the villagers and made them search desperately for an explanation. It was then that it was concluded that the girls were under the spell of witchcraft by their fellow community members (Yolen and Stemple, 2004). The three women were arrested on February 29 and more than 150 other witches were also arrested and put on trial. By late September 1692, some had already been put to death and more others died while in jail. During this period, people fasted and prayed for the girls for God’s intervention but it did not succeed. However, although witchcraft began in Salem village making it very famous in rounding up accused witches, the fear of witchcraft increased over the following year. This made the life there more difficult with neighbours rising against their fellow neighbours as others tried to prove the innocence of their dear ones, the accusers worried of what would befall them while the leaders struggled to understand the happenings (Doeden, 2011). In early 1970s, psychologist Linnda Caporael, now a behavioural psychologist at New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, began to investigate the Salem Witch trials while still a college student with no idea that a common grain fungus could have been the cause of the 1962 events. In 1976, he came up with a theory, which believed that a certain type of food poisoning called convulsive ergotism might have been responsible for the girls’ condition. Convulsive ergotism occurs when a person consumes rye crop- wheat containing a mould called Ergot, which was used to make bread. This causes hallucinations, vomiting, crawling sensations on the skin among many other symptoms similar to those reported in Salem witchcraft trials. It was also discovered that, ergot thrives in damp, rainy springs,

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