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How Can We Explain The Salem Witchcraft Episode of 1962?

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Introduction

How Can We Explain The Salem Witchcraft Episode of 1962? Jennifer Langley Salem, a small village in Massachusetts, USA, was overwhelmed by mass hysteria in 1962, started by strange, unexplainable behaviour in young women and leading to the accusation of witchcraft. This fear gripped the whole village, rumours spread, the numbers of 'possessed' victims increased and accusations flew. This hysteria, however, was not just confined to Salem village, it spread to other villages across Massachusetts. Also, it was not just women who were accused of being witches and not just lower class outcasts, men and women who were well respected in the community were also tried for witchcraft. There have been many books written about this outbreak, some containing trial hearings and eyewitness accounts of the supernatural goings on in Salem. The extent of the notoriety of the scare is shown by the use of the term "Salem Witch Hunt" today, to describe scape-goating by groups of people emphasizing hysterical, blindly illogical and intolerant actions or expressions1.Also, many conclusions have been drawn and speculations made to explain the phenomena, which this essay will investigate. This episode in 1962 marks a significant time in early North American Colonial history of when Puritan beliefs and fear of the supernatural were at its peak. ...read more.

Middle

Others had also accused him of being the ringleader, a wizard or conjurer and it was documented that "During his examination, the suffering of the afflicted girls was so extreme that the magistrates ordered them removed from the court house for their own safety."5 This would appear to be a fabricated case, initiated by the Putmans with the girls pretending, supported by the admission of one of the witnesses, even before his death, that her accusation was "groundless and made out of fear"6. Also Burrough's family later received compensation from the Government for his wrongful death. This highlights the fact that not all cases were real, in fact many believe that most of the people hung were probably innocent, and that the events were full of "fraud and imposture"7. But still, nineteen men and women died for the sake of their faith, as, if they had admitted to being witches their lives would have been spared. It is clear that these false accusations, made for various reasons, fuelled the mass hysteria and were the reason for the witch hunt being of the scale that it was. However it does not explain the episode as the accusations began after Griggs suggested witchcraft as being responsible after finding no other explanation for the victim's behaviour. ...read more.

Conclusion

This was not the original cause but was the catalyst, along with extreme fear and scaremongering that lead to the vast number of hangings, both male and female. Suggestions as to the reasons, listed in various texts, for the explanation of the witch hunting were that 'it resulted from the pranks of bored adolescents, the influence of oligarchical and power-hungry clergy, local petty jealousies and land grabs, mental aberrations, spiritualist goings-on, political instability, a conspiratorial holding action against the disintegration of Puritanism, mass clinical hysteria, a continuation of the suppression of certain types of women, and even physical reactions to ingested fungus.'14 After researching these possible causes, with the added advantage of hindsight, due to overwhelming evidence, it would appear that the Salem Witchcraft Episode of 1962 was, although affected by the various factors listed, primarily begun by Ergotism. The similar symptoms, the evidence of Ergot in the Rye in Salem, and the fact that Ergotism tends to affect women more than men, as was the case, are just some of the evidence presented that make a logical, valid explanation. However Salem was taken over by witchcraft, conjured up in the minds of the people and made worse by fear. ...read more.

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