Everyone has heard of the Salem witch trials, but what were they? Why did they come about? When did they begin and end? What effects did they have on colonial New England? All of these questions are still being answered to this day. The most well known area of accused witchcraft was Salem, Massachusetts. The Salem witch trials and all the hysteria that surrounded them were some of colonial America's darkest years. Salem, due to strong Puritan beliefs and geography, was quite isolated from the rest of New England and North America. Due to this it blamed many of its faults on religion, religious figures, and villagers. This brought many consequences to the nation and its people. Most occurrences took place in the late 17th century. At this time, New England was in an uproar due to many conspiracies that dealt with so called witches. So, before understanding Salem's unique predicament, there has to be knowledge of New England's views on witches and witchcraft at the time.
It is important to comprehend that the belief in witches and witchcraft did not start in New England, they have roots elsewhere. In the 16th century, western Europe had its own encounters with witchcraft. The idea of witchcraft was based on a belief formed by an ancient fertility cult. They felt that religion had given them a sense that the devil put its evil entity into people and controlled them and led them to do cruel and horrible things. Most of the witch accusations were made in agrarian, or rural, communities because these places were more accepting of beliefs that larger towns or cities would easily disregard as myths or silly legends. But unexplained phenomena and very strange behavior of people and animals was "placed squarely on the shoulders of the devil and the witches that he controlled" (Carlson p. 3-8). This entire concept that filled the lifestyles of the 16th century western Europeans appeared again in 17th century New England for a number of reasons.