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-   -   Salem witch trials NOT because of Ergot... (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=296865)

J. Michael Reiter 01-14-2005 08:51 AM

Salem witch trials NOT because of Ergot...
 
Hi ya'll. J. Michael Reiter here. Listen, folks, I just read the article on The Salem Witch Trials and the root cause of them not being from Ergot or Ergotic Alkaloid ingestion. I think you are all wet, for it not to be... At least with the first cases. The later cases, however were more than likely what you discoursed about in your article.

J. Michael Reiter.
jmr :smack: ;) :dubious: :o


*******************
MODERATOR NOTE: This thread from 2005 is revived Oct 2013 in post #31. We're OK with that, I just don't want anyone responding to a 2005 post thinking it was yesterday. Some of those posters may no longer be posting, some may have forgot what they said, etc. -- Dex

Musicat 01-14-2005 09:12 AM

Welcome to the SDMB, J. Michael Reiter. A link to the article we are discussing is usually a darn good idea so we are all on the same page, and here it is.

What specific evidence do you have to counter the conclusions of the report?

Bosda Di'Chi of Tricor 01-14-2005 09:41 AM

Why do you hold your views?

Please discuss your evidence.

BTW--Welcome. :)

Menocchio 01-14-2005 01:29 PM

It probably wasn't ergot poisoning.

The people of Salem (or, at least those that passed as doctors in those days) had seen ergot poisoning. The condition was called "St. Anthony's Fire". If the Salem girls had St Anthony's Fire, it would have been recognized as such, and not called witchcraft (unless there were other reasons to be suspicious, such as a paticularly ironic case, or a malediction from an unpleasant woman).

While the initial sickness of the girls remains mysterious, I'd put money that it was pyschosomatic, perhaps from the stress of being a young girl in a Puritan town, with major divisions over Church politics, and the very real threat of Indian attacks.

CalMeacham 01-14-2005 01:56 PM

The column referenced is thuis:

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/050114.html


We've discussed the Salem Witch Trials on this Board before. There have been a lot of books, especially in the past twenty years or so, speculating on this. The two I'd recommend are Boyer and Nissenbaum's Salem Witchcraft and Chadwick W. Hansen's Witchcraft at Salem. The former does a sociological study of the situatioon -- the maps at the back of the book plot out where the accused witches and their accusers lived, where the rich and the poor lived, where supporters of Rev. Parris and detractors lived, etc. It's amazing how the people are so completely polarized into two camps. There was a lot of tension from various sources -- not just Indians, but the turmoil over the Colony's Charter, where authority lay, who was responsible for supporting the clergy, etc. There were an awful lot of petty court cases. As Chadwick Hansen said in his book (which dates from the 1970s) "The Histotry of petty malice in Essex county has not yet been written." (For the record, I think it has by now, but I can't recall by who. They were a litigious and catty bunch.)

Hansen's book is a revisionist hisdtory, but I think it's a good one. He challenges the claim that Salem Witchcraft was "got up" by a theocratic elite trying to hold onto its fading power (a view he traces back to Samuel Wentworth Upham, whose 19th century 2-volume history of Salem Witchcraft was for a long time the standard history. I think Dover still has it in print). Hansen makes a good case for a lot of the history being misinterpreted in this light. He also makes a pretty good case that witchcraft was practiced at Salem -- but not in the way the accusers madfe it out to be. Hansen draws intriguing parallels between the "hysterics" studied by Charcot and others in the 19th century, and sees the witchcraft hysteria as a case of literal Mass ysteria. Reading his cites from the original trial documents, it's hard to believe that the girls were just making it up, or faking it. his was deadfly serious business, and people really did seem to have physical reactions to it. The witches, after all, were said to be atytacking the colony's food supply, and they weren't much above subsistence as it was. People were genuinely terrified.

I could see ergotism being a trigger for this sort of thing. Read Hansen's book, and you'll see that there were plenty of visions that might have been caused by hallucinatory ergotism (people have made much of similarities between ergot and LSD), but it's not the only possible source.


Mennochjio -- it's my understanding that "St. Anthony's Fire" is caused by ergot poisoning. That's the claim made by supporters. See also the book The Day of St. Anthony's Fire about an outbreak in southern France, caused by tainted bread.

Menocchio 01-14-2005 02:03 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by CalMeacham
Mennochjio -- it's my understanding that "St. Anthony's Fire" is caused by ergot poisoning. That's the claim made by supporters. See also the book The Day of St. Anthony's Fire about an outbreak in southern France, caused by tainted bread.

That's what I meant. If the girls had St Anthony's Fire / ergotism, they would have been diagnosed as such, not as victims of an unknown and possibly supernatural ailment. The Salem folks would have recognized ergotism. This wasn't it.

The Punkyova 01-17-2005 05:33 PM

For those who are interested, this is a site with all the original documents, and a lot more besides. It's quite fascinating. http://etext.virginia.edu/salem/witchcraft/

Ben Ray, who put it together, told me that the most interesting thing to him was the way Tituba's character changed. She is usually referred to as a West Indian slave or servant, but he said the documents don't call her that. My memory is failing me, but I think he said she was Native American (or maybe African? this conversation was before yesterday, and the "People" section of the website is down right now).

In any case, the site has trial transcripts, maps, and all kinds of fascinating stuff. Check it out!

WCStyles 01-17-2005 08:22 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by The Punkyova
For those who are interested, this is a site with all the original documents, and a lot more besides. It's quite fascinating. http://etext.virginia.edu/salem/witchcraft/

Ben Ray, who put it together, told me that the most interesting thing to him was the way Tituba's character changed. She is usually referred to as a West Indian slave or servant, but he said the documents don't call her that. My memory is failing me, but I think he said she was Native American (or maybe African? this conversation was before yesterday, and the "People" section of the website is down right now).

In any case, the site has trial transcripts, maps, and all kinds of fascinating stuff. Check it out!

Is the "People" section actually down? A little trial-and-error found it here.

sheherazahde 01-18-2005 12:07 AM

Yes, and...
 
I never bought the ergot theory and I was disgusted by PBS supporting it.

I recommend "Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend" by Jeffrey S. Victor. It isn't about Salem but he examines how and why people can be caught up in a "satanic panic".

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/081269192X/

I read something once (unfortunately I can't remember where) that said that there were similar Witch scares in other town in the same time period. But in the other towns the courts wouldn't hear the cases. Salem was a big deal because people actually got killed.

I think you really need to look at the larger issues. If you say it was caused by "a bedrock belief in the reality of witches held by a theocratic society having only a superficial acquaintance with the rule of law." How do you explain the Satanic panic in western New York State in the 1980s? A better explanation is a few symbolic urban legends supported by "experts" fit the unconscious needs of a community stressed by changing social structures and an uncertain economic future. That explains the burning times in Germany and France in the 1500s, the Salem trials 1691-2, the McCarthy hearings 1953-54, and the Satanic ritual abuse cases in the 1980s.

http://members.shaw.ca/imaginarycrimes/howRAstarted.htm

CalMeacham 01-18-2005 07:56 AM

Quote:

I read something once (unfortunately I can't remember where) that said that there were similar Witch scares in other town in the same time period. But in the other towns the courts wouldn't hear the cases. Salem was a big deal because people actually got killed.

See Hansen's book (cited above in my earlier post) -- he talks quite a bit about earlier cases of supposed witchcraft and possession in New England. A few of the cases come from Cotton Mather's own books, especially More Wonder of the Invisible World. Mather reports on his treatments of the afflicted women (almost invariably women). Note that, although popular memory has Mather at the center of the witchcraft hysteria, and some historians even blame him for "getting it up", Mather actually had very little involvement in the Salem cases, and was a voice of moderation where he did appear.

The Salem cases were remarkable for being so great in number -- most other instances were much snmaller "outbreaks", but in Salem a great many opeople were accused at the same time. It's also remarkable, as you note, because people were actually killed, ultimately a result of the court's acceptance of "Spectral Evidence". It's worth noting that this was an extraordinary step at the time, and that the court repented of it a year later, publicly apologizing (although that did no good to the nineteen hanged and one pressed victims). Whatever the ultimate cause of the witchcraft mania, the resulting deaths were due to a panicked court system responding inappropriately.


As for Tituba, my recollection is that she and her husband came from Jamaica with Rev. Parris (or whoever their owner was), and that she was a Carib Indian. Her husband's name, in fact, was "John Indian". In an awful lot of fiction based on the trials (not to mention in some of the plays and exhibits in the town of Salem , Massachusetts), she is portrayed as black, however.

DrDeth 01-19-2005 01:55 AM

Note that there is one thing which few consider- that perhaps one of the accused (maybe Tituba) was in actuality a 'witch". Not capable of real magic, of course, but one who thought she was or pretended to be so. Fortune tellers- even those that claimed they have 'demon familiars" were not unknown then... or now.

The Punkyova 01-19-2005 11:26 AM

Thanks to WCStyles I actually made it to the people section. In Tituba's biography, the writer comments that the first girls picked up were telling fortunes, which was considered Satanic and forbidden. ( They were dropping egg white into a glass of water and looking to see what shapes formed.) It's unclear whether they were playing a silly game or whether they actually thought they were doing something. The writer also comments that all the specific acts of witchcraft were culturally European, not African or Afro-Caribean. This makes it unlikely that Tituba was a leader of the practices.

DrDeth 01-19-2005 03:57 PM

Well, yes- but VooDoo and similar practices look a lot like witchcraft to the un-initiated, and the witchhunter dudes of the day wouldn't care about the significant culteral differances.

Skywatcher 01-19-2005 04:49 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by sheherazahde
I think you really need to look at the larger issues. If you say it was caused by "a bedrock belief in the reality of witches held by a theocratic society having only a superficial acquaintance with the rule of law." How do you explain the Satanic panic in western New York State in the 1980s? A better explanation is a few symbolic urban legends supported by "experts" fit the unconscious needs of a community stressed by changing social structures and an uncertain economic future. That explains the burning times in Germany and France in the 1500s, the Salem trials 1691-2, the McCarthy hearings 1953-54, and the Satanic ritual abuse cases in the 1980s.

West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993?

Dan Norder 01-20-2005 04:40 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by J. Michael Reiter
Listen, folks, I just read the article on The Salem Witch Trials and the root cause of them not being from Ergot or Ergotic Alkaloid ingestion. I think you are all wet

And this would be why you don't write the Straight Dope.

The ergot poisoning idea is a pseudo-intellectual answer to a great mystery. By that I mean something phrased in scientific-sounding words that superficially matches some minor features and is then offered up as the One True Solution and swallowed by the gullible public even though it doesn't make sense to the actual facts of the topic. For others see the ideas that werewolves were people who suffered porphyria (although ergot poisoning is offered up as a pat solution there as well), Atlantis was [fill in the blank of some geographic location], Noah's flood was based upon catastrophic Black Sea flood (or the same tsunami that supposedly got Atlantis), vampires were albinos (or also porphyria), and so forth and so on.

The Punkyova 01-20-2005 03:27 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by DrDeth
Well, yes- but VooDoo and similar practices look a lot like witchcraft to the un-initiated, and the witchhunter dudes of the day wouldn't care about the significant culteral differances.

Look again. I said "the specific acts of witchcraft." Tituba, for example, pled guilty to "riding about on a pole," an act that has a long history in European witch beliefs, but no counterparts in African or Afro-Caribean practice. The inference is that she pled guilty to whatever she was accused of, reasoning (correctly) that her chances of survival were much better that way. A further inference might be that she wasn't guilty of anything, but YMMV.

Larry Borgia 01-20-2005 04:55 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dan Norder
And this would be why you don't write the Straight Dope.

The ergot poisoning idea is a pseudo-intellectual answer to a great mystery. By that I mean something phrased in scientific-sounding words that superficially matches some minor features and is then offered up as the One True Solution and swallowed by the gullible public even though it doesn't make sense to the actual facts of the topic. For others see the ideas that werewolves were people who suffered porphyria (although ergot poisoning is offered up as a pat solution there as well), Atlantis was [fill in the blank of some geographic location], Noah's flood was based upon catastrophic Black Sea flood (or the same tsunami that supposedly got Atlantis), vampires were albinos (or also porphyria), and so forth and so on.

While I agree with the general gist of your post, we should remember that sometimes the glib pseudo-intellectual sounding answer turns out to be the right one. One case is the Dinosaurs being killed by an asteroid. This sounded a lot like the list of ideas in your post and was (IIRC) a pretty controversial opinion at first. Now it is the mainstream view.

sheherazahde 01-21-2005 04:04 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Lute Skywatcher

The West Memphis three looks more like a simple case of scapegoating using socially acceptable stereotypes, then a full blown Satanic panic. Three children were killed so there was a crime that needed to be investigated. And I didn't see anything about widespread mob fear of Satanist in the area.

But I don't know much about the particular case.

IAMMYOWNGOD 02-07-2005 06:04 PM

I think it's worth mentioning that The Holy Bible clearly has something to do with perpetuating the idea that witches exist. If you believe the Bible to be the divine word of God, then it follows that you not only believe in witches but also that they should be killed simply for being witches. Exodus 22:18 states - "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." This is a statement made by "God" to Moses during his famous Mt. Sinai speech. An obvious problem: how do you identify the witches? Clearly this presented a problem for the religious freaks in Salem, but believing in their duty to kill witches, they apparently improvised. It's amazing to me that intelligent people in this day and age could subscribe to the Bible at all since this is but one example of the superstitious hogwash contained therein.

I would love to hear from a Jew or Christian who could defend their belief in witches and/or this passage from the Bible. Please inform me - how do you identify witches
Quote:

Originally Posted by sheherazahde
I never bought the ergot theory and I was disgusted by PBS supporting it.

I recommend "Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend" by Jeffrey S. Victor. It isn't about Salem but he examines how and why people can be caught up in a "satanic panic".

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/081269192X/

I read something once (unfortunately I can't remember where) that said that there were similar Witch scares in other town in the same time period. But in the other towns the courts wouldn't hear the cases. Salem was a big deal because people actually got killed.

I think you really need to look at the larger issues. If you say it was caused by "a bedrock belief in the reality of witches held by a theocratic society having only a superficial acquaintance with the rule of law." How do you explain the Satanic panic in western New York State in the 1980s? A better explanation is a few symbolic urban legends supported by "experts" fit the unconscious needs of a community stressed by changing social structures and an uncertain economic future. That explains the burning times in Germany and France in the 1500s, the Salem trials 1691-2, the McCarthy hearings 1953-54, and the Satanic ritual abuse cases in the 1980s.

http://members.shaw.ca/imaginarycrimes/howRAstarted.htm


kidchameleon 02-07-2005 08:44 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by IAMMYOWNGOD
I would love to hear from a Jew or Christian who could defend their belief in witches and/or this passage from the Bible. Please inform me - how do you identify witches

Build a bridge out of 'er!

John W. Kennedy 02-07-2005 09:37 PM

Actually, belief in witches has been regarded as a leftover pagan superstition (you do know that it's a worldwide belief as old as mankind, with no special relation to the Bible, don't you?) for most of the history of Christianity.

kung fu lola 02-07-2005 10:13 PM

I remember a Newsweek article that claimed to trace the Witch Trials to a disagreement over inheritance and the right of women to hold property. Has anyone else heard this theory?

Tenar 02-07-2005 10:52 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by IAMMYOWNGOD
I would love to hear from a Jew or Christian who could defend their belief in witches and/or this passage from the Bible. Please inform me - how do you identify witches

No offense, but this seems more suited to Great Debates (if it is your intention to debate belief in witches) or to General Questions (if you are asking a factual question regarding the identification of witches).

Otherwise, though -- welcome to SDMB. Enjoy your stay.

IAMMYOWNGOD 02-08-2005 01:10 PM

The key point that you seem to be missing is that "God" himself is commanding humans (via Moses) to kill witches. I would agree that this is likely a leftover pagan superstition - but from a believer's point of view, this must be taken as a command from "God." In fairness, this passage seems to be a candidate for something arbitrarily added, perhaps during the writing of the King James version of the Bible. The passage sticks out like a sore thumb. The only relevant context anywhere near it is "Thou shalt not kill" - a contradictory statement.

Quote:

Originally Posted by John W. Kennedy
Actually, belief in witches has been regarded as a leftover pagan superstition (you do know that it's a worldwide belief as old as mankind, with no special relation to the Bible, don't you?) for most of the history of Christianity.


John W. Kennedy 02-08-2005 04:48 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by IAMMYOWNGOD
The key point that you seem to be missing is that "God" himself is commanding humans (via Moses) to kill witches. I would agree that this is likely a leftover pagan superstition - but from a believer's point of view, this must be taken as a command from "God." In fairness, this passage seems to be a candidate for something arbitrarily added, perhaps during the writing of the King James version of the Bible.

No.
Quote:

Originally Posted by IAMMYOWNGOD
The passage sticks out like a sore thumb.

Not particularly. The whole thing is a laundry list.
Quote:

Originally Posted by IAMMYOWNGOD
The only relevant context anywhere near it is "Thou shalt not kill" - a contradictory statement.

Actually, that should be translated, "Thou shalt do no murder."

In any case, the exact meaning of the word that is translated "witch" is in doubt. The etymological sense is "poisoner", but it is not clear whether that was its meaning at the time -- and, one way or the other, "poisoner" and "witch", culturally, are closely allied concepts.

As C. S. Lewis points out, we don't have witch-hunts any more because we don't believe in witches. But if we did believe in witches, i.e., in people who have made an arrangement with the Devil to gain supernatural powers in order to do harm to their neighbors, then who could possibly deserve death more than such filthy quislings?

IAMMYOWNGOD 02-09-2005 01:08 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by John W. Kennedy
No.Not particularly. The whole thing is a laundry list.Actually, that should be translated, "Thou shalt do no murder."

In any case, the exact meaning of the word that is translated "witch" is in doubt. The etymological sense is "poisoner", but it is not clear whether that was its meaning at the time -- and, one way or the other, "poisoner" and "witch", culturally, are closely allied concepts.

As C. S. Lewis points out, we don't have witch-hunts any more because we don't believe in witches. But if we did believe in witches, i.e., in people who have made an arrangement with the Devil to gain supernatural powers in order to do harm to their neighbors, then who could possibly deserve death more than such filthy quislings?

I can't remember my source, but I did read that the closest translation is "an evil, female spell-caster." Even if you do believe in witches and thought they should be killed, how would you identify them? "God" in the Bible doesn't say how to do that! And that's why I mention it hear because the misguided folks in Salem must've read this particular commandment from their god and tragically felt compelled to follow it.

IAMMYOWNGOD 02-09-2005 01:20 PM

hello again
 
I can't remember my source, but I read that the original translation is "an evil, female spell-caster" (which brings up the point - aren't there male witches and don't they deserve execution as well?). Even if you believe in witches and are willing to execute them as "God" commanded, how will you identify them? "God" doesn't say how to do that in the Bible. I think it's very likely that the misguided folks in Salem were familiar with Exodus 22:18 and tragically decided to obey their god's commandment.

Quote:

Originally Posted by John W. Kennedy
No.Not particularly. The whole thing is a laundry list.Actually, that should be translated, "Thou shalt do no murder."

In any case, the exact meaning of the word that is translated "witch" is in doubt. The etymological sense is "poisoner", but it is not clear whether that was its meaning at the time -- and, one way or the other, "poisoner" and "witch", culturally, are closely allied concepts.

As C. S. Lewis points out, we don't have witch-hunts any more because we don't believe in witches. But if we did believe in witches, i.e., in people who have made an arrangement with the Devil to gain supernatural powers in order to do harm to their neighbors, then who could possibly deserve death more than such filthy quislings?


Captain Amazing 02-09-2005 02:24 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by IAMMYOWNGOD
(which brings up the point - aren't there male witches and don't they deserve execution as well?).

One of the people accused of witchcraft at Salem (who died after being pressed with stones after refusing to enter a plea), was a man, Giles Corey.

Captain Amazing 02-09-2005 02:27 PM

Further, six of the witches found guilty and executed at Salem were men: George Burroughs, John Willard, George Jacobs, Sr., John Proctor, Wilmott Redd, and Samuel Wardwell.

Skywatcher 02-09-2005 05:31 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by sheherazahde
The West Memphis three looks more like a simple case of scapegoating using socially acceptable stereotypes, then a full blown Satanic panic. Three children were killed so there was a crime that needed to be investigated. And I didn't see anything about widespread mob fear of Satanist in the area.

But I don't know much about the particular case.

The WM3 have been discussed at great length here, you should take a look.

tgs222 10-25-2013 09:05 AM

True?
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Menocchio (Post 5719710)
That's what I meant. If the girls had St Anthony's Fire / ergotism, they would have been diagnosed as such, not as victims of an unknown and possibly supernatural ailment. The Salem folks would have recognized ergotism. This wasn't it.

Ergotism was not really well understood until about 1820 (except by Jesus). I Googled a bit on doctors and ergotism and did not get any confidence that Salem's doctors (if any) would have ID'd this. Do you have a source? I had shingles (something remotely similar) 15 years ago & it was properly diagnosed by my physical therapist & my doctor never acknowledged that I had shingles. Ergotism had to be much less common.

Czarcasm 10-25-2013 10:23 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by tgs222 (Post 16789173)
Ergotism was not really well understood until about 1820 (except by Jesus). I Googled a bit on doctors and ergotism and did not get any confidence that Salem's doctors (if any) would have ID'd this. Do you have a source? I had shingles (something remotely similar) 15 years ago & it was properly diagnosed by my physical therapist & my doctor never acknowledged that I had shingles. Ergotism had to be much less common.

You revived an eight year old thread to ask a question of someone that hasn't posted here for almost five years.

Musicat 10-25-2013 12:41 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by tgs222 (Post 16789173)
Ergotism was not really well understood until about 1820 (except by Jesus).

Jesus who? Did he live in Salem, Mass.? Was he a doctor? Researcher?

Gagundathar 10-25-2013 02:32 PM

'Tis the season for zombies!

gnoitall 10-25-2013 05:24 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Gagundathar (Post 16790344)
'Tis the season for zombies!

I bet even real Salem witches never raised zombies. Whether ergotic or not.

simster 10-25-2013 05:37 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by gnoitall (Post 16790872)
I bet even real Salem witches never raised zombies. Whether ergotic or not.

ergot zombie?

Musicat 10-25-2013 06:15 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by gnoitall (Post 16790872)
I bet even real Salem witches never raised zombies. Whether ergotic or not.

I want to raise a zombie. What do I plant?

kidchameleon 10-25-2013 07:16 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Musicat (Post 16791030)
I want to raise a zombie. What do I plant?

I hear plants fight zombies.

Ignatz 10-25-2013 08:49 PM

Five of the "witches" were exonerated by the acting Mass. governor on Halloween 2001.

bahimes 10-28-2013 04:11 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by simster (Post 16790902)
ergot zombie?

Ergo...

handsomeharry 10-31-2013 09:16 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Ignatz (Post 16791360)
Five of the "witches" were exonerated by the acting Mass. governor on Halloween 2001.

Just in the nick of time!

Elendil's Heir 09-07-2017 09:18 AM

Bumped because the article is back on the SD front page.

My high school American History teacher in the mid-Eighties discussed the ergot theory, which was somewhat recent at that point, but did not say it was proved, just interesting. Another analysis at the time suggested that the families whose members were leveling witchcraft accusations were often then beneficiaries of the lands and property forfeited by convicted witches' families. Money talks.

Annie-Xmas 09-09-2017 11:49 AM

So in talking to a local Bible-thumping Christian, I asked why he wasn't out killing witches instead of harassing women going into a local women's health clinic. He claimed that the "witches" the Bible was talking about were a local group that were burning babies alive as a human sacrifice.

Of course, nothing in Exodus backs this up.

furryman 09-09-2017 01:28 PM

I've come across all these theories at one time or another, perhaps a combination of all of them is true:
1. The accused were generally speaking women who were good at herbal medicine.
2. The accused were women who were old and single.
3. The main reason the hysteria continued was due to a small group of girls who where seeking attention.

Little Nemo 09-09-2017 01:40 PM

Let's not overlook the obvious: people really believed in witches back then.

I'm not saying witches existed, then or now. But we shouldn't struggle so hard to explain why people were making accusations of witchcraft. There doesn't have to be hidden motives.

John W. Kennedy 09-09-2017 07:58 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Little Nemo (Post 20468369)
Let's not overlook the obvious: people really believed in witches back then.

I'm not saying witches existed, then or now. But we shouldn't struggle so hard to explain why people were making accusations of witchcraft. There doesn't have to be hidden motives.

Well, yes, but assuming that you’re talking about Salem, there are still some mysteries remaining even after you allow for that. Why this sudden witch hunt when witch hunts had been long lost in the past? And why did all the judges, etc., say only a year later that they were so very, very sorry, and had no idea what ever could have come over them like that?

aldiboronti 09-10-2017 07:13 AM

Local politics or animosities could be at the root of it, the fantasies of the young girls used as a tool to further the designs of some particular people. Perhaps the relevant question here is cui bono?, who stood to gain from the trials?

tomndebb 09-11-2017 07:22 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Little Nemo (Post 20468369)
Let's not overlook the obvious: people really believed in witches back then.

I'm not saying witches existed, then or now. But we shouldn't struggle so hard to explain why people were making accusations of witchcraft. There doesn't have to be hidden motives.

Actually, their do have to be hidden motives. (Hidden in the sense that they are unknown, not in the sense of plots or conspiracies.)

The witch trials of the Renaissance, (they were never a Medieval phenomenon), tended to be social outbreaks that occurred in specific locations, for limited times. While there were occasional individual "witches" tried and executed in that period, it was rather more common for a community to have a frenzied outbreak resulting in a number of convictions and executions over a short period of time, followed by a restoration of something resembling sanity and the ending of the outbreak.

Given that phenomenon, a simple belief in witches does not really explain the Salem outbreak.

Little Nemo 09-11-2017 09:33 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by John W. Kennedy (Post 20468902)
Well, yes, but assuming that you’re talking about Salem, there are still some mysteries remaining even after you allow for that. Why this sudden witch hunt when witch hunts had been long lost in the past? And why did all the judges, etc., say only a year later that they were so very, very sorry, and had no idea what ever could have come over them like that?

Quote:

Originally Posted by tomndebb (Post 20472028)
The witch trials of the Renaissance, (they were never a Medieval phenomenon), tended to be social outbreaks that occurred in specific locations, for limited times. While there were occasional individual "witches" tried and executed in that period, it was rather more common for a community to have a frenzied outbreak resulting in a number of convictions and executions over a short period of time, followed by a restoration of something resembling sanity and the ending of the outbreak.

The Salem Witch craze occurred in 1692. Burning witches was not some long forgotten practice. Thousands of people (mostly women) were executed for witchcraft during the seventeenth century.

Granted, an outbreak of witch hunting didn't happen for no reason. But it wasn't a rare event that required an extraordinary reason. If a town had a bad harvest, they might decide to burn some witches.

A year later, the townspeople might feel some regrets. But it was more like "Yeah, we went a little overboard" rather than "My God, what did we do?"

qazwart 09-12-2017 09:15 PM

This witch hunt episode became famous because of something very strange and unusual happened: Society and those in charge admitted they was at fault.

Almost as soon as the trials began, the use of spectral evidence was questioned (something that was allowed in previous witch trials). By the next year, spectral evidence was banned and most of those accused were acquitted. By 1695, there were calls to compensate those who were falsely accused and either jailed or executed. By around 1710, the relatives of those executed were compensated.

This to me is truly the most amazing this about the Salem Witch Trials. If society did not show remorse, it's very likely that the trials would have become a mere footnote in our history much like The Red Summer when hundreds of Blacks were killed in race riots across the United States.

It worries me that if we had a similar incident, would society be so quick to admit fault, or just hope it goes away and never mention it again.


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