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Causes of Witchcraft Mass Hysteria in Salem

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A scream rang through the church. Tituba, a Puritan slave who claimed to believe voodoo magic coursed through her veins had to confess to God to pray away the devil . In the year 1620, after the Puritans came from France and immigrated to North America. After this, in 1692, people, women in particular were being hanged left and right from accusations of performing witchcraft. This may have stemmed from the Puritans being incredibly religious. There were five main reasons for the Salem Witch Trial Hysteria. The first one was the age, gender, and marital status of those accused. There was also a theory that the girls were lying and pretending for attention, recognition, or revenge. It may have also related to town division. The Salem village had less accusers and more accused witches. The Salem town had more money and power therefore more accusers and less accused witches. One more possible reason was the contamination of rye grain with ergot fungus causing delusion or the cold weather theory.

The first possible reason for the Salem Witch Trial Hysteria was the age, marital status, and gender of those accused. Mainly, it was older widowed or single women from ages forty-one through sixty being accused by married female young adults. This may have been the result of some jealousy and rivalry between these two groups on the younger women’s side of things. The conflict was completely dominated by the women. Another possibility of the reason for the resentment from the younger girls was the fact that they were Puritans. Being a Puritan was not a very fun or happy religion.

One could say they didn’t believe in fun or self-enjoyment. They weren’t ever listened to and had no voice. They had nearly no play and their lives were spent solely on work and worship. This may have made it harder for them to get along with other groups of women.

Not only was one of the possible causes the age, gender, and marital status of those accused, there also may have been women who were faking it or lying. Similar to the conflicts arising between the groups of women, it is likely that they wanted attention or vengeance. Again, these women did nothing but work and worship and didn’t have a voice at all. Despite this, it is also possible that some of the lying came from delusion or mental illness rather than wanting attention or recognition. The hysteria around this issue came partially from proof of women lying. Bridget Bishop was being examined in Salem Village by minister Samuel Paris: “I know nothing of it. I am innocent to a witch. I know not what a witch is. Then she turned up her eyes, and the eyes of the afflicted were turned up.” This quotation explains the possibility that the women became intoxicated by the attention and recognition, or the “frenzy” that they had caused. The fame became a sort of addiction or “notoriety” which means “fame for doing something bad.” The girls were ignored all their lives and for once wanted some recognition. Even though it was for something wicked, they undoubtedly felt heard.

In addition to the girls lying, another cause of the Salem Witch Trial Hysteria may have been town division. Most of the accusers were in Salem Village, and this place had a lot more money than Salem Town. In Salem Town, there more accused witches and people defending them. This can insinuate that the more prosperous town had more people accusing witches and the poor town had more accused witches. This caused the two towns to divide and caused resentment between the two. Just like between the younger and older women, rivalries, disputes, and personal differences don’t lead to good places. In this case, it caused more false accusations and therefore, disunity. The Witch Trial Hysteria was caused by the fact that the place with less accused witches and more accusers thrived and had more money.

One final possible reason for the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 is the cold weather theory. “According to this theory, the Salem tragedy might have been related to the cold weather, more specifically a pursuit for something or someone to blame for the related hardships such as crop failure.” Historical records indicate that the years around the Salem Witch Trials were particularly cold. The trials evidently took place in the “Little Ice Age, a period of abnormally cold climate between the mid-14th and mid-19th century.” The ergot fungus would explain the delusion of the afflicted girls. Although, it is possible that this was a kind of excuse or something to blame for the hysteria which can’t be logically explained by certain historians. There was also an ergot spread in rye grains right before the witch trials which caused hallucination and convulsion that matched up with those of the afflicted girls. One may speculate that if a group of girls who “fell into fits when she [accused witch] came near” ate the infected rye grain, that could be the cause of their alarming behavior.

The Salem Witch Trial Hysteria had five main possible causations. The first one was the age, gender, and marital status of those accused and accusers. There was also a theory that the girls were lying and pretending for attention. The reason could also have related to town division. The Salem village had less accusers and more accused witches. The Salem town had more money and power therefore more accusers and less accused witches. One more possible reason was the theory that cold weather was the issue. It may have also been contamination of rye grain with ergot fungus causing delusion. If the strange behavior by the afflicted girls and the accused witches were to happen again today, people would react differently. There are many programs for mental health and mental wellness. If there were women acting so ill, it is likely that they would be checked into an institution or put on medication. Our country has come a long way in this aspect.

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