Re: Historical Background Regarding Witchcraft ... Continued

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Posted by Doc M on January 20, 2000 at 13:31:30:

In Reply to: Re: Historical Background Regarding Witchcraft ... Continued posted by Bill R on January 20, 2000 at 12:29:22:

: : : : Hi Elaine:

: : : : Thank you for posting this fascinating history of the Great Hunt.

: : : : :: By the way, those killed in Massachusetts were falsely accused and they were most enthusiastic in their denials of witchcraft & 'magick.'

: : : : Ironically, the accused who plead guilty to the charge of witchcraft were spared the death sentence, while those who were convicted of the charge were put to death. Those who were found guilty were found so based on non-empirical “evidence” that the defendants could not disprove, such as allegations that the “witch” was in two places at one time. Many witnesses for the prosecution testified that the “witch’s” spirit visited him/her in the middle of the night while defense witnesses testified that the accused was actually elsewhere at the time of the alleged “visit.” Once the courts disallowed such “evidence” no more defendants were found guilty and thus the “witch hunt” in Salem came to an end.

: : : : Best wishes,
: : : : Goody Sandy

: : : Excellent posts on this topic! The latest book I've read
: : : on the Salem trials is "A Fever In Salem" by Laurie Carlson.
: : : Her theory is the hysteria was caused by an outbreak of
: : : encephalitis, spread by the mosquitos that infested the
: : : area at the time -- even now, Salem is surrounded by
: : : marshes which are prime breeding grounds. Apparently
: : : many of the symptoms of the "afflicted" are the same
: : : as those of encephalitis. The outbreaks are cyclical,
: : : and her research showed the East coast has periodically
: : : been affected by the disease (this summer, for example.)
: : : One of the time periods of the outbreak was in the 1690s.
: : : Fascinating book, even if you don't buy the theory.
: : : Interesting how such a "local" event over 300 years
: : : ago has become such a integral part of American history
: : : and literature isn't it?

: : : Doc M

: : Hi Doc M:

: : I agree that this has been a most interesting and thought-provoking discussion. Thanks for the information about “A Fever in Salem.” That is an interesting theory but …it’s no coincidence that all of the accused women just happened to be outspoken members of the community – a BIG NO-NO in those days. And not all of the accusers where children afflicted by disease, mass hysteria, childish pranks, the desire to prevent the hickory switch from making contact with their behinds for misbehaving, etc. -- some were adults such as the man who accused Goody Crawford of witchcraft after he failed to prove in court that she torched his house. He made a second attempt at proving her guilt using the old standby that she used her supernatural powers to be in two places at once. But regardless of the cause, one of the most interesting aspects of this event is our continued fascination with it and that it’s been woven into the fabric of our history.

: : Best wishes,
: : Goody Sandy

: I have heard the theory put forth that some, if not a great part, of the motivations for the continued craze in Salem was that it was a land grab. Nataniel Hawthorne's "House of Seven Gables" puts this theory into fiction, but being from around there likely he felt there was some basis for that theory in part. It could be said that most of those charged were women who were outspoken...but as the craze grew many were and women...and not coincidentally they were land owners and land was confiscated. Only when the accusations hit the household of the Governor himself was the craze squelched. But many profited from the craze.

: I could be wrong here, but there are civil suits (or were) directed at the city and descendants of the accusers by the descendants of the accused. I know part of the suit was motivated by the descendants of those accused trying to clear the good name of their forbears, however I believe (and could be wrong here) that there was also an attempt to regain lost property or seek financial compensation also.

: Other opinions?

: Bill R

Oh, absolutely. I read another book awhile ago -- can't
remember the title -- where the author drew a detailed
map of Salem Village showing that the properties of
many of the accused just happened to abut the properties
of the accusers...and of course since the families of
the accused were often turned out of their houses and
had to leave their stock and everything else, their
*good neighbors* obtained a lot of property for next to

When I visited the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, the
tour guide mentioned another theory -- that ergot
poisoning of the grain that was used at that time might
have caused hallucinations of sorcery by the afflicted.
This has since been pretty much discredited though.
I must say the tour guide got pretty snorty when I
told her that...go figure.

Doc M

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