1. “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron.”
Before we can talk about the tumultuous period that was the development of the first American colonies, we need to go back and find out where the trials all started. And it didn’t start in pish-posh England.
It actually started in Scandinavia in the late 16th century, when King of Scots, James I, stepped in a puddle of crazy.Before King James I became the king of England, he ruled the Scottish country where he was expected to wed the princess of Denmark.
2. “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.”
King James I was getting married to Scandinavian princess Anne of Denmark in 1589. Her ship was set to cross the North Sea when a storm nearly capsized the vessel she was on and was forced to make her way back to Denmark.
The king had no choice but to make the journey overseas to retrieve his bride. He too experienced a stormy journey, but managed to make it to Northern Europe. However, when he reached their shores, James witnessed something horrific.
3. “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.”
It turns out Denmark was in the middle of a frenzy called ‘witch hysteria’. Men and women were being prosecuted legally before the law for conspiring in witchcraft and conversing with the devil.
It was all because the Roman Catholic Church felt it was necessary to tighten everyone’s hands in a vice-grip and get them to clear their minds away from sin and heresy. They succeeded by having the pope’s endorsement inside of history’s most controversial book: Malleus Maleficarum.
4. “Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death.”
The Malleus Maleficarum was written by a German Dominican monk named Heinrich Kramer in 1486. The book, which loosely translates to The Hammer of the Witches, which was basically a “witch-hunting for dummies” guide in how to find, torture, and kill a witch.
The book entails that a witch wanted nothing more than to poison, maim, and kill in the name of evil. It would have been waived off as a bunch of writings from a religious nut if it weren’t for one teeny-tiny detail…the papal bull.
5. “Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king, nor in your bedroom curse the rich, for a bird of the air will carry your voice, or some winged creature tell the matter.”
The papal bull is basically a stamp of approval from the big papa of papas, a pope’s equivalent of a royal proclamation that completely endorsed Kramer’s writings. Once the book became popular, torches were lit, and pitchforks were sharpened. All hell broke loose.
Once people started reading the Malleus Maleficarum, superstition, gossip, and fear took hold of the town, and soon, anyone who was other, strange, or vulnerable were often perceived as witches. There were even rumors that a coven of witches was responsible for the terrible storm that nearly took the king and the princess’s lives. James was overwhelmed with the country’s panic and superstitions.
6. “And I will cut off sorceries from your hand, and you shall have no more tellers of fortunes…”
Upon King James’s return, he thought he left behind the witch hunt that riddled Scandinavia. He was dead wrong. It was far from over. This could have been a footnote in history if it weren’t for one man named David Seaton, a deputy bailiff in the small town outside of Edinburgh.
His maid Geillis Duncan had suddenly acquired the powers of healing and would often sneak out in the middle of the night. Seaton confronted the young girl and accused her of consorting with the devil and demanded to confess her sins. However, Geillis wouldn’t budge no matter how much they tortured or beat her (it was suggested thumbscrews were used as a form of torture). She only professed her innocence; Seaton was determined to get out a confession.
7. “They shall be stoned with stones; their blood shall be upon them.”
Inside the Malleus Maleficarum, one of the indicators for finding a witch in your community is by uncovering the devil’s markings. Unbeknownst to the accused, the mark could be anything from a mole, birthmark, scar — anything that stood out as unnatural. Soon, Seaton found what he was looking for on Geillis’s neck: two moles on her neck. Proof!
Upon the discovery, and after hours of torture, Geillis caved and confessed to consorting with the devil. Why she decided to confess at that moment stumped historians. There is, however, a theory. One relates to Seaton repressing sexual tendencies for the young girl, or perhaps Geillis was having a rendezvous with a lover; a religious taboo in a monastic period.
8. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths.”
Okay, but why are we talking about Europe? This is supposed to be about the Salem witch trials, not Europe’s. Trust, there’s a reason why we’re talking about the European hysteria of witches. It was Geillis’s confession that sparked the UK’s paranormal paranoia.
It spread like a wildfire consuming people of conspiracy, gossip, and fear for more than a hundred years. Once Europe was consumed with witch fever, it was only a matter of time before the fear spread like an incurable contagion to the New World.
9. “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.”
When England decided to break away from the Roman Catholic Church and create the Church of England, a particularly devout group called the Puritans strained to find religious freedom. In efforts to maintain a strict following of the gospel and the word of God, a pilgrimage was set to the New World to build a new religious utopia.
However, when they arrived and settled into what would be the first colonies, the Puritans weren’t doing so hot. In fact, it was the opposite of a utopia.
10. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”
People argued in the New World, often about land, money, or farming. Though they had authoritarians to set laws in the New World, there still lacked a pillar of governing. What ruled in place of political structure was the church.
By 1642, hysteria was on the rise and soon, an inexplicable phenomenon began to unfold and triggered a full-on witch hunt. Hartford, Connecticut was the first colony to start pointing fingers. And it began with the death of an 8-year-old girl.
11. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
An 8-year-old girl has fits: contorting, twisting, screaming, claiming to see things that aren’t there. After her death, they point the finger to a woman named Goodwife Ayres. There was a record of the little girl claiming that it was the old crone who was responsible for her torture.
Her testimony led to the poor woman to be tortured until she confesses of being a witch and rats out 7 other women who were also in onto the witchy good good.
12. “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
About three dozen people were accused of practicing witchcraft between 1647 an d 1663, eleven of which were convicted.. Nine of the eleven were women, and the two men who were executed were the husbands of the women prosecuted.
Those who weren’t executed fled their community while others were banished. Thirty years later, Salem was next to take on the witch flame fever.
13. “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”
Salem was no exception from the devil’s crusade. Witchcraft was common knowledge in the New World. Thanks to the witch hysteria in England, the colonies believed witches existed and needed to be eradicated. No one believed this more than a single failed businessman turned minister named Samuel Parris.
Though Parris was a minister, he would often guilt his church in paying his salary by using the gospel. Little did the hypocritical reverend know, sin was about to come knocking to his front door. His daughter and niece would act as a catalyst for the Salem witch trials.
14. “And he said to them, ‘This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.’”
It seemed like having “fits” and being terrorized by invisible forces of evil are a theme when it came to describing witchcraft. And that’s exactly what happened to Samuel Parris’s daughter, 9-year-old Elizabeth “Betty” Parris, and niece, 11-year-old Abigail Williams, in January of 1692.
That winter, the young girls were plagued by hallucinations, paired with the sensation of being bitten and pinched by what they described were demons. Their eyes were dilated, and their bodies would writhe uncontrollably in physical pain. Betty and Abigail weren’t the only ones displaying symptoms of contortion.
15. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Two other girls, both friends with Elizabeth and Abagail, were identified as Ann Putnam and Elizabeth Hubbard. They, in turn, began to experience fits and reported to seeing strange visions and displayed abnormal behavior contradictory to their character.
The town was suddenly thrown into a frenzy, and an explosion of superstition, fear, and paranoia soon swept through the once quiet town of Salem. There was only one possible explanation as to why all four girls were experiencing such a tarrying display of horror. To them, it was a product of the supernatural.
16. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
Parris believed that fasting and the word of God could cure the girls of their ailments, but it only seemed to worsen. To find out what was bothering the girls, Parris called for a doctor to inspect them. However, his efforts would prove futile.
The doctor couldn’t find a physical reason as to why the girls were acting so strangely. There was only one possible conclusion: witchcraft. The minister was floored and did something completely unexpected.
17. “Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God.”
Who would dare place a curse on the minister’s daughter and niece? To discover who the culprit of such evil, a neighbor suggested a folklore remedy that could possibly track down the witch, by using the victim’s urine and adding it into a pastry called “witch cake.”
The witch cake would then be fed to a dog who could supposedly track down the witch responsible for the girls’ demise. The woman who created the witch cake was the minister’s servant, Tituba. Believed to be a Parris’s Indian slave brought to New England from Barbados, Tituba baked the witch cake with the neighbor’s instructions without her master’s permission. Her actions would have disastrous consequences.
18. “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.”
What’s more ironic? A minister plagued by witchcraft, or using witchcraft to fight against witchcraft in a Puritan society? The methods used to combat against the supposed supernatural did not come from Puritan theology, but from folklore, a term which is a traditional belief and custom related to mythology, not religion.
It was the same culture that Puritans were trying to suppress. Though Tituba tried everything in her power to help the young girls, it seemed like it wasn’t enough to find the person to blame for the children’s affliction. Soon, however, a scapegoat would be found among the small Salem village.
19. “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.”
Some researchers believe that the girls could have been the victim of poison ingested by a fungal plant grown during the 17th century: Rye. Rye was grown for numerous purposes, one of which was to bake bread. However, what the villagers didn’t know is that rye was susceptible to a fungus known as ergot.
Ingesting the infected stalk could cause hallucinogenic symptoms and physical afflictions. They were known to display nervous dysfunction such as contortions. In fact, LSD is derived from ergot fungus.
20. “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.”
Perfect! Problem solved, the answer was in the bread…you think. There may be an alternate explanation as to why the girls were freaking out over a loaf of bread.
There are two reasons why this explanation wouldn’t worked: (a) Puritans were an extremely religious colony who saw the supernatural mundane, and (b) it’s possible that ergot was not the culprit responsible for the paranormal fits in the Parris household, the idea was refuted. Instead, the answer was a bit more nefarious.
21. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own…”
Consuming ergot is no walk in the park. It’s a dangerous toxin that has the capability to kill whoever ingested it. If it was ergot, many people would have had similar symptoms as the young women. However, it was only those four individuals showcasing the symptoms, which caused great suspicion.
They only showed their turmoil during certain periods of time; it was asymptomatic, and all girls were healthy in appearance. This was not the product of poisoning. One possible culprit? Acting.
22. “Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled.”
Their fits were inconsistent. This led many to believe that girls were faking their symptoms, which is a grave and serious thing to do during a time ruled by superstition and fear. The girls were dancing to a dangerous tune.
If they were discovered, they themselves could be accused as witches and hanged for their crimes. Pressured by Reverend Parris to name the witch that was tormenting them, the girls began to spout out a list of names. Tituba was among them.
23. “Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.”
Among the list of the accused, Tituba was the first to be named. At her trial, Tituba confessed to practicing witchcraft that was tormenting the young girls of Salem. In turn, Tituba named other witches in her so-called coven.
That included Sarah Good, a mentally ill beggar, Sarah “Goody” Osborn, a sickly widow (who rumor has it had beef with the Ann Putnam’s family), and Bridget Bishop who was a three-time divorcee known for a “dubious moral character,” who frequented in taverns, and dressed promiscuously by Puritan standards.
24. “You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.”
By February, all accused women were tried and found guilty of their dealings in the occult. Her confession resulted in 20 men and women (one record suggest that a four-year-old child was among them) arrested for making a pact and offering their services with dark forces. Some victims weren’t even human — animals were also executed for what villagers thought a “witche’s familiar.” Two dogs were killed during the trials. One was shot to death because a sickly child accused the animal of bewitching her.
But did any of the women confess just as Tituba had? Not so. Some historians speculate that the reason Tituba confessed was that of her status as a slave. It was most likely that she was previously beaten, and perhaps by confessing her dealings in witchcraft, believed she could avoid further torture. By confessing in her dealing with witchcraft, Tituba made the possibility of magic a reality and added fuel to the fire of paranoia throughout the village.
25. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
Suprisingly, Tituba was not the first to be executed during the Salem witch trials. In fact, she was never executed. First up was Bridget Bishop. Her “immoral” character along with overwhelming testimonies from numerous witnesses pushed her to the figurative chopping block. The women accused were often faced with “examination.” For instance, to further prove the accused, a religious figure would ask the witch to recite a biblical verse. If the accused failed, it was further evidence that they were wicked.
Other forms of exams included dunking witches in water, or pricking their “devil’s mark” with a needle to see if it would bleed. Though she pleaded innocent, Bridget Bishop was still found guilty and was executed in June of 1692. Tituba would be later released after the witch trials were laid to rest. However, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborn were not so lucky, and like Bishop, were both executed. It was at the end of the 17th century that the witch hunt peaked and was stopped by one rational man.
26. “You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.”
By the fall of 1692, the witch trials were getting way out of hand. People were tried and executed without any evidence. Eventually, the wife of a respected minister, Cotton Mather, was accused of being a witch. Salem’s governor intervened and prohibited any further arrests.
Many of the accused were released. Two-hundred people were imprisoned and accused of witchcraft, twenty of which were executed. By the end of the 17th century, the phenomena of witch hunting came to a full halt. Today, being a witch has become an iconic cult symbol, however, a few details got blurred along the way.
27. “I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!”
Today the common image of a witch is to paint your face green, wear a black pointy hat, and cackle with a broomstick in hand. How did a cackling green witch come into the picture? You can thank the Wizard of Oz for giving birth to our idea of what a witch should look like.
It honestly makes sense. The movie was a sensation when it appeared in theaters and on our television screens. Her skin painted green, complete with a flying broomstick, and candy-striped stockings created the modern idea of what a witch should look like and made the witch costume a Halloween fav in the 50s. It was to show off that new Technicolor technology. But still, there are elements to our Wicked Witch of the West that doesn’t add up.
28. “Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble.”
The pointy hat, believe it or not, goes way back — even further than the Salem witch trials to smack-dab in the middle of medieval Europe. You see, the fashion trend of that time was for aristocratic ladies of noble birth to wear a pointy hat, which was called a hennin (no seriously look it up).
The hat sported a veil and crowned high above the head. The hottest trend since William Shakespeare’s ruff, the hennin was coveted by rich and poor alike. So, to make a commoner’s version, a milliner designed a less attractive, simpler version of the hennin. And of course, once the witch hysteria began in Europe, many of the accused were commoners who wore the knock-off version of the designer hennin.
29. “Always keep rosemary at your garden gate.”
Okay, that explains the hat, what about the broomstick? Where did that come from? Well, this tidbit has a bit of magic involved. The common household tool was used in pagan rituals for crop fertility rights and was believed to be the hiding place of their magic wands during witch hunts.
Some believed that to make their brooms fly, the witches would use a “special ointment” to allow their brooms to lift and help them fly across the sky. Fun, huh? Good thing there aren’t any more witches in the world today, right? The goof folk of Salem handled that. You’d be surprised.
30. “The Supernatural is only the Natural disclosed.”
Despite what you may believe, witches are very much real, but I wouldn’t start visualizing your neighbor with a green painted face flying across the sky with a twist-mop. In fact, it would be hard to find a modern witch today.
Modern pagans, or Wiccans, continue to practice the art of the craft, but instead of consorting with the devil, this peaceful sect worship nature and often pray to a female deity only known as “The Goddess.” In the Wiccan religion, modern witches, man, and woman alike, take an oath of benevolence, using their craft for good and to abstain from evil.