Today, not a lot of people are worried about the negative effects witchcraft, black magic or devil worship can have on ones soul. However, it has not always been this way. In colonial Massachusetts between February 1692 and May 1693, there were series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft. It all started after a group of girls, claiming to be possessed by the devil, accused several local women of witchery. As the days went by, it got incredibly easy to accuse someone of witchcraft. Due to the fact that the “weaker gender” was often viewed as the “embodiment of evil”, three-fourths of the accused individuals were women. This episode of the seventeenth century led to a hysteria in the community which brought to a number of casualties. This infamous event is one of the most carefully studied incidents in the American history. Just like any other witchcraft hysteria, the accusations followed a certain pattern.
Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum, in their article Salem Possessed: The social Origins of Witchcraft are convinced that the socioeconomic tensions were responsible for the witchcraft hysteria in Salem. The pace of charges picked up sharply in the beginning of April. In fact, they were made so freely and widely, that accurate records of the official proceedings were no longer kept. (Text pg.193). Even though Boyer and Nissenbaum believe that the Salem Witch trials occurred due to socioeconomic tensions, they state that this particular event cannot be viewed as a combined effort to evict those who did not fit the social standards. After the new pattern of accusations occurred, the charged people in April included “the wealthiest shipowner in Salem (Phillip English) and a minister of the gospel who was a Harvard graduate with a considerable estate in England (George Burroughs)”(Text pg. 193). The increase of literature about the theology of witchcraft and the powers of Satan, and the social anxieties led to the fears and terrors of witchcraft. Primary and secondary sources from the sixteenth and seventeenth century document the Puritan’s strict way of living. “Parris and Putnam and the rest were, after all, not only Salem villagers: they were also men of the seventeenth century; they were New Englanders; and, finally, they were Puritans.”(Text pg. 194)
On the other hand, Laurie Winn Carlson, in her article A Fever in Salem: A New Interpretation of the New England Witch Trials argues that the socioeconomic tensions were not responsible for the witchcraft hysteria in Salem. Carlson believes that the chaos in the community was the product of people’s responses to physical and neurological behaviors resulting from an unrecognized virus known as encephalitis (Text pg.198). The author is convinced that the physical symptoms of the virus, which limited the “afflicted” girls prior mobility, was the main cause of their madness. “Their paralysis was based on the anger over having to work; their inability to walk meant they could not perform their expected labor-in other words, a passive-aggressive response to a situation that incensed them.”(Text pg.198). Carlson assumes that ticks played a part in spreading the virus. Woodcutters could have brought in the disease on their clothes or bodies. Also deer ticks infected people with Lyme disease, which is a bacterial infection which can lead to encephalitis. If the tick bite is not treated, then people
develop “nervous system problems: severe headaches, stiff neck, facial palsies, and weakness and/or pain in their hands, arms, feet, or legs” (Text pg.202)
After taking into considerations all the aspects of the Salem witch trials, I came to a conclusions that socioeconomic tensions were responsible for the paranoia which occurred in seventeenth century. The conflict between Salem town and Salem village rose because of the different views each side had about the community they lived in. According to Benjamin C. Ray, “it was an economic difference that eventually divided the village geographically into two conflicting groups…” (Daily newspaper Puritans had a sense of public goodwill. However, their views were not accepted by Salem town. The misunderstanding of each side brought to a hysteria which led to the execution of many innocent people.,