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The Salem witch trials began with the accusation of people in Salem of being witches. But the concept of witchcraft started far before these trials and false accusations occurred. In the early Christian centuries, the church was relatively tolerant of magical practices. Those who were proved to have engaged in witchcraft were required only to do penance. But in the late Middle Ages (13 th century to 14 th century) opposition to alleged witchcraft hardened as a result of the growing belief that all magic and miracles that did not come unambiguously from God came from the Devil and were therefore manifestations of evil. Those who practiced simple sorcery, such as village wise women, were increasingly regarded as practitioners of diabolical witchcraft.
They came to be viewed as individuals in league with Satan. Nearly all those who fell under suspicion of witchcraft were women, evidently regarded by witch-hunters as especially susceptible to the Devils blandishments. A lurid picture of the activities of witches emerged in the popular mind, including covens, or gatherings over which Satan presided; pacts with the Devil; flying broomsticks; and animal accomplices, or familiars. Although a few of these elements may represent vestiges of pre-Christian religion, the old religion probably did not persist in any organized form beyond the 14 th century.
The popular image of witchcraft, perhaps inspired by features of occultism or ceremonial magic as well as by theology concerning the Devil and his works of darkness, was given shape by the inflamed imagination of inquisitors and was confirmed by statements obtained under torture. The late medieval and early modern picture of diabolical witchcraft can be attributed to several causes. First, the church's experience with such dissident religious movements as the Albigenses and Cathari, who believed in a radical dualism of good and evil, led to the belief that certain people had allied themselves with Satan. As a result of confrontations with such heresy, the Inquisition was established by a series of papal decrees between 1227 and 1235. Pope Innocent IV authorized the use of torture in 1252, and Pope Alexander IV gave the Inquisition authority over all cases of sorcery involving heresy, although local courts carried out most actual prosecution of witches.
At the same time, other developments created a climate in which alleged witches were stigmatized as representatives of evil. Since the middle of the 11 th century, the theological and philosophical work of scholasticism had been refining the Christian concepts of Satan and evil. Theologians, influenced by Aristotelian rationalism, increasingly denied that "natural" miracles could take place and therefore alleged that anything supernatural and not of God must be due to commerce with Satan or his minions (see Aristotle). Later, the Reformation, the rise of science, and the emerging modern worldly challenges to traditional religion created deep anxieties in the orthodox population. At the dawn of the Renaissance (15 th century to 16 th century) some of these developments began to coalesce into the "witch craze" that possessed Europe from about 1450 to 1700.
During this period, thousands of people, mostly innocent women, were executed on the basis of "proofs" or "confessions" of diabolical witchcraft that is, of sorcery practiced through allegiance to Satan obtained by means of cruel tortures. A major impetus for the hysteria was the papal bull Submit Desiderantes issued by Pope Innocent VIII in 1484. It was included as a preface in the book Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), published by two Dominican inquisitors in 1486. This work, characterized by a distinct anti-feminine tenor, vividly describes the satanic and sexual abominations of witches. The book was translated into many languages and went through many editions in both Catholic and Protestant countries, outselling all other books except the Bible. In the years of the witch-hunting mania, people were encouraged to inform against one another.
Professional witch finders identified and tested suspects for evidence of witchcraft and were paid a fee for each conviction. The most common test was pricking: All witches were supposed to have somewhere on their bodies a mark, made by the Devil, that was insensitive to pain; if such a spot was found, it was regarded as proof of witchcraft. Other proofs included additional breasts (supposedly used to suckle familiars), the inability to weep, and failure in the water test. In which, a woman was thrown into a body of water; if she sank, she was considered innocent, but if she stayed afloat, she was found guilty. This test, along with the others, was obviously dumb. For if the suspected was innocent, she was dead, and if she was a witch, she would be killed.
And for the body mark test, to find this so called "spot" meant the suspect had to be poked and pricked all over her body till a spot that didnt hurt was found. This obviously caused the suspect a great deal of pain, and if the spot was found the victim still would have gone through torture to find it. The persecution of witches declined about 1700, banished by the Age of Enlightenment, which subjected such beliefs to a skeptical eye. One of the last outbreaks of witch-hunting took place in colonial Massachusetts in 1692, when belief in diabolical witchcraft was already declining in Europe. Twenty people were executed in the wake of the Salem witch trials, which took place after a group of young girls became hysterical while playing at magic and it was proposed that they were bewitched. Although many lost their lives, none of the people accused were actually witches.
They were accused because the girls said that they were the ones causing their state of bewitchment. And although it seemed like the girls were indeed bewitched, it was all a hoax, which was discovered later, unfortunately, after the trials and the deaths of about 20 innocent people. The girls started to believe their bewitchment all because of a slave girl named Tituba. She took care of the household of Reverend Samuel Parris and his family. She reportedly entertained Parriss daughter and niece with forbidden stories of witchcraft and storytelling from her native land. Later the girls called her a witch, and her vivid confession sparked the witch hunting hysteria.
The two girls would occasionally act bewitched or hysterical and blame it on people of the town. But they were careful in their choosing; usually the people accused were very eccentric or weird people, secluded or not very social. This made them the perfect witch types: quiet, weird, eccentric, secluded, and non-social. Ann Putnam, a close friend of the "afflicted girls" later resulted to be bewitched as well, and soon became the star witness, and main victim.
She testified against more "witches" then any one else on the witness stand. But after it was all found to be a hoax, she was followed by guilt and sorrow. She later repented her role in the witch-hunt hysteria. Although most of it was just a hoax, and good acting, it is possible that one of the "affected" girls died from her affliction. Abigail Williams, Samuel Parriss 11 -year old niece, is thought to have died from her affliction soon after the witch-hunt had subsided. Mary Warren, a 20 -year old servant for John and Elizabeth Procter, soon joined the girls in testifying against the "witches." But soon had second thoughts after an accusation against her employers.
She testified on there behalf only to become a suspect herself. Terrified, Warren rejoined the accusers and continued accusing people of being witches. But although it was usually outcasts that were persecuted, the accusation and hanging of Martha Cory was a different type. Martha belonged to the churchgoing elite, she hardly ever missed a day of church, and was one of the few entitled to take communion. She was a critical person in the witch-hunt, it showed the public that not only the outcasts and eccentric were accused, but also the churchgoing and social. In all this dilemma and accusations, only one suspect was found non-guilty.
Rebecca Nurse was accused as well, but found not guilty in the trial. Over 40 friends and neighbors testified in her favor, telling of her good faith and character. But the verdict from the jury caused such an outcry of fear, that the jury was asked to re-consider, and she was then found guilty and hung. Mary Esty, Rebecca Nurses sister was also accused of being a witch, but she argued her case so well and in such a convincing manner, that the girls relented and she was found not guilty. She was released, a first in the witch-trials, but before long she was arrested once again on the claim that the girls had been haunted by her ghost. She was convicted and hung on September 22, 1692.
Although all of the "witches" were hung, a certain man named Giles Cory was killed in a traditional English manner. He was pressed, pressing was where they would place heavy stones on a person till they died. Cory died two days later, crushed. 25 lives were taken during these Salem trials. 19 "witches" were hung at Gallows hill. One was tortured to death by pressing.
And five others died in prison, including an infant. The Salem witch trials were mainly caused by these two girls imagination. But, as already stated in this report, other events led up to the dilemma and hysteria found in the Salem witch trials. Bibliography:
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