Dark Academia

Dark Academia Features:‘Salem Witch Trials’

Edited by Kavya Mittal

 

We’re soon entering October, and it is officially the season of the witch. Moving forth with Dark Academia, with its insistence on studying literature and history, it is only natural that we arrived on the topic of ‘Salem Witch Trials’. This infamous event is one that is often hushed about when talking of tragic historical events and is a prime example of the crucifixion of women, for…well, existing. In fact, the term ‘witch hunt’, that is used around commonly these days in modern eroding democracies, takes its inspiration from this very tragic and gruesome event.

 

To quote directly from Britannica’s article on Salem Witch Trials, “Witches were considered to be followers of Satan who had traded their souls for his assistance.” Early on, in the 14th Century, belief in the supernatural, and especially devil’s practices, was widespread in colonial New England. Talks about witchcraft began to take rounds when Samuel Parris’ (a merchant from Boston) two daughters, Elizabeth and Abigail, started having fits, including violent contortions and uncontrollable outbursts of screaming. Unable to account for their behavior medically, the local doctor, put the blame on the supernatural. After being pressured by their father to identify their tormentor, Elizabeth and Abigail claimed that they had been bewitched by Tituba, a slave worker and two other marginalized members of the community, neither of whom attended church regularly, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborn. That started the public inquiry into this matter by two magistrates. After being constantly badgered, Tituba told the magistrates what they supposedly wanted to hear – that they had been visited by the devil, and they cut a deal with him. The magistrates took this confession as evidence for the presence of possibly more witches in the community.

 

In the meantime, more women and girls started experiencing fits just like Abigail and Elizabeth. And in the backdrop, more and more women were starting to be identified as witches. These women were no longer just outsiders, even upstanding members of society were also being identified as witches. These women’s confessions were rewarded by a pardon from the court’s vengeance – because of the Puritan belief that they would receive their punishment from God – but the trials soon began to overwhelm the judicial system. People in the community who viewed these unfolding events as travesties remained silent, because they were afraid of the repercussions of raising objections to the proceedings. These repercussions, in most cases, included being blamed for practicing witchcraft themselves. 

 

On June 2nd, 1692, Bridget Bishop—who had also been accused and found innocent of witchery some 12 years earlier—was now the first of the defendants to be convicted for her older accusations. She was hanged on June 10th and on July 19th, five more women were hanged, and it went on. By the end of it, nineteen women had been hanged, and another five had died in custody, all on the basis of spectral evidence at best.

 

From modern science’s point of view, all these symptoms could be attributed to a combination of asthma, encephalitis, Lyme disease, epilepsy, child abuse delusional psychosis, or convulsive ergotism—the last a disease caused by eating bread or cereal made of rye that has been infected with the fungus ‘ergot’, which can elicit vomiting, choking, fits, hallucinations, and the sense of something crawling on one’s skin. Fun Fact: The hallucinogen LSD is a derivative of ergot. 

 

All in all, Salem witch trials is a black spot in the history of America, characterized by the blood of innocent women, who were killed under superstitious presumptions. This event exhibits a cautionary tale for everyone to learn from, even today. It pushes us to introspect and differentiate between what is real and true, what is merely being made to look real, but is in fact not the truth. It is, however, strange and surreal to see how easy it is for people to still manipulate others into believing in pseudo-truths, even today. Salem Witch Trials and their implications are as relevant today, as they were earlier (with or without the supernatural aspect), one just needs to stop and look around.