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She’s a Witch

Upon being pressured by Samuel Parris, the girls identified the perpetrators of their illness as Tituba, a slave brought to Salem by Parris, Sarah Goode, a choleric beggar, and Sarah Osborne, who had been suspected of an affair with a servant. The women were social outcasts and protested their blamelessness at the beginning. However, after being badgered and out of fear, Tibia confessed to having made a deal with the devil in exchange for her powers.

By Inika Harkrishnan

Graphics by Rachel

In the spring of 1692, legal failings, mass paranoia, and Puritan doctrines came together in colonial Massachusetts, and gave birth to one of the most grueling moments in American history.

The Witch Craze in Europe

The ‘Witch Craze’ began in Europe around the 13th century and lasted until nearly the end of the 18th century. Around 110,000 people in Europe had been tried, and between 40,000 to 60,000 were executed for allegedly practicing witchcraft. With the publishing of the Malleus Maleficarum, ‘methods’ to identify witches and devil worshippers became widespread. These often brought the accused close to death through torture, guaranteeing relief in exchange of a confession. No matter their innocence and how ridiculous the charges against them may have been, thousands gave in and admitted to practicing witchcraft. These confessions fueled the mass hysteria that blazed through Europe and diabolized thousands of innocent people.

The Salem Witch Trials begin in a small village in Massachusetts against the backdrop of social divide fueled by two families: The Putnams and the Porters.

Through the influence of the Putnams, Samuel Parris became the pastor of the congregational church. He moved to Salem along with his three children, niece, and wife.

One of Parris’ daughters, Betty, his niece Abigail, and their friend Ann Putnam began displaying increasingly strange behavior, including fits, odd sounds, complaints of biting sensations and throwing objects. (The inputs of modern science have led many to believe that these were a result of convulsive ergotism that may have been caused by spoilt rye). Such fits spread to other young girls in the village, and unable to find a medical reason for this, William Griggs (the local doctor) blamed witchcraft.

Upon being pressured by Samuel Parris, the girls identified the perpetrators of their illness as Tituba, a slave brought to Salem by Parris, Sarah Goode, a choleric beggar, and Sarah Osborne, who had been suspected of an affair with a servant. The women were social outcasts and protested their blamelessness at the beginning. However, after being badgered and out of fear, Tibia confessed to having made a deal with the devil in exchange for her powers.

She described visions such as black dogs, red cats, yellow birds; animals thought to be familiars of Satan and claimed that a ‘Black Man’ approached her to sign her name in his book. She said that the book contained the names of Goode, Osborne and seven others whose names she couldn’t see. Goode and Osborne were accused by Tituba of being the witches responsible for Betty and Abigail’s afflictions.

This confirmed the suspicions of witchcraft and the existence of other undiscovered witches too. Thus began the series of prosecutions in which over 200 people were accused and over 20 met their death. The accused were forced to defend themselves without counsel and assumed guilty unless proven otherwise. The most incriminating of all was spectral evidence which was accepted by the court from ‘victims’. These victims complained of dreams and visions of the accused torturing and attacking them. Even as the trials proceeded, the victims contorted, writhed, and yelled due to the supposed effect of these specters.

The court spared those who confessed to their crimes and those who protested their innocence were sent to their death. Bridget Bishop was the first to be convicted and was hung by her neck at the Gallow Hills. Soon after Bridget’s prosecution, others were sentenced to death for their crimes. Osborne died in jail and Goode was hanged at the gallows. Sarah Goode’s four-year-old daughter Dorothy’s innocent words were strung into a confession of witchcraft too.

An overwhelming majority of the prosecuted persons were women, and the men that faced trial were often accused due to their affiliation with women who were suspected of witchcraft. The criminal justice system at the time labelled these innocent women as witches for being poor, vulnerable, unruly, and not conforming to their societal role. The Puritan hatred for such women escalated local grievances to crimes worthy of death sentences and targeted a powerless minority.

These women were casualties of a society created and controlled by powerful men. A society that continues to exist today and continues to call formidable women witches.

A quick look at societal expectations for women today and how they relate to conformity…

Sources

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/unraveling-mysteries-tituba-salem-witch-trials-180956960/

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