The Real Story Behind The Salem Witch Trials

The Real Story Behind The Salem Witch Trials

October 20, 2016 | American History

The Salem Witch Trials are known throughout the world as being one of the most bizarre and mishandled incidents in history. To this day, there is still confusion as to what caused a group of children to act so strangely, and what caused a tight knit community to turn against each other during a time when "Love thy neighbor" was law.

The Beginnings: February, 1692

It all began so simply: In early 1692, an enslaved woman known as Tituba played innocent games with the child of her owner. Elizabeth Parris and her cousin, Abigail Williams, later told Salem authorities that Tituba introduced them to witchcraft and occult practices by performing rituals to help the girls see their future husbands. One such ritual consisted of cracking a raw egg in water and looking for the shape of the potential suitor's face.

The girls never saw fit to mention the "witchcraft" to their parents until they started to behave oddly. For no apparent reason, they began to fall into fits, to twist their bodies into strange positions and to claim that they were being attacked by unseen forces. Within a month, three other adolescent girls began behaving in the same way. All the young women said they were under the influence of local witches.

Tituba was the first to be accused. Local matrons Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne were next. All three women were sent to trial before the religiously dominated court. They were found guilty and sentenced to hang. Tituba was the only one who, under torture, confessed her guilt. She confirmed she was a witch and said that Good and Osborne were her partners in crime. She also stated that there were more witches in Salem than the three that had been caught.

The Salem Witch Hunt

The idea that there might be more witches within the community caused mass hysteria. Those who regarded themselves as paragons of Puritan ideals began looking at everyone as an enemy, and so began the most famous "witch hunt" in history. No one was immune. The ages of the accused spanned from Sarah Good's four year old daughter to 71 year old Rebecca Nurse.

The strange behavior of the original accusers did not end after Tituba was removed from their lives. The girls were present at nearly every trial and reacted in bizarre ways, often in unison, whenever the supposed witches looked their way. Nearly all who reached trial were found guilty of witchcraft. Any friends or family who tried to defend them were arrested under the same charge. Over 200 people were arrested in less than one year.

Some died while incarcerated and a total of 20 were formally executed. The hysteria and the witch hunt did not end until the governor of Massachusetts stepped in after someone accused his wife of witchcraft.

Why Did The Salem Witch Hunt Happen?

It is still a mystery what caused the adolescents of Salem to behave so oddly in the first place. There are many theories, ranging from chemical poisoning to misunderstood health problems to simply a desire for attention. Puritan women were very repressed and given virtually no freedom. The Salem Witch Trials turned the original "victims" into local celebrities. Everyone paid attention to them and, in effect, they had the power over life and death because of their influence during the legal proceedings. Their influence even spread beyond Salem when some of the local magistrates and clergymen began taking the girls to other towns in an attempt to find more "witches". Unfortunately, the accusation of Tituba was likely due to the fact that she was black. She, in turn, may have started the hysteria by saying there were more witches as a form of revenge for all that she had been through.

The Witch Trials and Halloween

Salem, Massachusetts has become one of the most popular tourist destinations for both historians and paranormal enthusiasts alike. Ghost tours take place during the entire year, but particularly around Halloween. Salem's annual Festival of the Dead hosts daily events throughout all of October. Most of these events focus more on the fun side of Halloween, although they do include seances and an official Magic Circle performed on Halloween night.

Salem also hosts season appropriate historic events, such as the Black Cat Historic Tour. This tour takes participants to houses, churches and graveyards that were sites of important events during the Witch Trials. This tour takes place every weekend throughout the month of October.