Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Salem Witch Trials

This post is for our November 22nd meeting. The statement we are to consider in this posting is - The Salem trials really were not very much concerned about witches and witchcraft.

You should base your contributions to this blog on your reading of the book "Salem Possessed". Remember we need to post one contribution before and one contribution after our session on Nov. 22nd.

Two other items. We will be meeting at Stony Brook Musuem not the Wang Center and I still do not have user names from everybody. Please get them to me quickly or at the very least see me at the November meeting where I will have a sheet where you can leave your name and user name.



sryan said...

The Salem Witch trials had nothing to do with witchcraft. The focal points were basically greed, revenge, allegiance, and money.

During a time when the population in Salem was expanding, and available land increasing, what better way to obtain new property then from a government resale? Simply accuse someone of witchcraft, his/her property was seized by the sheriff, then resold. The sheriff became prosperous, all were happy, except for the accused of course. Angry with your neighbor? The solution was simple. Accuse his/her specter of giving you the "stink eye"; then after the arrest, no more disputes!

How did it all initially start? Was it two bored young girls playing a foolish game with egg whites, or was the pastor out to silence those who went against his power? To date, none of the accused were actually ever seen practicing what would have been known as witchcraft during this period in history. Yet, what began as a way to rid the town of the mistrodden, spread to accusations of people from all walks of life.

bkilkenny said...

I agree with sryan that the witchcraft accusations of Salem had nothing to do with divination or sorcery but was a result of religious paranoia and spite. Being that the culture of Puritan Salem was centered around their religious beliefs, the normal relations and divisiveness among a community manifested themselves in the cloak of 'witchcraft' and spiritual finger pointing.
The important lesson that can be taken, and was by the founders, is that it is a necessity to have a separation between the spiritual realm and the civic realm. Ownership of property and wealth has been a divisive point in all communities and disputes need to be settled in a civic manner not through the lens of religion. It is a lesson well learned that there certainly needs to be, as Roger Williams stated "a hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world"

Mr. Madeiras said...

According to the book, Salem witch trials were certainly not about witches. It was more tied to social and geographic factors within Salem Village. Pro-Parris- Putnam vs. Anti-Parris- Porter factions and the polarization they created within the village played the most important part of the author’s work.. “Salem Possessed”, however, only touches on those accused of witchcraft but were not associated with the divisions with Salem Village. There must have been other issues that dragged in outsiders and others.

Christy said...

The Salem Witch Trials were not really about witches. Accusing someone of witchcraft was an easy way for the agrarian class to get back at the developing merchant class.

Depending on where you lived and your social and economic status, you could be a prime target for accusations. The discussions on the property wars between the Proctors and Putnams, Salem Village and Salem Town, and the sermons of Samuel Parris point to the idea that the accusations were nothing more than disgruntled neighbors using their religion for revenge.

Anonymous said...

The Salem witch trials had nothing to do with witchcraft, it had to do with money, power, and entitlement (real or perceived). Bayer and Nissenbum provide many relevant examples of how individuals and families tried to manipulate those around them to maintain land, money, or power.
Outlining the inner workings of the tax base of Salem Village and Salem Town the authors go to great lengths to show the need of a tax base to support Salem Town.
The ministers involved in the fractionalization, especially Mr. Parris, were trying to keep land and salaries, supposedly given for their time and work. In fact, the ministers were pawns in the collection of wealth for the town and were never working for their own profit or growth. Because of the perceived inequality, the ministers chose to accuse others in order to improve the perception of their respective parishes.
Another issue was the young people of Salem who had a perceived sense of empowerment. Since the adults of Salem empowered the immature young people to enter an adult forum, it almost assuredly secured the downfall of the group. The young people were not developed enough to contribute opinions on adult manners. The adults allowed the young people to accuse and in turn damage the fabric of the community.
The Puritan piety and self-righteousness allowed judgment, whether justifiable or not. Although members that were wealthy were left relatively unscathed, while their contemporaries or less influential family members were often accused. The authors also demonstrated that some individuals, who were to receive inheritances, were in some way denied projected wealth. Their disappointment stemmed from the executor of the will, who was usually a woman, or in most cases a step mother.
The authors show how all of these motivations co-existed to create a major break between religion and secularism, which turned into a bloody inquisition.

Morgan said...

Who are the agents of the devil in afflicting these girls? There must be some among us thus acting, who are they?" Rather than the question being 'who', the question at stake should have been why. Why did this group of young girls accuse men and women, as well as six children, of witchcraft? What was the reasoning that contributed to the accusations? In my opinion it wasn't witchy at all.

The normal role of the girl accusers was household servant… did the ability to accuse of the crime give these young women power and that in turn was one the reasons behind the beginning of the events?

Guess we’ll see tomorrow. Morgan

Greg said...

“I see him… get away… get away.. Be gone! Be gone! Do not torment me, Ferrante! I see his face in the egg yoke. He laughs at me and tells me that my breath stinks. Wait… there he is again… do you see him there with his wrinkled shirt of the devil eating oatmeal from his dirty Tupperware bowl. How often do you eat and drink your own damnation? This wizard must be destroyed! We must do it for the children”

Of course, this scene seems crazy and utterly ridiculous because we live in a much different time period than 1690 Puritan Salem, Massachusetts. We tend to look at this situation through our own lense which makes it hard to comprehend why a community would allow something like this to happen. It’s hard to imagine that the people of Salem actually believed in witches… but they did.

The Holy Bible in the Book of Exodus Chapter 22 verse 18 states “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” To the Puritans, the word of God was to be strictly followed. Puritans lived in a theocracy and believed that Satan and witches were around and looking to sabotage their godly community. Witch hunts were nothing new and witch trials had taken place in other parts of Massachusetts before Salem.

When a few of the young girls in Salem started to listen to Tituba’s tales and watched her voodoo experiments, it had an impact on their imagination. This was such an exciting and yet deviant activity which caused the girls to feel guilty. This overriding guilt may have legitimately caused the girls to have panic attacks or created a sense of anxiety that caused them to act strangely. Even Doctor Griggs said their behavior was not caused by anything physical, but rather spiritual. Also, when Tituba took the stand and confessed mentioning that 9 people in Salem had signed the book of the devil, this caused panic and paranoia throughout the Village and Town of Salem.

My initial reaction is that I think the first accusations of witchcraft were actually believed by the people of Salem. However, after Rebecca Nurse was accused, many of the Village residents began to see this as a great opportunity to get rid of some of the Town members they had been quarreling with the past ten years or so. Once the table was set in terms of allowing spectral evidence, it was very easy to accuse anyone of witchcraft. Together with the girls new found celebrity status, the accusations and death toll got way out of hand!

“Leave me alone, Ferrante! BE GONE!

sryan said...

After our session yesterday with Dr. Barnhart and Dr. Godbeer, the question that should be posed is, “Were the Salem witch trials a result of religious beliefs or used simply used as an avenue to unjustly accuse the innocent?” I believe the latter part of this question to be true. Had not the Puritans’ beliefs in the supernatural been so all encompassing, the accusations of witchcraft would have never held water in court.

msmilow said...

My last post which was submitted the night before our last session does not appear here but I would like to add my two cents anyway and will try to submit those remarks again.

Dr. Godbeer's convincing argument caused me to view Salem Possessed in another light. Rather than completely dismissing the arguments presented by Boyer and Nissenbaum, I think that I would have to say that the willingness of Salem's citizens to turn to the "devil made me do it" argument was exacerbated by the fact that there was tension from the encroachment of "city" values. Salem Village residents were mostly likely feeling uneasy as their neighbors turned from the old agraian values and started living differently. Time and again we see the rural versus urban conflict played out in American history with rural folk holding on to fundamental religious values and practices. It is no wonder that the "fits" were seen as the work of the devil. There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of the accusers and judges,their nerves already rubbed raw by the changes in their world. The fact that Reverend Parris and others did look for other explanations, shows that they were not seeking revenge on their critics or attempting to settle scores with their neighbors. They did the best they could with what they knew.

Anonymous said...

The Salem witchcraft trials had very little to do with witchcraft. The trials had more to do with the eternal struggle between materialism and spiritualism. Some Salem colonists had a belief in the unknown and they used that belief to carry out spiritual and factual manipulation.
Those who were marginally disruptive to the order of Puritan life became the scapegoats for the colonists’ guilt and anxiety for wanting material goods or advancing socially. There was some projection of this guilt, especially upon those who were not doing well because if they were following Puritan doctrine, then surely God would provide and they would prosper. Conversely those not doing well must certainly be doing something themselves to sabotage their own destinies.
There were other outside factors that led to this “perfect storm” of persecution. There were the Native American Attacks, Governor Andros, and the impending world of commerce and secular pursuits. Some of these were mentioned by Dr. Godbeer and the authors Boyer and Nissenbaum. These disruptions to Puritan life would most assuredly fractionalize Salem Village and Salem Town, leading to the witchcraft trials.
As a result, no separation of Church and State provided an instrument for the colonists to vent their frustrations to manipulate the material world to suit their desires.
Our wants as human beings are always at odds with religious doctrine, and how we balance the eternal struggle of materialism and spiritualism reflects consequences of actions of ourselves and others.

Mr. Madeiras said...

Witchcraft did play a role in the Salem witch trials. We know that there is not such thing as witches, but for the Puritans it was part of their reality. The constant struggle between the devil and God played a significant role in their lives, and any deviation from morality or the social norm was considered diabolical. As Dr. Godbeer said, the supernatural world was as real as the natural world. If we include the reality of the Indian wars and their alleged associations with the devil, the anxiety and panic of the day could easily be transformed into accusations of witchcraft.