The Salem Trials of 1692


In 1692, in the British colony of Salem, a mass hysteria regarding witchcraft established itself. Much has been said about the possible causes of it, considering religious fanaticism, quarrels between inhabitants, hallucinations produced by fungi. In view of these three possible hypotheses and the numerous subsequent studies, everything may have been mixed together in an explosive cocktail. However, it should not be forgotten that witchcraft trials were nothing new either in America, especially in the Puritan communities, or in Europe, where the colonists came from.

Within the then-called thirteen American colonies, there were previously isolated episodes of witchcraft accusation and punishment recorded. The first recorded cases are in Connecticut. The first of these is that of Alse Young, in Connecticut, who was hanged accused of witchcraft; Although there are no records of the charges of which she was accused, some scholars suggest that she wanted to be removed from the scene as a possible heir to her husband's land. The servant Mary Johnson, in 1650, was executed after being tortured and interrogated, and having later confessed, as expected, that she had indeed had relations with the devil. Katherine Harrison, in 1668, had a little more luck, since having been accused of black magic and divination, the different juries did not agree on whether the accusations were fanciful or real, and finally they decided to expel her, along with her family, of the neighborhood in which he was located. Also the charges against Elizabeth Seager, who was accused of stabbing and bewitching her neighbors, ended up falling under their own weight due to the lack of evidence. But in general, every accused ended up being hanged, as was customary in England - unlike in Continental Europe, where they were burned -: this was the case of Joan and John Johnson, Nathaniel and Rebecca Greensmith, Mary Sandford and Mary Barnes.

Also in Salem it all started with an accusation, that of the daughter of the Reverend Samuel Parris, Elizabeth Parris, and her cousin Abigail WIlliams, who were 9 and 11 years old respectively at that time. Overnight, they began to suffer seizures and spasms, they screamed and writhed, and the seizures, just as they came, went away. The doctors were unable to detect the origin of those sudden reactions, and they attributed them to possession and witchcraft. Later studies in the 20th century considered that the indicated symptoms coincided with those caused by a common fungus in cereal fields, the so-called ergot fungus, due to whose intoxication, perhaps, hallucinations and spasmodic attacks spread. However, it is difficult to determine whether this fungus proliferated specifically there at that time, and of course, at that time no similar possibility was even considered for such traumatic events.

Witchcraft was much easier to explain, especially in a puritan, extremely religious environment, and with harsh events in the recent past, such as the smallpox epidemic or the war with the French, the increase in taxes, pirate attacks, etc. such as the existing tension between different populations within Massachusetts, still surrounded by native tribes, and where some inhabitants enjoyed better services than others (roads, schools, churches...), which in itself caused a continuous state of uncertainty and passive confrontation. If one area prospered more than another, it would be that God blessed those inhabitants for their good behavior, and the others would be doing something wrong... And of course, "nothing" had to do with, or was willfully ignored, the geographical layout, rich inheritances or politics. To make matters worse, the Reverend Cotton Mathers dedicated himself to giving jeremiad sermons, that is, based on the Book of Jeremiah, which encourages distrust of one's neighbor and suspicion of the actions of others. Robinson (1991) confirms what Boyer and Nissembaum (1974) already said, and what is the most predictable hypothesis: the accusations occurred between neighbors with open disputes over land or property margins, wills, settlements and family assets. Another thing is that exacerbated religious beliefs and fear were added to this. In any case, the "medical" verdict on the witchcraft diagnosed in the girls only gave rise to one possibility: someone in the town was a witch given over to the devil, since it was believed that witchcraft required "contact", whether physical or visual, etc. In addition, other girls began to show similar symptoms, which scholars seek to explain through intoxication or mass hysteria, the imitative psychological crisis. People began to talk about visions of naked women in the forest, of demons, of orgies at night. Some historians suggest that, perhaps, strict religious education led young people and adolescents to hide their sexual acts in the forest, and that for fear of being discovered, the forest fictitiously became the home of supernatural entities.

In any case, when the girls were interrogated, the accusations ended up falling on the person closest to the first victims, Tituba, the maid of Reverend Parris, of Caribbean origin. Tituba's native racial origins earned her an accusation based on her people's "ungodly" knowledge of the rituals, rituals that the girls could supposedly have witnessed, as some accusations claimed to have seen her performing voodoo rituals with a cauldron and the girls naked. . The logic of bewitching the girls of the family for which he worked was a bit poor, but not the possible punishments for it, including death, from which he could be saved if he confessed and also revealed it to other members of the coven. Tituba, in a display of intelligence and even social coherence within Puritanism, accused two women from the area, both of marginal lives, of having participated in the supposed coven: Sarah Good and Sarah Osborn, who at one time would be hanged for continue denying his alleged crime. Tituba said that there were many who participated in the coven, and that the devil, who took the appearance of a tall man or black-furred animals, had made them sign his book of pacts. Margaret Wood, another marginal woman, a beggar, was immediately linked to Good and Osborn, since those who did not help her with money or food claimed to subsequently suffer problems with their livestock and crops. The trials, today, would have resulted extremely ridiculous. The affected girls were in the room, and every time the accused appeared or tried to say something, the girls fell into their spasmodic trances and screams. Although nowadays the girls would have been taken out of the room, in Salem this was taken as an obvious influence due to the proximity of witches and the devil. The judges in this trial, Jonathan Corwin and Jonathan Hawthorne, gave the possibility of avoiding punishments by confessing as accomplices, which, like Tituba had done, many others took advantage of. Ann Putnam, a friend of the affected girls, who also suffered, according to her own testimonies, from witchcraft and demon attacks, takes the prize for the highest number of accusations: a total of 62. She is also, however, the only one person who publicly apologized for it, having been "deceived by Satan" to cause that disaster.

The first executed was Bridget Bishop, a woman who had been married three times, and whose second husband had already accused her of witchcraft. Since she came from a nearby city, taking advantage of a reputation as a "bad woman" and witch, during her trial she was quite temperate, so the "haunted" girls began to scream and squirm every time she spoke. One of the women accused precisely by these girls, but who had confessed to being a witch and repented, called Abigail Hobbs, along with her family, indicated that she was Bishop, the upstart, one of the women they had not been able to describe in their visions. In this way the judges confirmed Bishop's guilt, hanging her on June 10, 1962.

Wilmot Reed, Susanna Martin, Ann Pudeator, John Alden and Rebecca Nurse are three other defendants in a dispute of different accusations about their actions (Pudeator was a matron) or their possessions (Alden was accused of having given the book to the devil in the to sign). Nurse's case is curious, since she was first declared innocent, but when it was learned that the judge and she had been friends before, such a stir arose that the judge had to recant and condemn her and execute her on the same day. His sister, Mary Eastey, was also charged twice. Although she was eventually hanged, she was one of the first to ask the judges not to get carried away or take into account the so-called "spectral evidence", not to accept a vision as valid without questioning anything else.

Martha Corey and her husband Giles Corey were convicted, like so many others, on simple unsubstantiated accusations. Many were surprised by the accusations against Martha, as she was known for her great Christian devotion and piety, but everything seems to have its origin in a statement she made regarding the witchcraft trials: that the girls were lying. Coincidentally, she was the next accused, and at the trial the girls said they saw the demon next to her, or a yellow bird sucking her finger - one of the frequent visions that Tituba herself had also listed. Without the possibility of defending herself, only her husband and children claimed her innocence. While she was waiting in prison to be hanged, her husband Giles was also accused of being a witch, and because he did not want to attend what in his eyes were stupid trials, he was sentenced to die under a pile of heavy rocks. In a display of courage to preserve his children's heritage and his wife's honor, he continued to deny witchcraft and asked for more weight to be placed on it. He died just three days before his wife, in September.

Other executed people famous for their disastrous trials were the Reverend George Burroughs, accused precisely by Hobbs and Putnam, who said that he appeared to him in dreams as the leader of the coven. The reverend had been widowed twice, had miraculously survived an attack by natives, and had drifted somewhat away from orthodox religious practice, all of which earned him multiple rumors about the deaths of his wealthy wives or, perhaps, hysterical minds. , sacrificed, as well as protection from the devil. Despite being able to recite complete prayers - not being able to do so was considered a sign of demonic possession or pact - he was hanged under the pretext that the demon had previously been an angel and could know the prayers, making it an invalid test. With this accusation, the suspects began to move through all social classes. Samuel Wardell, married to a young and wealthy widow, was the object of much envy due to his newly acquired social class, and since he also served as a fortune teller at parties and meetings, his guilt seemed evident.

Mary Parker argued that there were many other women with her name, and that they had the wrong person. His case is a clear example of the commotion that existed at that time and how the trials were not only irregular, but also incredibly fast and crazy. Testimony was made against Mary Parker with rumored accusations of multiple Parker women (insanity, fornication, children out of wedlock, rumors of previous witchcraft...). Something similar happened with Sarah Bishop, confused with Bridget Bishop, or vice versa; Whatever the case, Sarah and her husband Edward were saved, managing to escape from prison.

When 150 people had already been accused, and 20 of them had been executed, the witchcraft fever and paranoia was losing pace, and in October of that year, Governor Phipps, who had established the Salem court and had gone to Maine, when he returned and saw the disaster that was occurring, he stopped the trials, and released all the accused as of January 1693. Five accused had died from unsanitary conditions in the prison, and even in the absence of the governor there were still isolated trials and some executions. Luckily, it all ended here.

The stain of illogical judgments long haunted the Puritan community, and on numerous occasions apologies and tributes have been made to the victims. Today, there is a memorial in the Salem Cemetery, with the phrases spoken by the accused, as well as twenty stone benches engraved with the names of each of the victims along the cemetery wall. On Essex Street is the house of one of the judges, the only one still standing, although renovated numerous times, a small museum of the history of Salem has been established. Esoteric businesses have proliferated on that same street, of which Crow Haven Corner claims to be the oldest, and others related to witchcraft, such as a wax museum or a passage of terror. The sculpture of a witch with a moon and a broom differs greatly from the image we had of witches, and yet it is the most representative and photographed of the city, in contrast to the one found, of course, next to the Salem Witch Museum, in Washington Square, a museum that houses recreations of historical scenes and documents, and other sections dedicated to the form that supposed satanic rituals would take.

And speaking of Satanism, the Satanic Temple (TST) could not have been located in a better location than in Salem, at 64 Bridge Street. In addition to a small museum and exhibitions, the Temple collaborates in performances and campaigns against homophobia, against the abuse of minors and women, against pseudoscience... Probably the biggest recent news was achieving public establishment, not without criticism and brawls, of a statue of Baphomet. However, in the face of all the witchcraft stories that the city feeds on, the Satanists themselves insist that the majority are atheists and only take the image of Satan as an icon of freedom.

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada -


Hill, F. A Delusion of Satan: The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials, Tantor eBooks, 2014.

Nardo, D., Dellacio, T. The Salem Witch Trials: A Crisis in Puritan New England, Greenhaven Publishing, 2016

Stewart P. J.; Strathern, A. Brujería, hechicería, rumores y habladurías, Akal, Madrid, 2008

VV.AA. El juicio de las brujas de Salem: El diablo coloniza América.

Related posts:

> The Christian Witches of United States of America

> The Wicca altar and the ritual tools

> The current situation of witchcraft outside the Western world.

> The punishment for magic in Ancient Rome

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