How Did The Burning Times Start?
How did the lies start? Where did the negative image of the Witch begin? And how did it become so ingrained in our culture that it's almost impossible for some people to hear the word Witch without thinking of evil?
The religion of Witchcraft dates back about 25,000 years, to the Paleolithic Age, where the God of Hunting and the Goddess of Fertility first appeared. Out of respect for the overwhelming power of Nature grew a belief in beings, gods, who controlled the winds, the seas, the earth and the fires.
Soon, the old ways of the common people came into conflict with a new religion that started with rulers and upper classes - Christianity.
When the Christians decided that their new ways weren't catching on fast enough, things got a lot rougher for those who were practicing the Old Religion. Christian leaders began asserting that Witches were devil worshippers and savages.
In the year 1233, Pope Gregory IX instituted the Roman Catholic tribunal known as the Inquisition in an attempt to suppress heresy. In 1320, the church (at the request of Pope John XXII) officially declared Witchcraft and the Old Religion of the Pagans as a heretical movement and a "hostile threat" to Christianity. Witches had now become heretics and the persecution against all Pagans spread like wildfire throughout Europe. (It is interesting to note that before a person can be considered a heretic, he or she must first be a Christian, and Pagans have never been Christians. They have always been Pagans.)
The single most influential piece of propaganda in this campaign was commissioned by Pope Innocent VIII in 1484 after he declared Witchcraft to be a heresy. He instructed the Dominican monks Heinrich Kraemer and Jacob Sprenger to publish a manual for Witch-hunters. Two years later the work appeared with the title Malleus malificarum, or "The Witches' Hammer." The manual was used for the next 250 years in the church's attempt to destroy the Old Religion of Western Europe.
"He must not be too quick to subject a witch to examination,
but must pay attention to certain signs which will follow.
And he must not be too quick for this reason:
unless God, through a holy Angel, compels the devil
to withold his help from the witch,
she will be so insensible to the pains of torture that
she will sooner be torn limb from limb than confess any of the truth.
But the torture is not to be neglected for this reason,
for they are not equally endowed with this power,
and also the devil sometimes of his own will permits them
to confess their crimes without being compelled by a holy Angel."
Witches... along with countless numbers of "innocent" men, women, and children who were not Witches were persecuted, brutally tortured, often sexually molested or raped, and then executed by sadistic, bloodthirsty church authorities who taught that their God was a god of love and compassion. Once denounced, a suspected Witch was arrested and then hideously tortured into a confession. Suspects were subjected to thumbscrews, the rack, boots which broke the bones of the legs; they were deprived of sleep, starved and beaten. At times, hundreds of suspected Witches were killed in a day.
Witchcraft in England was made an illegal offense in the year 1541, and in 1604 a law decreeing capital punishment for Witches and Pagans was adopted. Forty years later, the thirteen colonies in American also made death the penalty for the "crime" of Witchcraft. By the late seventeenth century, the followers who remained loyal to the Old Religion were in hiding and Witchcraft had turned into a secret underground religion after an estimated one million persons had been put to death in Europe and more than thirty condemned at Salem, Massachusetts, in the name of Christianity. Unfortunately, when the persecutions ended in the 18th century, the stereotype of Witches as devil worshippers remained for those who were uninformed of the true nature of the Craft.
The Salem witch hysteria of 1692 was one of the most tragic events in American history. To study this event, we must consider the social, religious and political influences of that time. The Puritans from England settled in Massachusetts to escape religious persecution in their home land. The Puritans had a strict moral code and their way of living was fashioned around their religious beliefs.
There was a political division between the first Minister appointed to Salem Village in 1679, James Bayley and Samuel Parris, elected as minister in 1689. When the first accusations of witchcraft were voiced by the adolescent girls and throughout the entire event, the ministers exploited the bizarre behavior of the girls to bolster their waning leadership.
The accusations of witchcraft and the subsequent executions were an extreme expression of deeply felt moral divisions. The negative references to witchcraft in the Bible and the belief that witchcraft was Satan's work created a paralyzing fear of witchcraft which made it a natural vehicle for the hostility of the community.
Personal enemies and "socially undesirable" individuals were transformed into enemies of the community and an enemy of the community was therefore a servant of Satan. Between the years of 1690-92, several events occurred which were the immediate causes of the hysteria. Samuel Parris had a West Indian slave named Tituba who was steeped in magical lore.
Several adolescent girls became fascinated by Tituba's stories of natural magic and island culture. Two of the girls were related to Samuel Parris while others were children of his supporters. When the girls became "afflicted" and subsequently named the "witches", the supporters of James Bayley took the outrageous accusations of the hysterical girls as confirmation of what they already suspected, that their opponents were in league with satan.
This is the beginning of the Salem witch hysteria of 1692.
During the winter of 1691-92, Abigail Williams, the eleven-year old niece and Elizabeth (Betty) the daughter of minister Samuel Parris began to meet with Tituba, their slave, to listen to her tell strange and forbidden tales of magic and island lore. The girls knew that by listening to these tales, they were violating strict Puritan morality.
Eventually, Abigail, Elizabeth and Tituba were joined by four other girls; Elizabeth Hubbard, Ann Putnam, Mary Walcott and Mercy Lewis. The story-telling continued in Samuel Parris's house until the girls started to exhibit strange behavior. Samuel Parris called upon Dr. Griggs to examine the girls for any medical problems, of which none were found.
Again, in mid-January, Dr. Griggs examined the girls and, frustrated by the lack of any medical explanation, Dr. Griggs concluded that the "hand of evil" was upon the girls. The afflicted girls were questioned relentlessly by their parents and ministers to determine who their tormentors were.
Finally, the girls named Tituba, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne as the perpetrators of their "bewitchment" and on February 29, 1692, arrest warrants were issued for Tituba, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne for the bewitchment of Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams. Tituba's first of many examinations began on March 1, 1692 which were held under the authority of John Hawthorne and Jonathon Corwin.
Tituba confessed to being a witch and offered "evidence" that Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne were fellow witches. Tituba was placed in jail where she would remain until her jail bill was paid. (prisoners had to pay for their food, lights, drink and blankets) Tituba's jail bill was paid by an unknown person and she was released and disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again.
This is an excerpt from Tituba's trial:
March 1, 1692
(H) John Hawthorne (T) Tituba
(H) Titibe whan evil spirit have you familiarity with?
(H) Why do you hurt these children?
(T) I do not.
(H) Who is it then?
(T) The devil for ought I know.
(H) Did you ever see the devil?
(T) The devil came and bid me serve him.
(H) Who have you seen?
(T) Four women sometimes hurt the children.
(H) Who were they?
(T) Goode Osburn and Sarah Goode and I do not know who the other were. Sarah Good and Osburne would have me hurt the children but I would not she further saith there was a tale man of Boston that she did see.
(H) When did you see them?
(T) Last night in Boston.
(H) What did they say to you?
(T) They say they hurt the children.
(H) And did you hurt the children?
(T) No there is 4 women and one man they hurt the children and they all upon me and they tell me if I will not hurt the children they will hurt me.
(H) But did you not hurt them?
(T) Yes, but I will hurt them no more.
(H) Are you not sorry you did hurt them?
The deposition of Sam: Parris aged about thirty and nine years, testifyeth and saith that Eliz: Parris junr and Abigail Williams and Ann Putnam junr and Elizabeth Hubbard were most greviously and severall times tortured during the examinations of Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and Tituba Indian, before the magistrates at Salem Village 1 March 1691/2 And the said Tituba being the last of the abovesaid, that was examined, they the above---afflicted persons were greviously distressed until the said Indian began to confess, and then they were immediately all quiet the rest of the said Indian womans examination.
Bridget Bishop was born in England during 1640. She married George Wasselbe in 1660 and then emigrated to Salem, Ma. While in Salem, she got married again, this time to Thomas Oliver around 1664. Bridget was well known for her argumentative ways and her sharp tongue. On one occasion, Bridget and Thomas were required to stand in the town square back-to-back and gagged because of their disruptive fights.
Eventually, rumors circulated amongst the townsfolk that Bridget's "spirit" or "specter" could be seen wandering about. A black servant of the Putnam family claimed to have seen Bridget's specter in the rafters of the Putnam barn. The servant also claimed that the apparition threw pears and apples at him. When Thomas Oliver died in 1678, an accusation of witchcraft was leveled against Bridget. The circumstances surrounding his death led people to believe that she might be practicing witchcraft.
She was tried by the Court of Assistants and it is speculated that the case was dismissed as there are no colonial records which contain the trial. After her husband's death, Bridget found herself destitute. Even though Thomas had left her with the house and land, any money that was provided for Bridget was taken by her husband's creditors. Because of these circumstances, Bridget was forced to petition the town for relief.
Bridget married again, this time to a well-respected man named Edward Bishop. He had served on various town committees and boards while living in Salem. He moved to Beverly, built a saw mill and became one of the founders of the Church in Beverly. Many people thought the marriage between Edward and Bridget was strange and, like the first two, did not escape heated conversations and violent arguments.
Bridget opened an unlicensed tavern in their house, and was suspected of entertaining some of the local townsmen after hours. Her flagrant actions and sharp tongue would soon bring about the warrant for her arrest and the charge of witchcraft on April 18, 1692. Bridget was executed by hanging in Salem on June 10th, 1692. Bridget was the first person to be executed for witchcraft in Salem.
The Story Of Sarah Good
Sarah Good is an excellent example of a "socially undesirable" member of the community which made her prone to being accused of witchcraft and evil doings. Most of the people who were accused of witchcraft were either looked down upon by the towns folk or were envied for their land and position in the community. Also, an outspoken individualist or a "strong" woman was also frowned upon by the community and whom was therefore "punished" by the accusation of witchcraft.
Sarah Good was well known to the people of Salem Village. The community viewed her as a distracted and melancholic woman whose erratic behavior caused most people to believe the accusations of witchcraft against her. William Good, Sarah's husband, was a laborer who made a meager income which caused the Goods to rely on the charity and goodwill of their neighbors. At times, the Goods were forced to move in with their neighbors, an arrangement which never lasted for long.
Sarah Good's actions and attitudes caused friction with their hosts and eventually the Good's would be asked to leave. Some neighbors began to notice that their livestock would sicken and sometimes die after the Good's left their households which caused much suspicion and fear towards Sarah. On March 1, 1692, Sarah Good was taken to Ingersoll's Tavern in Salem Village, where she was examined by magistrates John Hawthorne and Jonathon Corwin.
Over fifteen people gave statements claiming that Sarah Good bewitched their cattle and other livestock. Others would claim that Sarah would cause objects to disappear or would bewitch their families. When Sarah Good was questioned about these incidents, it was noted that her answers were given in mean-spirited and spiteful ways, using abusive words. During her examination, she stated that Tituba and Sarah Osborne were also fellow witches and she claimed that they frightened her into afflicting the girls.
Sarah's husband, William, also testified that he was afraid of her, that she was an enemy of God and he also believed she was a witch. Based on this "evidence", she was ordered bound over for trial. Good's daughter, Dorcas, then only five, soon joined her mother in jail because the afflicted girls accused the young girl of biting them. Sarah Good was pregnant at the time of her arrest and gave birth in jail. Because of the lack of medical assistance and the unsanitary conditions, her newborn baby died.
Her trial was set for June 30th, 1692, which was also the trial date for Rebecca Nurse, Susannah Martin, Elizabeth Howe and Sarah Wilde. All five were found guilty of witchcraft and were sentenced to death. At Sarah Good's execution, the Reverend Nicholas Noyes pleaded and urged Sarah to confess her guilt. He told her that he knew she was a witch and Sarah Good called the Reverend a liar and stated that she was no more a witch than he was a wizard.
Her final remarks to Reverend Noyes before her execution were that if he took away her life, God would give him blood to drink.
Sarah Good was hanged July 19, 1692.
The Proctor family: John, Elizabeth and children William and Sarah lived in Salem Farms, about two miles from Salem Village. John was a very prosperous farmer and was liked by most of his neighbors. However, he did not have a very good relationship with the Putnams and on occasion he would run afoul of them.
On April 6, 1692, the powerful Putnam family raised a complaint against Elizabeth Proctor and Sarah Cloyse, the sister of Rebecca Nurse. On April 11, 1692, John accompanied his wife to the examination, and attempted to help wherever he could. He made his feelings known to the court that he was highly skeptical of the proceedings and he felt that the girls who were perpetrating the hysteria just needed a good spanking.
The "afflicted" girls and the other accusers, upon hearing John Proctor's remarks, cried out against him and the court accused him of witchcraft along with his wife. By May, the Proctor children would be accused of witchcraft as well, and would join their parents in jail.
Robert Calef in his book "More Wonders of the Invisible World" printed in 1700 would write of the Sheriff's actions against the Proctors while they were in jail:
"John Proctor and his wife being in prison, the sheriff came to his house and seized all the goods, provisions and cattle that he could come at, and sold some of the cattle at half price, and killed others, and put them up for the West Indies: threw out the ber (beer) of the barrel, and carried away the barrel: emptied a pot of broth, and took away the pot, and left nothing in the house for the support of the children. No part of the said goods are known to be returned."
John and Elizabeth Proctor were found guilty of witchcraft and they were scheduled for execution on August 19, 1692. Since Elizabeth was pregnant at the time, she was given a reprieve until she would give birth to the baby, thereafter, she would be executed.
On August 19, 1692, John Proctor along with five others convicted of witchcraft, were executed by hanging at Gallows Hill. Elizabeth Proctor and her children were released from prison in November 1692.
The innocency of our case, with the enmity of our accusers an our judges and jury, whom nothing but our innocent blood will serve, having condemned us already before our trials, being so much incensed and enraged against us by the devil, makes us bold to beg and implore your favourable assistance of this our humble tradition to his excellency, that if possible our innocent blood may be spared, which undoubtedly otherwise wil be shed, if the Lord doth not mercifully step in; the magistrates, ministers, juries and all the people in general, being so much enraged and incensed against us by the delusions of the devil, which we can term no other, by reason we know in our own consciences we are all innocent persons.
Here are five persons who have lately confessed themselves to be witches, and do accuse some of us being along with them at a sacrament, since we were committed into close prison, which we know to be lies. Two of the five are (Carrier's sons) young men, who would not confess anything till they tied them neck and heels, till the blood was ready to come out their noses; and it is credibly believed and reported that this was the occasion of making them confess what they never did, by reason the said one had been a witch a month. And another five weeks my son William Proctor, when he was examined, because he would not confess that he was guilty, when he was innocent, they tied him neck and heels till the blood gushed out at his nose, and would have kept him so twenty-four hours, if one, more merciful than the rest, had not taken pity on him, and caused him to be unbound.
These actions are very like the popish cruelties. They have already undone us in our estates, and that will not serve their turns without our innocent blood. if I cannot be granted that we can have our trials in Boston, we humble beg that you would endeavour to have these magistrates change, and other's in their rooms; begging also and beseeching you would be pleased to be here. if not all, some of you, at our trials, hoping thereby you may by means of saving the shedding of our innocent blood. Desiring your prayers to the Lord on our behalf, we rest your poor afflicted servants.
Giles Story Of Torture
Giles Corey was an 80 year old farmer who lived with his wife Martha about 5-6 miles from Salem Village. Both were very interested in the afflictions, accusations and examinations of the witchcraft hysteria taking place in Salem Village. Although Martha was a firm believer in the existence of witches, she became quite suspicious of the proceedings and began to speak openly against the accusers.
On Saturday March 19, 1692, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Martha Corey. The following Monday, Martha Corey was arrested and brought to Ingersoll's Tavern for an examination. For some reason, Giles, Martha's husband, made a deposition against her. Realizing that he mad a serious error, he tried to recant his deposition. In turn, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Giles Corey on April 19, 1692 (the same day that Bridget Bishop and 2 others were arrested).
Several days later, Abigail Hobbs confessed to being a witch and named Giles and Martha Corey fellow witches of that "infernal congregation". The Corey's were ordered to be held in jail until dates could be set for their trials. It was determined that their trials would take place in during the month of September. On September 19, 1692, Giles Corey was taken from the jail in Salem and led to a location adjacent to the Court House.
Because Giles would not enter a plea, he was ordered to undergo the ancient punishment of "peine forte et dure" (strong and hard punishment). Under this punishment, a prisoner would have a board placed atop his chest whereupon heavier and heavier rocks or weights would be placed until the prisoner either entered a plea or was crushed to death.
Giles Corey, while undergoing this torture, still refused to enter a plea. Eventually, the weight upon his chest became too much to bear. His last and only words to the sheriff and the authorities attending the punishment were "more weight". Complying with Giles, more weight was added until his chest gave way and he expired. Giles Corey is the only recorded person in North
American history to have been legally pressed to death.
On September 21, Martha Corey and six others were taken from jail and brought to Gallows Hill and hanged. These seven prisoners were the last to be executed by order of the court.
These stories presented offer only a glimpse into the terror and human tragedy of the Salem witch trials of 1692. From the first arrest warrants on February 29, 1692 to the last executions on September 22, 1962 over 150 people were accused and jailed on suspicion of witchcraft, 4 people plus 1 infant died in prison, 18 people were executed by hanging, 1 person was pressed to death and 2 dogs were also hanged.
On October 29th, 1692, Governor Phipps officially closed the court of Oyer and Terminer. The Supreme court of Massachusetts was to convene in January 1697 to try the remaining cases. On December 29, 1692, Governor Phipps called for a day of fasting and prayers for the townsfolk. In January 1693, the Superior court met to begin the remaining trials.
By order of Governor Phipps, spectral evidence could not be used against the defendants. Of the 52 persons tried, 49 were cleared of the accusations and 3 were found guilty. The last sitting of the court was held in Boston in May, 1693 and by this time Governor Phipps revived a letter from England which convinced him that there was no need to continue with the trials.
The Governor issued a proclamation that pardoned everyone and granted amnesty to those who fled to escape persecution. By the end of the trials, some of the most important citizens of Massachusetts would be accused of witchcraft including Governor Phipps wife. A few years later, the girls who started the hysteria as well as many of the accusers who took part in the accusations asked for forgiveness for their actions.
On October 17, 1711, an Act of the colonial legislature returned all property taken from the victims and their families and were paid compensation for their losses. This Act officially ended all government actions relating to the trials of 1962. However, in Salem, accusations and resentment would be felt for years to come.