Religion, Social Norms and the Salem Witch Trials

Intro: Between February 1692 and May 1593, confusion and accusations ravaged throughout Salem, Massachusetts, about the presence of witchcraft. A series of hearings and prosecutions of citizens supposedly practicing witchcraft ended with the death of 25 people. These events being viewed so differently now leave questions about what really caused the Salem Witch Trials. A lot of controversies is present when it comes to this issue as a cause of people’s differing religious beliefs. The Salem Witch Trials occurred as an effect of the lack of knowledge people had, their strong belief in religion, as well as the presence of forceful leadership in Salem. The Salem Witch Trials demonstrated that the moral standards of the time, that religion, and social norms, were more significant than people’s lives. The Salem Witch Trials occured as an effect of the unknowledgeable people of Salem. During the Salem Witch Trials, two girls, Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams began to have scenes described as “beyond the power of Epileptic Fits of natural disease to affect” by a minister, John Hale. The girls screamed, contorted, and claimed that they were being pinched and being poked with pins by “shapes” (Salem Witch Trials). Modern day it is well recognized and understood that these girls were not bewitched, but what were the actual causes of these outbursts and sporadic events?

Many specialists are under the impression that the girls were afflicted by convulsive ergotism, which is a condition that is caused by ergot, a fungus found in rye and other grains. Counterclaim: The Salem Witch trials are primarily thought of as caused by religion and although they were vastly influenced by the Puritan religion, the spiritual reasoning came from fear. In this time period and area, religion was taken to an extreme. This group of people that lived in Salem moved from England to practice their own religion, Puritanism. The religion was very intensely practiced and taken very seriously.The Puritan religion was quite like Christianity in many ways, for example they shared the belief in Satan. One of the larger differences was that the Puritans belief and fear in Satan was much more prominent. The Puritan religion believed that all things evil and all things wrong came from Satan. (Brooks). This belief lead to the rash conclusion of witchcraft in Salem. In January 1692, Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams began to have outbursts and unexplainable contortions, the immediate response was that this was the work of the devil.

Illness like this can most likely be explained modern day with further examination, but when it came to the unknown, people’s fear was too great therefore it was blamed on the devil. This is where most people’s differences in opinion developed on the subject. Although many people believe the Salem Witch Trials were caused because of religion, this religious analysis was caused by fear. The terror of the unknown allowed the townspeople to rely on religion to explain it to them, and because the Devil was believed to be the cause of all evil, bewitchment was the diagnosis. There was no evidence or real examination of the situation, only conclusions. The Salem villagers valued the fear of unexplained and unpleasant events over the fear of killing and the care for their citizens.

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