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Witchraft Trials

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Salem Witch Trials The Salem Witch trials started in 1692 resulted in 19 executions and 150 accusations of witchcraft. This is one of the historical events almost everyone has heard of. It is a topic that is talked about, and can be seen as controversial. A quote by Laurie Carlson shows just how controversial the topic can be. (A) character myth is certainly what the witch hunts in Europe and Salem have become, though they have more basis in fact than most myths.

The stories of the witch hunts are character myths for our time, to be told by feminists, left-wing intellectuals, and lawyers for President Clinton, each taking what he or she needs from the story, adding or subtracting as it seems fit. (1). The trials began because three young girls, Betty Parris, Abigail Williams, and Ann Putnam began having hysterical fits after being caught engaging in forbidden fortune telling. That's right fortune telling, not dancing naked in the woods like the story has been told to many times (2). The fortune telling occurred because they were trying to find out what type of men they were going to marry.

Betty Parris' father was a reverend of the town on Salem, Massachusetts. The Reverend, Samuel Parris called in senior authorities to determine if the girls' affliction was caused by witchcraft. Although Betty was sent away fairly soon, and did not participate in the trials, the remaining two girls were joined by other young and old women in staging public demonstrations of their affliction when in the presence of accused witches. The events in Salem have been used as a theme in many literary works. Anthropologists also take interest in these writings because they display some of the characteristics of village witchcraft as well as some of the features of the European witch craze. Many commentators have seen the Salem witch craze as the last outbreak of the European witch craze which was transported to North America. As in African and new Guinea villages, the original accusations in Salem were made against people who the accusers had reason to resent or fear. Moreover, the first few of the accused fit the definition of marginal persons likely to arouse suspicion.

However, as in Europe, the accusations spread, and soon encompassed people not involved in any of Salem's grudges or problems. As in Europe, there was a belief that the accused were in league with the devil. Supposed experts went out to do scientific studies to diagnose witchcraft. Interestingly, during the colonial period in Africa, just after WWII, there was a number of witch finding movements in Africa that closely resembled the Salem episode. Typically in these witch finding movements, the witch finders would come in from outside a village and claim to be able to rid the village of all of it's witchcraft.

At this period there was great dislocation, with people moving around because of government employment, suitable farmland, and many other causes. Some people were improving their economic status as a result of these change, and others ended up being worse off. Whereas in the past, everyone in a location had followed the same religion, people were now exposed to Christianity and the local religions of people who had moved to their region, or whose regions they had moved to. In the cities of central and Southern Africa, many local religions and Christian sects could be found, as well as Islam. Belief in witchcraft tended to unite people across religious differences. Frenzies



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