Zach – Welcome back to Minimum Wage Historian. We have a ghoulish topic today, one that people have been asking questions about ever since it happened. The Salem Witch Trials. How could seemingly normal people break down into mass hysteria and kill twenty people accused of witchcraft? What led up to this and how did rational people allow it to happen? I’m going to need some help on this. With is my trusted sidekick –
Anna – What?
Zach – Umm…my co-host, Anna Komemne, Byzantine princess and first woman historian. Next we have Tomoe Gozen, woman samurai and butt kicker. Then we have St. Olga of Kiev, first Russian Christian who went on a blood soaked killing spree.
Olga – Dah! It was fun! Burn many houses down.
Zach – Then we have Giuseppe Garibaldi, hero of the Italian unification.
Garibaldi – Boun Giorno!
Zach – And last and least, we have Gaspar Correia, conquistador and “historian.”
Anna – I do say, this is a ghastly subject, but to understand it, we must start at the beginning. Witches have always been a worry to those strange Latin Christians. However, the worst punishment they received was a harsh talking to or a day in the stockades. But one day in the late 1400’s, a German man named Heinrich Kramer went around trying to convince people that witches were real. After being laughed at and thrown out of town, he wrote a book called the Malleus Maleficarum. (Latin for “Hammer of the Witches.)
Zach – So, this guy writes this book to show the world he’s right and thanks to the newly invented printing press it spreads as fast as another book of spell casting people that some Christians still want to burn, Harry Potter. Now, thanks to this book, the hunting, persecution and killing of witches becomes widespread throughout Europe. And the Puritan Pilgrims bring this hobby of witch hunting to the New World.
Gaspar – There were professional witch hunters that went town to town and also the people were encouraged to tattle on their neighbors.
Zach – That’s good, Gaspar. You’re finally getting the idea of truthful history…
Gaspar – Wait a sec. These witch hunters were professional face wreckers. They had the best equipment: power armor, big guns and the might of righteous fury!
Anna – Gaspar, one of these days I’m going to…
Gaspar – Do what?
Anna – I’ll get Tomoe Gozen to fight you.
Gaspar – Oh.
Olga – Oh! Oh! Dah, I know of Salem. I read a book! Salem was small frontier town. They were…um…not my kind of Christians. They, how you say, fanatics.
Tomoe – I do not know about “fanatics,” but I do know they have very harsh religion. Very stern and demanding. A person is either preordained for heaven or hell and there is nothing a person can do about it. How is it they do not take into account honor? A samurai is nothing without honor!
Zach – So, we have a situation where we have a small, isolated town with very stern and zealous religious people and we add in the fact that the town was divided into two, the well off and the “other side of the tracks.”
Anna – Also, women had no rights. They were to be silent mothers and were expected to obey unquestionably. I could not endure this.
Garibaldi – Che bene! You are strong woman and take no flack from bossy men. I like this! (Moves closer to Anna.) You know, I know a great Italian restaurant down the road. Perhaps we can go get a little something to eat, yes?
Anna – Oh, umm…Perhaps another time. I have to…wash my hair.
Garibaldi – Your loss, princess.
Zach – Back to Salem, which was called Salem Village, not to be confused with nearby Salem Town. We have a group of repressed teenage girls who were not allowed to sing, dancing, celebrations and holidays including Easter and Christmas were all forbidden. No X-box, no movies, no paintball. No way to let off steam.
Olga – Boring! I would go CRAZY!
Garibaldi – Crazier, anyway. They listen to wild stories from their slave, Tituba. She shows them some voodoo and the girls are excited. But due to their harsh upbringing they also feel some guilt and this begins to trouble them greatly. They needed some good food and a little opera to relax them!
Anna – It all started in 1692 when Betty Paris, Anna Putnam and Abigail Williams began having strange fits and claimed they were being poked and pinched. Well, naturally, according to Latin Christians, someone must be the cause of it. They asked the girls who was doing this to them and they accused Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and Tituba. Tituba confessed almost immediately. All three of these women were social outcasts, a slave, a begger and an old woman that didn’t go to church. Easy targets to blame things on.
Garibaldi – I have to add here that once they were brought in for so-called questioning, they were treated as the Malleus Maleficarum suggested. They were stripped, searched for a “Devil’s Mark” and probably tortured. lovely peoples.
Zach – During the trials, the accusing girls would convulse, scream and claim phantom visions of the accused…and all this was taken as hard evidence. CSI Salem would have been quite a show!
Tomoe – These girls do very dishonorable thing. They lie and make false accusations. For what? Was it for fun? Revenge? Attention? I believe all of these things.
Olga – Yes, yes, petty little girls want have fun. They point fingers and laugh. All is game to them.
Garibaldi – No game my sweet rain soaked muffin! People died for these girls’ amusement. They come to Italy, we have plenty fun there.
Zach – More women were accused, including Rebecca Nurse, a member of the town in good standing. If someone like her could be a witch, then anybody! Now people began to use this as an excuse to get revenge for old grievances. This small town was full of feuds and rivalries and with the ease to rid ones self of a rival, the accusations began to number into the hundreds. 62 were held in custody. In the end, 20 people were executed. 19 were hung and one man who refused to plea guilty or not guilty was crushed by rocks according to an old English custom.
Anna – The town exploded in revenge and accusations. Neighbor accused neighbor and everyone was afraid of who might be a witch. To these people, witches were real. They absolutely believed that witches lived among them, trying to convert others to worship Satan.
Zach – So, fear, mixed with petty rivalries, mixed with cultural repression. Not a good combination.
Tomoe – After executions, they put stop to spectral apparitions as evidence. No surprise but convictions dropped.
Zach – Many confessed to witchcraft and were saved while others maintained their innocence and stayed in prison. Some more died in prison.
Anna – Finally they ran out of poor and outcast people, so they began to accuse rich people and that was when they had had enough. People began to question what was going on and wondering “Hey, maybe those teenage girls accusing everyone of being a witch isn’t the most legit thing ever!” Also, judges and lawyers from outside of Salem began to criticize the proceedings and it all came to a stop. The common people began to realize how freaking insane they had been acting. It was like a fire that had burned itself out.
Olga – This all sound crazy. What cause this mess?
Garibaldi – Teenagers being bored.
Gaspar – Strong belief in devil worship and witches
Tomoe – Petty rivalries.
Anna – Isolated community.
Zach – But the real question is: can this happen again? Sadly, the answer is yes. In the 50’s America suffered “Maccarthyism” where everyone became scared of hidden communists and began accusing others, mostly politicians and Hollywood actors. So, yes. It can happen to any “rational” society. What might be the dangers today? Anyone that thinks different than the norm is a potential victim. Remember, just because someone doesn’t believe in the same things as you or has opinions you don’t agree with, does not make them a bad person, just a different person than ones self.
Gaspar Correia here for one last bit of information. If you or someone you know is interested in witches or the paranormal and like good stories, check out a book written by a friend of Minimum wage Historian. Freak of Nature is a story about a witch girl that has to fight cultists and vampires. Check it out!