The renowned Salem witch
trials took place in col...
The renowned Salem witch
trials took place in colonial Massachusetts from 1692 to 1693. During this
period, an approximated two hundred people were accused of witchcraft and
twenty people were executed for similar accusations (Marion, 2007). The Salem
witch trials commenced after a group of young girls in the village claimed to
have been possessed by the devil and blamed it on several local women for
practicing witchcraft. The result was the spread of hysteria in the village of
Salem and throughout the colonial Massachusetts. The claims of witchcraft
prompted the creation of a special court that convicted the people found of
witchcraft in the next several months (Marion, 2007). However, the colony later
admitted the erroneous nature of the trials and compensated the families of the
people found guilty. This paper will entail an analysis of the Salem witch
trials including the context and outcomes of the event.
The experience of fits that
included aggressive contortions and unmanageable outbursts of screams by girls
in the family of the village’s minister marked the onset of the Salem witch
hunt and consequent trial (Jenrette et al., 2012). The girls, Elizabeth Parris
and Abigail Williams, were diagnosed as bewitched and other girls in the
village reported similar symptoms. After the prevalence of the cases, three
women including Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborn were arrested (Jenrette et
al., 2012). The girls accused the three women of bewitching them. Tituba
confessed her guilt in hopes of saving herself although the other two women
denied their guilt. The case caused hysteria to spread in the village, and this
contributed to new people who were accused of similar charges. The accusations
were many, and members of the village considered upstanding found themselves as
suspects of witchcraft.
The Salem witch trials took
place during a time when Puritans lived in a period of the belief that the
devil reincarnated as a physical being who sought to sway them from the path of
righteousness. The belief in the supernatural particularly the devil and the
use of witches as servants emerged in Europe in the 14th century and spread to
the colonial New England (Marion, 2007). Numerous people who practiced Christianity
and other religions at that time believed that the Devil could bestow powers to
witches to harm other people in exchange for their loyalty. A “witchcraft fad”
spread through Europe from the early 1300s to the end of 1600s. During this
time, thousands of people were considered witches, and they were executed
(Marion, 2007). However, the Salem trials occurred as the witchcraft craze was
fading from the society. The local circumstances in Salem could have
contributed to the onset of the hunt for witches in the village.
During the time of the Salem
witch trials, the village faced a range of harsh realities that may have
predisposed them to the superstitions of the Devil and witches. The village
experienced the ripple effects of the British war with France that included a
displaced population who strained the existing resources (Woolf, 2000). The
problem of resources further aggravated the feuds between families with links
to the riches of the port of Salem and those that continued to rely on
agriculture. Conflict further ensued after the ordainment of the first minister
in Salem in 1689 who the people hated due to his stringent and greedy nature
(Woolf, 2000). The inhabitants of Salem village including the Puritans ascribed
the conflict to the works of the Devil. The villagers of Salem were also
victims of a recent smallpox epidemic that prevailed in the American colonies.
Coupled with these tensions in the village, the Salem witch trials were induced
by the villagers’ suspicion, fear, and resentment of both the neighbors and
outsiders. The villagers were therefore likely to attribute unexplainable
phenomena including violent contortions and outbursts among girls to the
activities of witchcraft (Woolf, 2000). The prevailing beliefs of the Devil and
the harsh realities inclined the community members to consider witchcraft
practices in the village.
The admission of spectral
evidence includes one of the elements that could have been avoided in the Salem
witch trials. The convened special court allowed the admission of spectral
evidence against the people who stood accused of witchcraft. Spectral evidence
constituted the use of testimony concerning dreams and visions in the court
(Marion, 2007). In the cases, the spectral evidence became the critical test of
witchery rather than the use of evidence admitted in conventional courts.
Spectral evidence involved the accusers witnessing a ghost of the accused
causing them harm. Such evidence is unorthodox in a court of law since its
validity and accuracy cannot be determined. The Salem witch trials could have
integrated judicial prudence and utilized reliable and valid evidence in the
cases. The admission of spectral evidence contradicted the standards of
evidence for crimes presented in court. A similar standard for the witchcraft
evidence would have prevented the erroneous court rulings that led to the
execution of twenty people.
Over the years, philosophies
and ideals have experienced a transformation that cannot allow the replication
of the Salem witch trials. One of the changes includes reduced integration of
superstition and supernatural aspects in religious beliefs. Although religions
acknowledge the existence of the Devil, it is not speculated that the Devil
roams among people and empowers witches to harm people. Witchcraft is
considered an outdated practice that cannot find a place in the modern society.
The current religious systems cannot, therefore, ascribe unexplained phenomena
to the works of the devil. Religions have evolved to reduce the emphasis of
supernatural beliefs that manifest in our lives.
The standards of justice
include another change that cannot allow a replication of the Salem witch
trials in the modern society. According to the provisions of the law, an
individual is presumed innocent until the accuser can prove the defendant’s
guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The Salem witch trials allowed the execution of
people without concrete evidence of their guilt. It further incorporated
spectral evidence as criteria for witchcraft. The current standards necessitate
the integration of scientific methods as a justification of the validity and
accuracy of evidence. A jury cannot render spectral evidence admissible since
such an action would contradict the provisions of the law.
The Salem witch trials are an
unfortunate event in the history of America. They allowed a miscarriage of
justice due to a range of circumstances including prevailing religious beliefs,
harsh realities, and public hysteria. The trials were devoid of judicial
standards and permitted the conviction of people without adequate proof of
guilt. The context of the trials included of the factors that contributed to
their occurrence. The prevalent supernatural beliefs including the Devil’s use
of witchcraft to harm people aggravated the problem. However, current changes
in the society cannot permit the occurrence of a similar incident.
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