"I am no witch. I am innocent. I know nothing of it."
- Bridget Bishop
Now y’all know my stance on humanity, I think that humans, and just about everything they create (no matter how fucked up and evil), are pretty goddamn awe-inspiring. And that’s why shit like the Salem Witch Trials is so much more painful to me, and people like me, due to the fact that it represents the true, despairingly ignorant cruelty of your average collection of human people, and the lengths they will go to actually protect that ignorance that allows them to continue to live their lives as such. The Salem Witch Trials is right up there with shit like the Holocaust and The Bernie Madoff Scandal, in the sheer infamy of how such grand evil can be committed by such ordinary men and women, for simple preservation of self. And as much as we hate it, we have to continue to remember it, so that hopefully we’ll be able to recognize it the next time it happens, as Arthur Miller so accurately portrayed in his Red-Scare criticizing play-script, The Crucible (not that I’m reading it in class or anything, that wouldn’t happen to be what drove me to write the essay at all).
|The greatest story of Commie-Witches ever told.|
Of course, we’ll probably try and swipe it under the rug later on in the future when we’re being examined for a spot on the Intergalactic Alliance Council or whatever, but that only goes to prove my point of what an ugly blemish this series of events was to humanity as a whole. And it was all thanks to a bunch of religious nuts living in a shitty little town in colonial Massachusetts.
The whole thing lasted about a year, starting and ending between 1692, and 1693, not exactly the most sophisticated of times, but still a pretty civilized period for the world as a whole, the North American colonies included. People were not expected to be walking around with loincloths covering their nuts, is what I’m saying. Though that is probably because the ones in loincloths with shit stains covering their rear ends, foraging for berries and shit, we’re dead within a week of participating in such activities, unless they had at least a lifetime of experience in surviving in such nut-shrivelingly harsh environments, like the Native Americans (who apparently were pretty fond of the place for some reason).
The Puritans had been in America for a while (they were the first European settlers in fact), but even they hadn’t managed to get used to the mini-ice-age the strange new continent suffered every winter, where you would have felt chilly in the most expensive Under Armor money could buy, and all they had was some cotton dress clothes bullshit, and those silly buckle hats. So people were getting by, but along with the strict religious doctrine, and constant threat of attacks by Native Americans, they weren’t exactly the most chipper group of survivors you were likely to meet, they were essentially a way more God-Worshiping version of the crew from The Walking Dead.
Now take all this, their shitty living conditions and such, and add into it all the fact that the time that wasn’t spent working, was essentially time spent with them sitting around sticking their thumbs up their asses. There’s not having social media site, like the kind we have today, and then there’s just having NOTHING, absolutely no entertainment, AT ALL. In fact, Puritanism supported the idea of sparse entertainment, in favor of a lifestyle completely centered around slaving till you died and got to go meet Jesus (unless you didn’t, which was kind of a coin flip situation really).
So people did what they do best- they gossiped. They talked in whispers, small notes passed hand to hand, the whole thing was actually really silly when you consider the fact that they could have just talked out in the open at ANYTIME, but their social culture was just that strict and poorly constructed, that what you ended up with was an entire town of people acting like little kids passing notes in a classroom when the teacher had left half an hour ago. This has been theorized by many historians to be a main contribution to the entire event at Salem, as well as many authors, once again, Arthur Miller being one of the most prominent.
Now it would be very easy to just accuse the townsfolk involved in the whole mess of pure foolishness at its most dangerous, but admittedly, with such simple-mindedness, also comes a fear of the unnatural, or the unknown. In a way you almost (emphasize the almost) feel sorry for them, as their own fear, and inability to just socialize like rational, level-headed people accumulated a death toll of about 25, a relatively small number to big, fancy, internet using folk like yourself, but in a very small, isolated community, this was a sizeable slice of the population decimated, in the name of lunacy.
|Either they killed each other off or they're just playing hide and seek.|
Now don’t get too excited- the Puritans didn’t just up and go nuts on each other in some town-wide murder rave, to be quite honest, the Salem Witch Trials were just that, trials, held in a court of law. Like an episode of Law and Order except in the colonial era. With witches. I promise you, not as awesome as it sounds, mostly because (and sorry to burst your bubble here creepy kids who wear black and read twilight in the corner of class every day) WITCHES DON’T F-ING EXIST. They could have been hunting Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the results would have been the same, except with witches, you didn’t actually even have to prove magic for them to murder your ass and- oh, I’m just getting ahead of myself.
Now where was I before… oh yes! The shitty Puritan town of Salem. Now, being a small community (that acted like the early version of Gossip Girl [I’m assuming, anyway, I mean the title implies some form or another of gossiping]), most everyone knew each other, and so it was pretty important for an outsider to make good first impressions, and not be a cock, as that could get you a first class one-way ticket to pariah-ville, advice that would have better suited Minister Samuel Parris, who quickly screwed the pooch when, in 1688, he moved to Salem from Barbados (like moving from Miami, Florida, to just about any town in Nebraska), after being invited by the village elder John Putnam.
Parris brought along with him his wife Elizabeth, his six year old daughter Betty, his niece, Abagail Williams, and his Indian slave Tituba (that’s TITCH-UBA, but have fun correcting yourself every time you read it as Tit-TUBA for the rest of the essay). Now, just because he was elected minister doesn’t mean people liked him, the fact of the matter is that most people hated the guy, on account of the fact that he’s remembered even now as a greedy, scheming little weasel who showed up, hated the whole place, but decided he wanted to own it all anyway.
|Actually, I'm pretty sure that's just a description of the game Monopoly.|
His money-loving ways only further mixed up the community, who were split between the two most prominent mercantile families of the time, the Putnams and the Porters, who were both trying to wrest control of the basic leadership center of the town, the church and its pulpit.
The years went on, and bitter rivalries continued to get even bitterer, until the live bomb that was the social community was fit to explode, louder and grander than this metaphor is tired and overused. And in the stick-your-nuts-in-a-bucket-of-ice-water cold winter of 1692, explode they did, all thanks to one little girl who just couldn’t keep her shit together.
Betty Parris (aka. Weasel Jr.) fell strangely and instantaneously ill one day, randomly convulsing, running all around the house, complaining, whining, yelling, and basically acting like that one shitty kid you see in the Wal-mart, the one who’s mom is too scared to beat him in public, even though it’s totally what everyone knows needs to be done.
The problem being that this was 1692, not 2011, and Puritan kids of the time caught so many beatings it’s probable that the whole smacking a baby after birth thing was invented just so those kids could get beat even sooner, effectively meaning that the wildest Betty should’ve gotten was a small cough, under the covers, after every-body else had already gone to bed. Her father quickly came to the same conclusion (well, after he noticed how beating her some more wasn’t working), and started claiming that Betty had contracted some strange form of illness (like Brat-itis, or ADSFUD [Attention Deficit SHUT THE FUCK UP Disorder]).
|I'm not sure what these girls are sick with, but I'm pretty sure there's no cure.|
Now while it’s easy to say she was faking, many modern doctors have tried hypothesizing what exactly the girl could have been suffering from, assuming she wasn’t just trying to pull a fast one on her friends and family. Nothing has been pinned down yet, but epilepsy is up there, so you know that shit was serious.
Sadly, people of the time couldn’t even spell epilepsy, let alone tell you what the hell it was, so when a bunch of other girls around Betty’s age started acting strangely as well, people got scared, and a doctor was called to examine them, Dr. William Griggs. Unfortunately, he wasn’t exactly House, and had clearly gotten his PhD in Bullshit, since his only diagnosis was ‘Witchery,’ causing everybody to just about lose it.
Witches in Christian literature, which was just about all that the Puritans were allowed to read, are described as those who hold council with the Devil, and serve him faithfully, in return being granted the powers to cause strife and evil to the human population.
|It all makes sense now.|
Needless to say, Christians loathe witches, and just in case you thought Salem was so infamous because it was the only time people have gone witch hunting, think again- Salem was famous for many reasons, one of them being that it was only the first witch hunt to be held in the Americas, witch hunts in Europe had gone on for centuries, since the Dark Ages in fact, it got to the point where many prisoners who could’ve gotten off scott free, were then charged with witchery just so they could be burned at the stake. Witch hunts actually still occur today in some regions of the world, and even though it’s JK Rowling money-making genius baby, Harry Potter has been banned by many devout Christian communities since it’s a story that makes light of witches and wizards, and actually casts them as the heroes.
But enough talking about how foolish we are today, let’s get back to talking about how foolish we were back in Salem, huh? John Hathorne and Jonathan Corwin, local magistrates, were called into to help with the case, though if their list of suspects during the trials says anything about them, they were less like professional witch hunters, and more like those ghost-hunter clowns you see on TV.
As more and more young girls fell prey to similar ‘afflictions,’ the town became even more obsessed with the whole case, and prominent members of the community began pleading with the girls to reveal who was pulling this bewitching shit on them, so they could send those sons of witches (see what I did there?) straight back to hell where they could get screwed over by their boy the devil for all eternity. The girls were quiet at first, but then the accusations started flying like cool rap stars at the airport, with three different women being accused: Sarah Good, a homeless beggar, Sarah Osborne, another dirt poor old woman, and Tituba, who was like the token black person in the village.
|It's just the way she could clean those floors so fast- it's magic!|
Outside of the obvious racism though, Tituba did make some sense, since she liked to play with the girls of the village by saying she could do spells for them that she had learned in Barbados, the other two though, Good and Osborne, made a little less sense- for one thing, if they actually could perform magic, why the fuck would they be poor? The only evidence the town had against them was they didn’t own land, and Osborne hadn’t been to church in like a year, though honestly, church in Salem was like the world’s most boring pep rally, and the fact that she managed to pick her old-ass up and go EVERY WEEK FOR ALMOST 50 YEARS, is a miracle in itself.
The three were quickly arrested, the official (and totally Christian) judges of Salem were called to the town, and the accused were scheduled to be examined on March 1st, 1692, in Ingersoll’s tavern, though that changed pretty quickly when the day arrived, and the entire town showed up, like it was some kind of party, forcing them to move the whole thing to the court, where it was still treated like a party, only people had more room to scream and yell and pump their fists like lunatics.
|Salem Witch Trials- BYOB.|
Now the system to determine if they were witches was set up like this: if they plead innocent, they would be hanged. If they plead guilty, they would stay get to stay in jail for a while, until the day came when they were hanged. So allow me to retract me earlier statement, IT WAS NOTHING LIKE LAW & ORDER.
You’d think people might have caught on to how stupid these rules were, except they were too busy being pumped up about getting to hunt witches instead of derping around in a field all day, not to mention that whenever one of the accused plead innocent, the group of ‘afflicted’ girls present would start screaming and cussing and yelling about how they were being attacked by invisible monsters and such, which was all the evidence needed apparently.
|Who says court is silly?|
After that, people started getting accused almost monthly, over the most trivial of things, like cheese gone bad, or farm animals gone wild (coming soon, to an internet porn site near you!), none of which was being helped by fucking Tituba, who when accused, immediately plead guilty, and told the judges about how she’d been approached by a tall man from Boston who could turn into a dog, or a hog, which apparently was a huge turn-on for Tituba, as she says that when propositioned by the man to sign his black book and work for him, she said yes, and became a witch.
During the trial, she also admitted that she, Good, and Osborne, were all witches who flew on poles together at night, causing Good and Osborne to probably give her the biggest WTF looks in history, but Tituba just said that when she tried to run to Reverend Parris to be forgiven, the Devil blocked her path, with his magical pig-transformation powers or some shit, a story that got Tituba not pardoned, but life in jail, which does suck less than being burned alive (though not by much).
Because of her, nobody was afraid to believe anymore, and people began pointing fingers at others left and right, from that mean woman two houses over, to the that nice old dude who compliments you everyday. Faced with death, the accused began to take the Tituba route, confessing to their witchery, so they could get some more jail-time, but the court began to catch on however, and instead implemented the infamous ‘Witch Test,’ where the accused would be strapped to a chair and hung by a crane or tree over a large body of water. He/She would then by dumped in, and if (s)he survived, (s)he was a witch, if (s)he died, well, accidents happen. Hah, those silly witches, our Puritan ancestors sure outsmarted them, by golly (some variations of the test existed, like hanging the witch from a noose, or chopping off her head)!
|Okay, well maybe 'outsmarted' isn't the right word...|
Skeptics were also not tolerated, such a John Proctor, a tavern owner who got pissed at the court when they accused his wife, causing him to try and speak out against these ridiculous cases they’d actually been holding, an act that sadly, cost the man his life. On the upside, since his wife was pregnant, she got to live, which is like a horrible twisted version of the Gift of the Magi.
But finally, after a nightmarish year of lies, deceit, murder, and more hangings than a Christmas tree, people finally started to get a hold of themselves, with the more educated of the townsfolk coming together to speak out against the witch hunts, writing books about it, as well as contacting officials and friends in Boston, telling them what was going on and asking for help.
By May of 1693, the witch hunts ended, with about 30 trials ending with the accused being acquitted, and all those accused of witchcraft being released from prison. Today, you can find numerous books about the Witch Trials, as well as many stories with plots and morals similar to the Trials. Many Sci-Fi books and TV shows also love to cover the Witch Trials trope, as a sign of persistent human ignorance, shows like Firefly, and Doctor Who, among others.
Still, I would plead with you not to let stuff like this get you too down, remember, while I’m writing these essays to help prove just how fucking cool humanity totally is, I have to write essays like this one more as admittance that just because we built the Pyramids of Giza in only 20 years, doesn’t mean we have all our shit together. But hey, you have to fall down a lot before you properly learn to walk, and maybe after the huge pratfall we took in a shitty little Puritan town more than 300 years ago, we came a lot closer to learning how to run.
|Witches perform tricks. He performs ILLUSIONS.|