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Salem Witchcraft: Reasons and Explanations

Salem Witchcraft: Reasons and Explanations - SALEM...

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SALEM WITCHCRAFT: REASONS AND EXPLANATIONS I. Background to Witchcraft – the issues with witches would not happened if the Puritan  society had stayed in its original state. There was very little conflict in the community  – almost a utopia. In a utopia there is no such thing as change; the community is  getting larger and things are changing. People wanted more things, different food,  larger houses, at the cost of disturbing the utopia. Though harmonious, New England  is very conservative. a. Initial harmony i. Growing conflict ii. Growth of accusations of witchcraft – there were no accusations of  witchcraft from the time the Puritans arrived to the late 1640s. Everyone  in New England believed in witchcraft; it was a common belief, central to  their idea of the world. This was a common institution in a place where  everyone talks about God, the Devil, salvation, etc. Witchcraft was  defined as “entertaining Satan;” which is why women were almost always  accused. When someone was accused, they were strip searched (men  included) to try and find ticks to show the person “suckling Satan.” Cotton  Mather said that the devil would arrive in the place he most hated and  where he was the most hated – in a way the people of New England  welcomed witchcraft because it made them “important.” b. Normal witchcraft i. Psychological release – can serve for a society that is not allowed to  show its tensions and conflicts; people take their frustrations out on one  person. Because these people thought they were perfect, all of the day  to day tensions began to build up and there was no way to release them.  After blaming a witch and purging her, the community was able to  reinforce traditional morals and community standards. The witch served  as a scapegoat.  c. “Major panic” – it escalated into this after the couple of outsiders were executed.  It got into the larger community – ordinary farmers or leaders of the community  were being accused.  i. Salem – the community tore itself apart trying to find witches. Salem got  completely out of control because the social tensions were worse there  than anywhere else. In New England there were 230 witchcraft cases,  and 36 were executed (20 in Salem). It was important for these people to  blow off steam, reaffirm their beliefs, and use scapegoats – but why  THESE people? 90% of the people put to death were women. With the  exception of Salem, men were not put to death for being a witch. No  matter how sick and schizophrenic the man was, he would not be killed;  men could get away with anything. Particularly in New England, women 
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