The Salem Journal: The Hysteria

Witches' Remise

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Trust: The Question That is Sending Salem Into Turmoil

By Molly B

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As the community tumbles into the darkness of chaos and the devil, people are finding themselves asking questions. Some questions are un-answerable, others obvious. But there is one question that has come up for every person in Salem -- the question of trust.

The issue of trust begins with Reverend Parris, who moved from Boston to Salem to become the new minister in 1689 with his wife, three children, and his niece, eleven-year-old Abigail Williams. He brought with him two Native American slaves, John Indian and Tituba. Parris is obsessed with his own status and believes in a strict Puritan theology that makes a clean distinction between good and evil. His daughter, nine-year-old Elizabeth ("Betty"), is full of her father's religious beliefs. Her best friend is her cousin, Abigail. It was a pretty boring life for young Abigail and Elizabeth, with Parris's strict orders. In general, Parris is quite a trustworthy man. He would most likely not tell a lie out of fear that he might not go to heaven.

Parris's slave, Tituba, however, was not a woman to be trusted. She secretly told the girls her fascinating stories very differently from Parris's strict Puritan rules. Tituba was from the Barbados Islands where Parris had obtained her. Tituba was brought up with black magic. She of course could not tell the minister about this, so she would tell her stories to the girls. Other young women began to come to hear the wondrous stories Tituba told. The girls were amazed, but scared that somebody would find out. Tituba's "activities" were punishable by death. The girls trusted this slave only because of their curiosity. Young women have a pretty dull, uninteresting life. So, when Tituba offers to tell the girls stories filled with magic and shows them how to see their future husband with an egg, the girls are intrigued. With Tituba being a women slave, and having such an amazing knowledge and secret life, then the girls feel that they should be able to have an interesting life as well.

Then one day, Betty fell ill, and Abigail soon after. It seemed like both were in a kind of trance and had convulsive fits. They were acting strangely, twitching, barking like dogs. Ministers and doctors were brought in and none could find the cause of these fits, other than the devil. At first, Parris would not believe that the girls were bewitched, being the religious man he is. But everyone else certainly did. People came from all over to see the bewitched girls. The girls were in the spotlight. Soon after the girls began to intensify their antics. The girls had their fits on street corners, occurring all the time. The fits attracted large crowds. The girls were constantly being questioned and examined by people.

The new found popularity and power the girls are experiencing may be pleasing to them, and trusting them means that there fits are getting out of hand. Young women are at one of the lowest rungs of our community, and this newfound popularity may be like a dream come true. This may also be a reason that the accusations that followed soon after may have been just "for sport". The exciting mess of the trials, of all the accusations and deaths, may have all been a game to the girls, which is a horrific thought.

Betty finally blurted out the name "Tituba" in one of her fits. Others agreed (Tituba had been known to be associating with the devil) and the crowd agreed with two more names: Sarah Good and Sarah Osburne. All who were taken to jail to await trial. The court agreed that these names made sense because Osburne hadn't attended church for nearly a year and Good was a beggar and smoked.

At first, the town of Salem refused to arrest anyone other than the three accused, but soon about twenty other people and unmarried women (perhaps also because of popularity) began to have these "fits." Tituba claimed that there were nine more witches in the area, sending a chill over Salem. Soon, Salem was full of gossip. The girls screamed and moaned out the names of "witches and wizards"some of these names included religious and respected people like sweet, godly, respected, old Rebecca Nurse. Rebecca Nurse being accused and hung meant that anyone could be. Neighbors did not trust neighbors. Salem town is now a wreck. As the hysteria increases, the afflicted people incorporate the gossip from all over into their accusations. And so the terrible gossip spreads, and spreads, and spreads.

People may believe Elizabeth and Abigail's accusations for a variety of reasons. One reason may be it is the result of the war the English have been battling against the Native Americans. The English have always believed that the Native Americans are associated with dark magic. For the Puritans, the invisible world and the visible world are blended together. The English may have connected the war in the visible world, where the Indians were attacking them, to the invisible world, where witches were attacking them. In the Puritans' mind, both the witches and the Native Americans are associating with the devil. And if the English could not defeat the devil and his Indian "allies" at war, perhaps they could then defeat him in the courtroom. Defeating the devil by killing "witches and wizards" means victory for the English.

Also, in this invisible and visible world it is easy for the Puritans to believe the afflicted girls simply because of their theology. God and the devil, heaven and hell, elect and not elect, and good and evil, are things that Puritans think about all the time and are always aware and careful of. So, when Elizabeth and Abigail are affected by these forces and call someone a witch, it is difficult to disagree.

People also began using spectral evidence to determine who was a witch. Spectral evidence is a form of evidence that uses visions and dreams. If the devil could take the shape of a person, that person is a witch according to spectral evidence. For example, if the afflicted girls spy the shapes of people flying about causing harm, then those people are witches. This is a form of examination that is often not trustworthy. If someone claims they saw a bird with a face that looks like someone else, it is impossible to deny. The judges and ministers believe this form of evidence because of this, and in part because of their faith in their religion. Their religion claims that the devil cannot take the shape of an innocent person. So, if a minister or judge says that seeing a persons face on a bird means they're a witch is crazy, the minister or judge is going against their own religion. Also, the ministers and judges may be simply nervous about the situation they're in, and perhaps if they try to put a halt to spectral evidence, people will go against them in fear that the devil will attack them or their families.

Spectral evidence is also a way to tell if Salem should trust the afflicted girls. The girls may be using spectral evidence because it is impossible to deny. They can use this as a tool to maintain their power over Salem. When the girls use spectral evidence, it is not only beggars, slaves, and women they can accuse. Nobody is stopping them from starting to accuse people of higher status, providing the girls with more power. Believing the afflicted girls may have caused a turn for the worse.

Salem is in chaos. Accusations are being thrown about as carelessly as children playing catch. It is time to determine the truth.

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