The Salem Journal: The Hysteria

Witches' Remise

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How the Hysteria Began

By Taylor B and Miles L-G

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When nine-year-old Elizabeth Parris began acting strangely in late August 1691 her father, Reverend Samuel Parris, first believed she was the victim of physical ailment. Reverend Parris got the help of many doctors, but Dr. William Greggs said that Elizabeth's illness was the work of witches. Soon, however, Reverend Parris determined that Elizabeth and the rapidly growing list of "afflicted girls" were victims of a more sinister agent, the devil. By February 1692 what began as an isolated incident in the minister's household grew into the infamous Salem Witch Trials, with Samuel Parris at the center of the controversy. However, the belief of witches did not start when Samuel Parris arrived. It had had been going on for generations. People had always been superstitious.

The Salem Witch Trials started as a game; two little girls playing around. Tituba was a slave from the West Indies who would tell the two little girls, Abigail Williams and her cousin Elizabeth Parris scary stories, stories of voodoo and devils. Tituba taught Abigail and Elizabeth to mew like cats and bark like dogs. Everyone thought it was a game, but to Elizabeth's father Reverend Samuel Parris, it was anything but. He had heard of people being put under spells by witches and he thought that that is what had happened to Elizabeth and Abigail. Also Elizabeth and some of her friends got Tituba and her husband to make a "witch cake." A "witch cake" was a piece of rye bread with Elizabeth's urine that would be cooked and fed to a dog. The dog was thought to be a witch's servant and once the dog eats the cake the spell on the person would break and it will reveal the identity of the witch.

The next event that proved Reverend Samuel Parris's beliefs was that Sunday. In church, the girls spoke about silly things during the meeting such as "there is a yellow bird on the minister's head," which was said by a girl named Anne Putnam Jr. (another friend of Elizabeth). People at church believed that no one would interrupt a good church service but the devil, so when Elizabeth and Abigail accused Sarah Good (a town beggar), Sarah Osborne (an old Puritan settler) and Tituba (a slave) of casting a spell on them, everyone believed it. Later Elizabeth and Abigail accused more innocents.

Tituba denied the accusation but her "confession" was beaten out of her. She finally said she was working with the devil and that she rode on a broomstick. She spoke of a tall man who told her to sign the book of the devil in blood. However, she also spoke of a book, the names of all the witches in Salem. According to Tituba, there were nine witches. Herself, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne were amongst the names on the list, but the other six witches were unknown.

The Salem Witch Trials is a good example of what happens when superstitions are taken too far. In this case, people were so superstitious they did not trust anyone that was different. Tituba was the most outcast out all of all of them, because she was not from Salem. She was from an Arawak village in South America. She was not used to life in Salem, so she acted like she would at home. She entertained the children of Salem by telling them stories that had most likely been brought down from generation to generation in her village. Let these deaths teach the future of what happens when certain beliefs are taken too far.

The hysteria began when the girls disobeyed Samuel Parris and learned from Tituba about how to sound like animals. Later they fell into a trance and made the whole town into a mess where everybody was against each other. In our current society the adults would take care of this, they would tell the Tituba that the stories she told would be okay to tell from where she was from but that in Salem, the kids would believe that. However the adults not only could not put the things in the stories in perspective but they also believed that the things in the stories were real and children started of accusing people from what they heard in those stories and the adults, instead of stopping it, killed the accused.

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