Belief in magic is as old as mankind. People have always believed you could use magic to improve your crop or heal illnesses. In Greek and Roman times belief in magic was widespread. However it was not always used for good. People believed they could use magic to harm by causing sickness or misfortune. For most of the Middle Ages ‘white magic’, used to heal or increase fertility was tolerated. However from the end of the 15th century onward people increasingly believed that some human beings would actually make a ‘contract’ with the Devil. In the 16th and 17th centuries most people firmly believed in an evil supernatural power as well as a good one. In 1688, a woman named Mary Glover was hanged in Boston. A man named Cotton Mather was involved in this case and convinced of the reality of witchcraft and he became involved in the events at Salem. From 1689 he was the minister of a church meeting in Salem Village. The witch mania began there, but it soon spread to other communities.
The witch hysteria in Salem began in January 1692. It led to the deaths of more than 20. Altogether 19 people were executed by hanging (in most of Europe witches were burned but in England and the North American colonies the punishment was hanging). Another man, Giles Corey was pressed to death. He was accused of being a witch but before the trial could proceed he had to plead guilty or not guilty. Corey bravely refused to plead. To try and force him heavy weights were placed on him. The unfortunate man eventually died from this torture. Furthermore four people died in prison while awaiting trial.
The witch mania began when two girls, 9 year old Betty Parris and her 11 year old cousin Abigail Williams, tried fortune telling. The two were staying with Betty’s father, Reverend Samuel Parris. During the winter they and their friends dabbled with fortune telling by cracking eggs into a glass and interpreting the shapes that were formed.
The family owned a slave called Tituba. She may have been present when the fortune telling took place. It has also been suggested that Tituba told the girls tales about witchcraft and so influenced them. Whatever exactly happened by 20 January 1692 the two girls were having strange fits. A doctor called William Griggs was called but he was unable to explain it and claimed the girls were bewitched. Unfortunately he started a chain of events. On 29 February 1692 the three were arrested. On 1 March, Judge John Hathorne and Judge Jonathan Corwin examined them. Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne denied the charges but Tituba confessed. Perhaps she felt that if she denied the charge she would not be believed, after all she was only a slave. She may also have hoped that if she confessed she would be spared. If so she was correct. Tituba was imprisoned for a while but she was not executed. Once the witch hysteria was over Tituba withdrew her confession. One of the most horrific aspects of the witch hysteria was that if you were accused and you confessed your life was spared. However if you were accused and you denied the charge but where then convicted you were hanged. Furthermore if you expressed skepticism about the witch trials you might be accused to being a witch.
Until tomorrow: Witches are the kind of more traditional, home and family, craft people, so they’re the ones who are making things; crocheting shawls and things like that. But then they also have that slightly confident, dangerous, edge. I always see them as having very extreme hair, either amazingly beautiful straight hair or kind of wild.