Considering the proceedings at the erroneously called Salem Witch Trials, the erroneous part being the word trial, one would think that they took place, at the very least, at the end of the “proper” Middle Ages, just before the Renaissance started putting a bit of a rein on religious nonsense, or better still, in the full-blown Inquisition period or in ancient barbaric times.
So when did the Salem witch trials take place, in fact? Why smack at the end of said Renaissance, between 1692 and 1693, at a time when the world was gearing up to enter the modern era. But then again, the Renaissance started earliest in Italy in the 13th century and took its sweet time to spread to the rest of Europe by the 16th century. So in this context, the Salem witch trials of 1962 are excusable since they happened waaaay over in America, and the Renaissance’s tiny hands and feet couldn’t yet swim across the pond, right?
Of course not! Just as the Inquisition or the feeding of live children by their parents to a furnace in the name of Baal in antiquity are definitely not excusable. We are each of us responsible for our actions and especially reasoning, no matter the times we live in. Not to mention the fact that the Salem Massachusets witch trials occurred in… you got the subtle hints so far, the United States of America, a would-be progressive and enlightened power, land of the free.
What irks many historians and common people alike, is not only the sheer absurdity of the proceedings, but the added pretense at “scientific” and “medical” procedures in order to show beyond a doubt that the poor Salem witch trials victims were in fact heinous servants of Satan, whose occult power they spread to the detriment of the community.
What a load of bull! Here’s a list of 5 of these scientific procedures so you can see for yourself.
1. Stab the teat
One proof was to stab an alleged witch’s mole or any sort of skin blemish with a pin and if he/she didn’t feel it or no blood flowed, then he/she was surely a witch. Because, of course, moles and skin spots are really rare in the human population, right? I mean you don’t happen to have some yourself, no? You … do?! My God, call the judges! (And also watch out the next time you go to a Dermatologist. He might denounce you…).
2. Cake tiiiiiime!
Cake. Yay. Cake is good. We all like cake. Except when it’s used against us as evidence… The cake in question was rye meal mixed with the urine of girls whom the witch on trial had supposedly cursed/enchanted/harmed in any way. Those in charge of prosecuting(? ha!) fed the cake to dogs upon which the witch would scream because part of her was put in that cake via the girls whom she had inflicted with her evil manifestation. Believe it or not, this was considered a proof and practice within the bounds of the Cartesian “Doctrine of Effluvia”, a document which was considered medical at the time, and which explained the witches’ mechanism of inflicting damage on others by “venomous and malignant particles, that were ejected from the eye”.
3. High-stakes Bible class
If only they had had Spelling Bee contests and public speaking classes back then… You see, one test was to recite the Lord’s Prayer to prove that you’re not a witch. Simple, huh? Except… You couldn’t make any mistakes. And by any we mean ANY. No stammering, no mispronunciations, no fidgeting/spasming/twitching, not even hesitations. Add to that the fact that you had to do it in public, in front of people who wanted to kill you for being different (or because they were cuckoo themselves) and that most people in the backwoods of America at that time were not exactly the best orators on the planet, not to mention the reports and theories of latter historians that many of those on trial had been involuntary consumers of foods which had LSD producing fungus on them and/or mentally ill or retarded, and you can see how daunting this procedure was.
4. Baths and a nice massage
Don’t get your hopes up. I’m talking about “dunking” and “pressing”, two of the methods used in the Salem witch trials. The first consisted of submerging the accused under water up to the point of drowning and then bringing him/her back up to ask politely if he/she was a warlock or witch. If met with a refusal, the questioner would repeat the process as many times necessary until either death or confession, which resulted in … death. The second involved placing the accused under heavy stones (because you can surely talk when you can barely breathe, right?) and asking him to confess. Like above, if met with refusal add more stones until death or success, except here the variation is that death meant crushed.
5. And the Oscar goes to…
Probably the best and most effective methods of smoking out warlocks and witches were “the touch test” and “the dream evidence”. In both cases, witnesses came forth to profess the accused’s guilt. In the first case, the good citizen would have to be of the afflicted-by-the-evil-witch, tantrum throwing, mysteriously and non-symptomatically ill variety and this unfortunate fact would be known and unquestioned among his understanding peers. He/she would step up to the accused and the accused would touch him/her. If the afflicted’s fits would stop, then the accused was a warlock or witch. Cool, huh? The second case involved having a witness come forth and just simply reveal… (dramatic climax music) … that he/she had seen the accused doing the Devil’s work in dreams or visions… Cool again, huh? I mean back then, if you had a beef with somebody all you had to do is be a convincing actor and bam! 100% satisfaction guaranteed. And by that I mean his/her execution. Neat!
How did the Salem witch trials end, you ask? Some wise people finally stepped up (initially anonymously like the minister of the Third Church in Boston, Samuel Willard) and presented the view that testimonies from the afflicted and confessions from the accused are the most unreliable form of “proof” and should be discarded. Once that was accepted, the conviction rates declined staggeringly and the trials finally stopped altogether.
Too bad that in the Salem witch trials Abigail Williams is an important figure specifically for the causes above, as she was one of the first of the “afflicted” which set the events in motion. If people had had the courage to use some reason and urge their peers to do the same perhaps the whole series of executions could have been averted.
If you want to learn more about the sad events mentioned above, go watch the National Geographic Salem witch trials documentary that can be found online.