By: Jasmine Wolfe
Belief in the supernatural-and specifically in the devil’s practice of giving certain humans (who were presumed to be witches) power in the intent to harm others in return for their loyalty was a common belief in late 1400s. The infamous Salem witch trials began during the spring of 1692 in the little Salem Village in Massachusetts. One way they determined if someone was a witch was if they were having fits. These fits included screaming, odd sounds, throwing things, contorting their bodies, and complaining of biting and pinching sensations. They were unable to account for their behavior medically. The local doctor William Griggs put the blame on the supernatural. Fourteen women and six men were executed for witchcraft, and five others died in prison during the trials.
One of the people who perished in prison was only an infant. The baby died of malnutrition shortly after birth. Many in the community who viewed the unfolding events as travesties remained mute, afraid that they would be punished for raising objections to the proceedings by being accused of witchcraft themselves, therefore people kept quiet because they were scared to speak up. Some students were asked Do you think if you lived during that time you could have been considered a witch based off of what they considered “witch qualities”? Emma Wrighter said “definitely” and Merissa Nowikowski said “yes”. The ones that were accused were forced to defend themselves without aid of counsel. In 1702 the General Court declared the trials had been unlawful. In the end, nineteen people had been hanged and five others had died in custody. Additionally, a man was pressed beneath heavy stones until he died.
Looking back at the perspective provided by modern science, some scholars have speculated that strange behavior may have results from some combination of asthma, encephalitis, Lyme disease, epilepsy, child abuse, delusional psychosis or convulsive ergotism or another disease that was caused by eating bread or rye that has been infected with the fungus ergot. It causes vomiting, choking fits, hallucinations, and the sense of something crawling on one’s skin. This was all evidenced by history.com.