The Salem Witch Hysteria

In 1692, a group of young girls and women started displaying strange behavior. When a doctor was summoned, he could not identify any physical problem with their health. Having been unable to identify a physical health issue, the doctor argued that the symptoms were those of witchcraft (McMillan 595). As time went by, more people were diagnosed with similar symptoms in the village. There was panic in the population of Salem. People determined that they needed to identify and stop those responsible before the situation worsened.

When prayer could not cure the symptoms, the victims were pestered to give the names of those who were doing this to them. The victims then selected the first group of three women. The three women supposedly performed certain acts of witchcraft that were seen by them either physically or through their dreams and visions. A special court was created in February 29, 1692 to try the witches (Martin & Bascle 56).

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The evidence given to the courts included accounts by the victims of about how they were tortured by the accused. Some of the accused were also put under torture and forced to confess (Woolf 459). In some cases, eye witnesses presented testimony to the courts. The courts also required that examinations be performed on the accused to determine if they had the characteristics of evidence. The courts also accepted spectral evidence. This was evidence given by the victims about how the accused tortured them in their dreams and visions. The victims accused the witches’ ghosts and spirits coming to them in their dreams and tormenting them and others. Sometimes, they claimed, the specter appeared to them in other forms like in the form of animals which were also referred to as the familiar of the witch. At one point, the girls departed from their usual culprits and moved to the rest of the society. While they had previously selected those individuals who “resembled” and sometimes behaved like witches, they now selected even those individuals who did not fit these descriptions.

For one to understand the trials of the witches in Salem, one must withhold himself from thinking about the justice systems used today. In those days, religion was evident in every sphere of life. It was accepted that anything that could be explained in religious terms was acceptable as evidence. The belief of the existence of witches was also widespread hence allowing the victims an easy time in accusing the accused.

The accusations led to the hanging of various individuals. The society eventually lost place for this kind of accusations. One Revered Increase Mayer condemned the use of spectral evidence in Cases of Conscience Concerning Evil Spirits Personating Men, Witchcrafts; Infallible Proofs of Guilt in such as are accused with that Crime (Marvel 16). After this, there was mass departure from the belief in witchcraft. The number of those accused with the crime dropped steadily after that. By the time the accusations eventually stopped, a total of nineteen people had been hanged, one had been stoned and more than four others died in prison while waiting for their trial.

The Salem witch hysteria is a historical case where the justice system failed to protect its people. The justice system leaned too much towards religion enabling it to be misused. As a consequence, many individuals lost their lives while others were tortured in various ways. Luckily, the society has moved away from such scenarios and no longer has a place for these kinds of scenarios.

Works Cited

Martin, Michael, and Brian Bascle. The Salem Witch Trials. 1st ed. Mankato, Minn.: Capstone Press, 2005. Print.

Marvel, Laura. The Salem Witch Trials. 1st ed. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2003. Print.

McMillan, Timothy J. ‘Anatomy Of Hysteria Peter Charles Hoffer: The Salem Witch Trials: A Legal History.(Lawrence, KS: University Press Of Kansas, 1997. Pp. Xii, 170)’. The Review of Politics 60.03 (1998): 595–596. Print.

Woolf, Alan. ‘Witchcraft Or Mycotoxin? The Salem Witch Trials’. Clinical Toxicology 38.4 (2000): 457–460. Print.

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