Economic Factors of Witch Trials in Salem
Magic, sometimes called sorcery or witchcraft, is the use of supernatural power that is derived from rituals, actions or gestures, symbols, language alone or in any combination to perform actions that are beyond the abilities of normal human beings. The realism of magic’s practice differs from an individual to another and between communities, although the practice is believed to be distributed all over the world. Its origin is not clear, and is argued to have been in existence even before the start of time. However, the punishment of sorcery, which means the practice from evil spirit’s power, has been occurred since BC 1772, when occurred due to the Code of Hammurabi. Particularly, the attitude against magic was changed from generosity to persecution in medieval times. This negative views and punishment to magicians, especially witches, were intensified after Hundred Year’s War, Black Death, Religious Reformation, and Thirty Year’s War in medieval Europe countries. After suffering rapid social, economical, and religious change, witch-hunt had become so acute from 1450 to 1750. During these chaos era, witch craze was also introduced in America by British. In 1692, there was famous witch-hunting occurred in Salem, Massachusetts.
The Salem witch trials occurred in Massachusetts in 1692. The concept of witches, Satan, and magic in Europe in the fifteenth century spread to America, and this concept was widely believed in America of the 17th century that the supernatural phenomenon is part of a lifetime. Especially, in Salem, faith in witches and magic was fairly widespread. At that time, in Salem village, there was in very tense atmosphere because of all the factors such as smallpox occurrence, rivalry among powerful families, and the risk of attack by native Americans. Meanwhile, the tragedy began in January 1692 in Salem, where several young girls had the same symptoms as seizures, twisting limbs with pain, hiding under a desk, and fever. Pastor Mother declared that the devil stationed in Salem, and this summon of the devil was caused by witches. For that reason, Mother warned that the witches would soon face the most severe punishment. Mother ‘s preaching and his books fueled the flames of Salem’ s witch hysteria. Little girls who suffered from seizures identified three women as the witches – slaves from the Caribbean, homeless beggar, and poverty-stricken old lady. The poor three women were soon caught and interrogated, and one of them brought in the other women whom they knew that the real witch was in another. In this way, the situation started a chain reaction, causing more than 200 people to be arrested as the witches, and a special court was set up to try to judge them. Finally, twenty people were publicly hanged. This collective insanity attracted more than half a year and eventually reached the point where the most prominent and respected figures of the village were involved in witch hunting. People had only calmed down until the summer of 1692, when they realized something was wrong.
There are many debates about the reasons why the Salem witch trials occurred. The concept that the widespread religious perception of witches from European ideas had brought Salem tragedy is predominant. However, there is a counter-argument which is the witch trials in Salem occurred not only because of Puritan beliefs, but also due to economic reasons.
Salem was divided into two parts: Salem Village and Salem Town. Basically, people in Salem village were relatively poor compared to people in Salem town. Salem town held more power in economic and political way than Salem village. Its residents of town were mainly wealthy traders who controlled the trading activities between London and the agriculturalists in the Salem village. Salem village was, on the other hand, mainly composed of peasant farmers who struggled to produce crops from the rocky soil in their area (Le Beau, 2016). The town thus dominated over the village’s economy, civilization and class among others. Further, Salem village exhibited its own divisions, mainly based on the different perceptions relating to the town. The Eastern division that was close to the town benefited from it which diversified methods through which they earned a living (Le Beau, 2016). This explains their desire to maintain the existing relationships in the community. The westerners were mainly farming families, notably the domineering Putnams, who felt disadvantaged by the town and are the main proponents were the main proponents of the trial. Therefore, trial was not an isolated issue, with evidence pointing to the discomfort the Putnams had over the economic might enjoyed by the town and its growing supporters. The original accusations of witchcraft practices sprung from Rev. Samuel Parris’ homestead, a Putnam and the village minister, where his daughter and niece accused the family slave, and other unappreciated members of the society, for practicing sorcery. During this period, family of Parris was facing financial difficulties triggered by the community’s refusal to fund his ministerial services. The accusers displayed abnormal habits of ill health that were not demystified on medical grounds (Le Beau, 2016). Later, many theorists argued that the symptoms displayed by these girls would have been caused by boredom, epilepsy, child abuse and eating fungus-infected rye, with all these scenarios being rampant in Parris’ homestead. The initial accused members were from the disregarded and unimportant members of the society, notably Tituba, who it is argued admitted to the accusations because of her low social class (Le Beau, 2016). For this reason, it is logical to say that even though the trials were defined by her confession, they represented bigger forces of economic divisions, and Tituba was used a loophole to release the steam. Minister Parris was bitter about his reduced perks and the accusations initially focused on poor individuals.
There is other view that economic factor caused Salem witch trials, without regard to divide Salem into village and town. Before the trials, Salem was a religion-based and community-oriented place. The local Puritan ministers took advantage of these characteristics of Salem through witch-hunting. It means that in religion and community–based place, ministers could control over the citizens easily. “The ministers used the witchcraft hysteria as a demand-pull mechanism to maintain their political-economic influence over the area.” (King, Mixon 2010). To be specific, minister needed to control increased commercialization. Prior to the trials, they used barter system when economic actions occurred. But, after pulling the demand through trials, the method of exchange was changed from barter system to using paper currency which could satisfy the increased demand in Salem. This change increased merchants’ benefits through commercial activity and new market participants. These social, business, and legal modifications reflected the shift from the historical community-based, ministerial-controlled model to the more modern model (King, Mixon 2010).
Le Beau, Bryan.F. The story of the Salem witch trials. Routledge. (2016). Book
King, Ernest W and Mixon, Jr. Franklin G. Religiosity and the political economy of the Salem witch trials. The Social Science Journal. (2010): 678-688. Article
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