Salem Witch Trials Literature Review

841 Words4 Pages
Review of Literature
The religiously motivated Salem witch trials of 1692 left a permanent stain on Massachusetts’ history, but one overlooked factor could have sparked the tragic ordeal. The trials are best summarized as an inexplicable and unforeseen frenzy of accusations, aimed at the social pariahs of the community, that led to multiple deaths in a previously tranquil place. An intense type of food poisoning known as convulsive ergotism provides a seemingly simple, yet understandably deceptive to the ignorant, explanation. Due to optimum conditions for the disease, the correlation between the bewitched and the expected symptoms, and the religious fanaticism of the time, one can conclude ergotism was an influence on the Salem witch trials.
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Symptoms such as “tingling hands/fingers, vertigo, hallucinations, vomiting, muscle contractions, mania, psychosis, delirium, and melancholia” appear in sufferers from the rye infesting fungus and correlate with those allegedly under the influence of “the devil or witchcraft” in 1692 (Chevers 5). Tituba, one of the many women accused, reported to her interrogator she saw creatures that possessed “wings and two legs and a head like a woman” which appears justifiable by supernatural forces, unless the witness suffered from ergot poisoning, in which case this account may be attributed to the hallucinations sustained by the disease (Chevers 4). Catherine Branch establishes another case supporting the mirroring symptoms of those enduring ergotism and those enduring bewitchment when she underwent “pinching and pricking sensations, hallucinations, and spells of laughing and crying” while claiming to be cursed before ultimately dying. Despite that some suggest the accused people of Salem invented their symptoms, but this does not offer an explanation for the animals’ behavior in the area; exemplified by a dog whose actions corresponded with the symptoms of bread poisoning after he ate “Tituba’s witch cake” (Mixon 181). The immense correlation between the disease and the accused continues throughout multiple cases of both people…show more content…
Besides the ergot outbreak, harsh winters “accompanied by Indian raids and smallpox outbreaks” plagued the area, consequently leaving people especially susceptible to manipulation from outside forces (Mixson 180). Without the advanced knowledge of today, people in the past relied on authorities as a source for answers and comfort during tumultuous times; in Puritan dominated Salem of 1692 this authoritative source was the church. One representative and priest of the Puritan church, Samuel Parris, expressed that the afflicted people acted as they did because “God was angry and sending forth destroyers in the form of witches” (Mixson 180). Such words from respected institutions incited fear in the population, causing residents specifically Samuel Sewall to write, “I prayid that God would pardon all my Sinfull Wanderings” as a reaction to the increasing hysteria (Sewall 361). Regarding the imprisoned that confessed to witchcraft, those under the influence of ergotism are considered “highly suggestible,” meaning that pressuring interrogators possessed the ability to easily manipulate the ill into seeing “religious scenes” without the sick separating reality from hallucinations
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