The Salem Witch Trials: A Tale of Patriarchy, Persecution and Misogyny


The first to be sentenced was Bridget Bishop, a 60-year-old woman who was hanged in June 1692 on what later became Gallows Hill. Five more were executed a month later. Minister Cotton Mather and his father, Increase Mather (who was then president of Harvard) pleaded with the court not to allow the use of “spectral evidence” in trials, saying “it was better than 10 suspected witches escape rather than just one. innocent person be condemned ”, yet 19 innocent people were murdered.

Contrary to popular belief, the victims were not burnt at the stake – they were hanged, tortured or died in prison. Giles Corey, a 71-year-old man, refused to plead guilty or innocent in court; as punishment, heavy stones were pressed against him until he perished.

It was not until 1702 that the court declared the witch trials illegal. “It was such a fall from grace. The people who settled in Massachusetts came with such high, idealistic and unattainable expectations of what life would be like and the godly community they would build, ”says Baker. “I think the shock of that fall, along with the witch trials, was something that people here never forgot and never really was. [able] forgive yourself.

It turns out that witch hunts weren’t new. The Salem trials, tragic as they are, pale in comparison to what has happened elsewhere. “We know that during the so-called heyday of the witch-hunt, between about 1400 and the American Revolution, about 100,000 people were tried as witches in Europe and its colonies, and half of them were executed, ”Baker said. “It was a huge phenomenon that [went] For centuries. In some witch hunts, 1,000 to 2,000 people have died over a period of a few years.

Solleé says there were many factors which combined to spur accusations of witchcraft across Europe during these years, including “cases of pestilence, war and famine, with agricultural yields affected. by the climate change of the Little Ice Age. You also have the invention of the printing press, which allowed treatises on witches, the devil, and supernatural evil to spread more widely.

Women were viewed, according to biblical doctrine, as weaker recipients and therefore more susceptible to Satan’s evil and cunning, Baker explains. “To come back to the biblical teachings where Eve [was] fashioned from an Adam’s rib, the woman was considered inferior to the man, “he adds.

Solleé also highlights the role of gender in witch hunts, noting that “70-80% of those accused of witchcraft in early modern Europe and North America were women.” She continues: “Most of the witches accused in Salem were middle-aged women, which is in line with what happened in Europe, where most of the witches accused were over 40, which coincides with the decline. of fertility, the yardstick by which a woman’s worth was primarily judged backward. so. By the time the Salem incident happened, you had centuries of myths, folk tales, and historical documents linking the demonic figure of the witch to women and femininity. Further, “in 17th century Christian thought, it was believed that women’s bodies and minds were more prone to vice and more sensitive to Satan. Thus, the myth of the woman-witch was deeply rooted in Western culture in 1692.


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