Essay: Witches

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  • Subject area(s): History
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  • Published on: 10th June 2012
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Witches and what are so called witches are viewed very differently in modern society, for the reason being that many have no believe towards it. In past history witches 'since long before the sixteenth century, people had believed that some persons had superpower, the ability to perform good or harmful magic (or both). A good witch, or cunning women, as magic workers were often called, might, for example, heal persons or animals by incantations or potions; she might just as readily kill with a cure or evil eye. In either case, she possessed a power to be reckoned with. By sixteenth century, many-especially among the elite-began to hold a new belief, namely, that such supernatural power came from the devil, who bestowed it chiefly on women in return for their obedience to him' (Barstow, 1994, p. 20). Barstow wrote on her book European witch-hunts, giving a brief definition on how witches were viewed in the past. It was from the environment of Europe, where witches were believed to exist, and also to be followers of the devil. Two Dominican priests in Germany, Kramer and Sprenger wrote the 'witch hunter's Manuel,' Malleus Maleficarum (Barstow, 1994, p. 171). Both of these publications added fuel to the fire the Puritans in Salem began to suspect that they had witches within them, they believed that those who cross the Atlantic brought them.
The Salem witch trials took place in the Salem village during 1692, which is now identified as Denver and Massachusetts. The event involved a number of girls that falsely accused other town individuals of being witches, and having possession over them. It all started with Betty Parris, who at the time was 9 years old and her 11-year-old cousin Abigail Williams, who were the daughter and niece of the Reverend Samuel Parris. The girls began having seizures, which at the time was known as 'beyond the power of Epileptic Fits or natural disease to effect' John Hale, who was the minister in Beverly. The girls threw things, screamed, made strange sounds, began crawling under furniture and twisted themselves into peculiar positions, conferred by the eyewitness explanation of the former town minister Deodat Lawson. The doctor William Griggs after examining the girls was not able to find any physical evidence of illness, at the time other girls in the village began to show similar behavior. The town minister believed the allegations that were being made by girls, and he sentences the ones accused to either confess of being witches or die hanging.
The first girls being accused were Sara Good, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba, a former slave that lived in the household of Reverend Samuel Parris. Sarah Good was an elderly woman who committed a grave sin in the eyes of the puritans, because she did not attend church. Sarah Osborne, who was a homeless beggar who together with Sara Good after being examined by Judge Hathorne and Sheriff Corwin, denied any connection to witchcraft. While the interrogation and questioning were taking place, the girls now eight would cry, yell, and thrash on the floor. Their claim was that even in the courtroom in which the suspects were being examined, their ghosts were afflicting them. Shortly, the girls had all the proof they need to be believed.
Tituba who was a former slave afraid of being hanged, confessed of being a witch to avoid being convicted. She later continued for three days confessing of the crimes being charged off, she articulated of animals that would go to her and ask her to serve them. She also told about mystical creatures that would be sent by the other women, to torment her and lead her to witchcraft. Tituba also told of a tall man who allured her with gifts and asked her for her servitude, the requested included the pinching and afflicting of children. Greatest of all he commanded her that in her supernatural form, she struck the girls with knives. She also added that the tall man had brought a book that he had told her to sign, which she illustrated the book as being the 'Devil's book'. Those who agreed to turn their souls over to him, in order to receive his powers, signed it. She also told of witch gathering, known as Sabbaths which is a supposed annual midnight meeting of witches with the Devil. Tituba defines the event as someplace where the witches would fly together to a mysterious place and dance under the moon; she stated that both Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne were witches that had made pacts with the Devil.
After the confection Sara Good, Tituba and Sarah Osborne were put in jail in Boston, and two months later one of the girls Osborne died from natural causes. Yet, instead of the witchcraft madness ending, the girl's accusations and Tituba confession only made the situation worse. For the reason that the towns people that lived in Salem, believed that where there was one witch there had to be more. The accusations continued during April of 1692, when the girls continued with their afflictions. They blamed a number of people for the continuation of their illness; one of the accused was George Burroughs a former minister of the Village Church. Who graduated from Harvard College in 1670, and became a minister in Casco, Main. While being the minister of Casco in 1675, he escaped a settlement attack by Indians and moved to Salem Village. Later, he served as a Massachusetts minister for two years, but left the position when the leaders of the church could not agree upon his salary. The girls stated that George Burroughs was the leader of the coven, and he himself was the one that made them sign the Devil's book. The next in line to be accused was Rebecca Nurse, who at the time being accused of witchcraft was seventy-one years old and the mother of eight. During her trial, she received a not guilty verdict, but the girls disputed this decision forcing the judge to ask the jury to reconsider their decisions. The trial continued after the non-guilty verdict was given, but when Rebecca failed to answer one of the questioned ask by the jury she was found guilty.
Elizabeth proctor who was also accused by the girls, but at the time of her conviction was pregnant. In agreement with the common law practice which allowed women to 'plea her belly', making the ones accusing her have mercy for her by delaying her hanging right away. Proctor was considered to be one of the lucky ones, for the reason that by the time her baby was born the madness of witches was over. On the other hand, John Proctor, Elizabeth husband was considered to be outspoken and short tempered, when his wife was accused of witchcraft he claimed that the afflicted girl's accusations were a scam. He stood by his wife's side during the entire trial, claiming her innocence during her examination in court someone claimed that he too was a witch. For defending his wife, he became the first male to be accused of witchcraft during the Salem trials. After his accusations he wrote a letter clergymen in Boston, these men were known to be uncomfortable with the witch trials. He outlined definite forms of torture being used to obtain confessions; the letter asked these men to do anything in their power to put an end to the trials. Eight ministers settled that Satan could take the form of innocent people; this decision had no impact on proctor's fate because he ended up being hanged.
There was Mary Easty, who was a wife and a mother of seven, and was very well respected in Salem. She was considered to be a kind religious woman, whose honorable appearance fit the strict Puritans model. But, in April 1692, she could not escape the witchcraft hysteria because she too was accused of being a witch. Her accusations stunned the entire village, because she was not considered to be a social outcast or an outspoken woman by any one. Her accusations of being a witch came from envy, because the Eastys owned a cherished farm in Salem. Mary Easty was tried on September 9, she pleated that 'I never complied, but prayed against [Satan] all my days ? I will say it, if it was my last time, I am clear of this sin.' Before her execution, she wrote a letter to the judges asking that 'no more innocent blood be shed.' (Mary Easty's trial transcript.) Her message brought forward pity and doubt in Salem Village, but was not enough to stop and prevent the last round of hangings.

There was also Martha Corey, who was a respected member of Puritan congregation and known to be a religious woman. She was considered to be outspoken, and did not believe in witches and accused the girls of lying. She was accused of being a witch by the girls, and was hanged on September of 1692. Martha husband Giles Corey, who was considered a wealthy landowner by other citizens in Salem, became one of the most famous victims of the witchcraft hysteria. Being accused of witchcraft he knowing that if he pled guilty, he would be subject to forfeiture of his property and that if he pled innocent he would still most likely be hanged. While in court, he argued that
'I will not plead
If I deny, I am condemned already,
In courts where ghosts appear as witnesses
And swear men's lives away. If I confess,
Then I confess a lie, to buy a life,
Which is not life, but only death in life.' (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 2000, p. 610.) On September 19 'Giles Corey was pressed to death for refusing a trial' (Muraskin/Domash, 2007, p. 28.) The judge and the sheriff forced Corey to lie in a field, and was covered him with a board while heavy stone were laid upon his chest. Every day the sheriff would ask if he plead guilty and everyday he would ask for more stones, until one day the board collapse into his chest killing him instantly.
There were so many accusations by the girls that a special court was created to hear the witch trials, the court of Oyer and Terminer. This court was created by the newly appointed govern of Salem, Sir Phips. The court originated of seven appointed judges; Bartholomew Gedney was the only judge from Salem. Out of the seven appointed judges, four were from Boston: Samuel Sewall, John Richards, William Sergeant and Wait Winthrop. There was William Stoughton the sixth judge appointed, he was from Haverhill. Lastly, there was the chief justice of the court William Stoughton, who was known to be a witch-hunter from Dorchester. When the court was assembled it started by reviewing the testimony that were given during the examinations, but by taking the records from the examinations as a deed that had already been proven. The only business the court had to conduct was listening to testimony, and directs the jury deliberations.
The type of evidence that the court of Oyer and Terminer allowed would be laughed at now, but at the time it was considered to be very deadly. 'Spectral evidence' and the discovery of 'witch marks' on the body were some of the samples of evidence allowed; this was the only hard evidence against the accusers. The girls stated that it wasn't the physical person of Sarah Good or Bridge Bishop that tormented them, but their spirits and ghosts. During the trials the accused witches were not allowed to have legal counsel, and weren't allowed to present witnesses on their defense or even question their petitioners. If the person being accused was found guilty, he or she could not appeal the decision.
Bishop was known for her showy clothing considering the time, also for housing travelers and offered them refreshment. Many men in Salem found her to be very provocative, to the point that even her husband suspected her of witchcraft. He asserted that she wasn't a good wife, and at times he considered her to be outspoken and independent. Bishop was the first to be tried in the court because of the evidence that was being held against her, which included the finding found on her house cellar and arguments against her. The findings in the house included a small doll that was stuck with pins, and the fact that she had sold one of her pigs to a neighbor but it kept returning to her farm. Many of Bishops neighbors accused her of signing the Devil's book, and of flying around the countryside in the form of a demon. During the procedures of bishop trial a great number of witnesses were brought in, to describe the torments and the sufferer that the girls were going through at the hands of the accused. In addition, these witnesses told tales of past evil deeds, claiming that Bridget was to blame for the strange accidents that occurred to her enemies. They also claimed her for the deaths of children that had crossed her path, and for the sickness in neighboring farms' sheep's and cows. Many witnesses stated in the court that Bridget Bishop, in her ghostly form emerged into many of the men's bedrooms during the night.
In addition, 'As part of the gathering of evidence, Bridget's current and previous houses were searched. In the cellar of her previous home, searchers found dolls made of rags with pins stuck in them, similar to voodoo dolls. When confronted with them, Bridget was unable to provide a satisfactory explanation. But Since she had not lived in the house for several years, one must wonder whether the dolls had been put there by a different tenant' (Norton, 2002, pp. 204-207). After all the evidence was presented, she was found guilty and given a sentence of hanging. Yet, at the time of her sentence witchcraft was not punishable by death, it wasn't until after the trial that the Massachusetts court revised an old law assembling witchcraft a capital offense. Her sentence to death was carried out, and became the first individual to actually be hanged in the Salem trials.
After the Bishop trial Judge Nathaniel Saltonstall, appalled the conduct of the court and direction of the prosecution. He believed that spectral evidence was not definitive proof of wrongdoing and that without the spectral evidence, there was very little to condemn Bridget Bishop to death his resignation did not stop the hysteria. On June 15, 1692, twelve Boston ministers led by Cotton Mather issued their regulations to the Court; they urged carefulness and ask for them to look with favor to those being accused. They also suggested that in the category of Spectral evidence it was believed that demons could take the form of the innocents, and for this reason the act of specters could not always be attributed to those accused. By the time they gave this guidance to the court, the jails were overflowing with those accused of being witches. While the prisoners were jailed, they were kept accordingly to their social stations and financial status; they were required to pay for their food and handcuffs. Those who could not afford to pay were kept in small cells; these cells were no bigger than a standing coffin.
On October 1692, the girls accused Lady Phips the wife of the governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony of being a witch. The governor ordered the court to release all of the prisoners and dissolved, the order was followed right away and the ones accused were freed. Yet, many were kept in prison since many had no money to pay for their food and their cells, they were being kept until payment was made. The ones who had forfeited their land never got it back, after the hysteria one of the judges Samuel Sewall issued an apology. Many of Salem citizens after the trials could not get along with one another, like the families of the accused and the accusers. Many tried to apologize for their accusation, by publicly announcing to the families of the accused and people of Salem. Many people forgave the ones who accused them, but many families nevertheless felt it was not enough. Meanwhile the trial's had ended, and there were no more deaths because of witchcraft or an accusation of one. The Salem trials left such and effect on the Village that they changed the name, and until today is called Danvers.
To conclude, there were 200 defendants accused, which included Bridget Bishop, Reverend George Burroughs, Martha Carrier, Giles Corey, Martha Corey, Mary Easty, Sarah Good, Elizabeth How, George Jacobs, Susannah Martin, Rebecca Nurse, Alice Parker, Mary Parker, John Proctor, Ann Pudeator, Wilmot Reed, Margaret Scott, and Samuel Ward well, Sarah Wild, and John Willard. The judges appointed to the Court of Oyer and Terminer were Jonathan Corwin, Bartholomew Gedney, John Richards, Nathaniel Saltonstall, William Sergeant, Samuel Sewall, William Stoughton, and Wait Winthrop. The end result of the trials was 29 guilty Verdicts, 19 were hanged. And the remaining convicted and accused released over a period of years after the governed had ordered they're released. These trials are very unique in American history because, there were no local newspapers available at the time. And the way the information was received by the Salem residence, the county of Essex, and New England were by word of mouth, in other words gossips. Norton transcribes, 'Behind most events in the crisis lay gossip. With one very short-lived exception, late-seventeenth-century New England had no locally produced newspaper or magazines, and so information spread primarily through talk among neighbors, friend, and relatives' understanding the dynamic of the witchcraft crisis requires paying attention to the ways in which news transmitted from person to person, farm to farm, town to town'. People must have constantly discussed the most recent fits and complaints of the afflicted, along with other news stemming from examinations and, later, trials (Norton, 2002, pp. 6). In the outcome of the trials, the initial works to inspect the episodes were produced by the Puritans themselves.
Today Scholars have noticed hypothetically differences between the ones accused and the ones accusing, it was all based on the individual's financial level. Most of the ones being accused lived the south and were generally better off financially, than many of the accusers. In a great number of cases, people blamed a family to gain their property from them after being convicted of witchcraft. In addition, the accused and the accusers normally took opposite sides when it came to congregational schism that split the Salem community, before the eruption of the witch hysteria. Scholars also noted that while many of the ones accused were in support for the former minister George Burroughs, it is to be believed that the accusers had for the most part played a leading role in the compelling Burroughs to leave Salem. In the conclusion many scholars drew from this pattern, they held that property disputes and congregational feuds had a major influence in the determination of who lived, and who died during the trials.

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