Explaining Salem

Witches do not exist, therefore there were no witches in Salem. Ergot poisoning seems hardly likely to be restricted to the degree necessary to allow for that theory to explain how witch hysteria could be so precisely delineated by geographical borders. The most likely underlying explanation behind the Salem witchcraft hysteria has been contained within the public record all along, but rather than applying Occam’s Razor to boil rationality down to the most likely essence, others have attempted to impose an explanation as dependent up the unlikely as the explanation that witches were actually behind it all.

The simplest explanation is always the best and the simplest explanation for the Salem witchcraft outbreak is that these Puritans had reached a point in their grand experiment to found a city on the hill that they were no longer the persecuted powerless, but the powerful persecutors. According to one visitor, the Puritans colony has become a center for some of the most narrow-minded and judgmental authoritarian governance in the history of North America. By the 1670s, the Puritan in Massachusetts rivaled the Spanish Inquisition in their treatment of other denominations: “Quakers they whip, banish, and hang if they return again. Anabaptists they imprison, fine and weary out” (Josselyn). In addition to manifesting extreme intolerance of those not like themselves, even amongst themselves they had already found a way to create the social hierarchies constructed upon economics, but steeled by pious superiority “in which some of their merchants are damnable rich; generally all of their judgment, inexplicably covetous and proud, they receive your gifts but as an homage or tribute due to their transcendency” (Josselyn). The accounts of this visitor to the colonies speaking with an objective eye toward observation and without an agenda to punish the transgressions of the Puritans creates a general foundation upon which to explain the specifics of the witch accusations.

The concept of the Puritans as devoted and hard-working and accepting of their fate as beyond their capacity to change since it was predetermined through divine intervention must be tossed out by this point. Having cleared the surrounding wilderness and built a thriving and functioning society based on the economics of competition rather than Christian collaboration, by the time of the first accusations it was already apparent that the two Salems existed not just topographically, but ideologically. Salem Town and Salem Village can therefore be seen as bearing little distinction between Puritans and Anabaptists or Puritans and Quakers. A map of Salem which pinpoints the homes of the accusers versus the homes of the accused is perhaps the starkest evidence against the existence of witches. Unless, of course, witches simply did not possess the power to fly wherever they want; “in the later stages of the witch hunt, it was as though anyone who lived in the eastern half the village could find themselves branded as witches” (The truth about history: how new evidence is transforming the story of the past, 2007).

Of course, merely suggesting that the Salem witch accusations was nothing more supernatural than a traditional attempt at land grabbing fails to account for the actual behavior of the girls doing the accusations. Which raises a very interesting question almost never addressed: why is that the only members of the community making accusations of witchcraft were young girls? Why no young boys? Why no old men? Why no males at all? Could it be that the reason why young girls were the only residents manifesting evidence of possession be that of all the demographics existing in Salem at the time that would thought to be most above reproach as liars or fakers would the chaste, innocent young women? How convenience that the instigator of the accusations just so happened to be not merely the chaste, innocent young girl, but the chaste, innocent young daughter of the vicar of Salem Village. If ever Shakespeare was proven wrong, it was during the Salem witchcraft hysteria: some people, it turns, are above suspicion. While the accusations led to suspicion of those who accused based on the flimsiest of evidence, suspicion seems to have slipped right off the backs of the most likely people to be engaging in sinful facts.

The Salem witchcraft outbreak is not hard to explain. It was not the result of anything supernatural or even anything so rare and bizarre as eating poisoned wheat. What caused the Salem witch trials is the same thing that has caused most hateful acts of antagonism in American history: economic disparity, the urge toward upward social mobility and the natural desire for attention from others.

Works Cited

Josselyn, John. “The Beginnings of Americanism.” John Josselyn. Vol. II. The Beginnings of Americanism: 1650-1710. Trent and Wells, Eds. 1901. Colonial Prose and Poetry. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2016. http://www.bartleby.com/163/204.html

The Truth about History: How New Evidence Is Transforming the Story of the past. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2007. Print.