Much has been written and discussed concerning what is known as the 'Salem Witch Hunts' and 'Puritan Witch Trials' - Horror stories of decades and hundreds, even thousands of innocent women, men and even children, being sent to their death in hideous and outrageous forms - All because someone accused them of being 'witches'.
These are just a few of the tales we hear and even see these references being applied to Muslims in today's world.
But what is the real truth behind all of this?
Did thousands of people meet their death over hundreds of years at the hands of wild-eyed superstitious, super-religious, over zealous maniacs? Or is there something more interesting in the actual facts of:
Salem Witch Hunts & Trials?
- Were the victims of the Salem witch trials burned at the stake?
- Where did the outbreak originate?
- When did the trials first begin?
- When did the trials end?
- What caused the Salem witch trials?
- What ended the trials?
- What is 'spectral evidence'?
- Did John Proctor and Abigail Williams really have an affair?
(described in Arthur Miller's The Crucible)
- Did witches really exist in Salem?
- How many people died as a result of the trials?
- How many people were accused?
- How many people were afflicted?
With the exception of Giles Corey--who was crushed to death for refusing to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty, the executed were hanged, not burned. In Colonial America, witchcraft was a felony punishable by death by hanging. However, in Europe witchcraft was considered heresy and punishable by burning at the stake.
The witchcraft outbreak originated in Salem Village with Betty Parris being the first afflicted girl.
The first examinations took place March 1, 1692. The first trial for witchcraft under the Court of Oyer and Terminer was May 27, 1692.
Governor Phips dissolved the Court of Oyer and Terminer on October 29, 1692. A Superior Court of Judicature replaced it on November 25, 1692. The last witch trials were held in January 1693, and in May of the same year Gov. Phips pardoned the remaining accused.
There really was no one cause for the Salem witch trials. A combination of events and factors helped in the creation of a climate for the birth and growth of the trials. A recent small pox outbreak, the revocation of the Massachusetts Bay Colony charter by Charles II and the constant fear of Indian attacks helped in creating anxiety among the early Puritans that God was punishing them. This fear of punishment established a fertile atmosphere in which a case of possible witchcraft could easily be interpreted by the Puritans as the cause of God's wrath. Add to these events the economic, political, imaginations and fears of the people, family feuds and religious factors of the time, it is easier to understand how the Salem witch trials grew and prospered for almost a whole year.
Public support and belief in the trials began to wane for several reasons. Respected ministers started to believe that some innocent people were being accused and executed for witchcraft primarily on unreliable spectral evidence. As the Reverend Increase Mather stated, "It were better than ten suspected witches should escape than one innocent person should be condemned." Also, as the accusations mounted, persons from all walks of life--rich and poor, beggar and merchant--were being accused. Additionally, the accused that originally confessed to witchcraft requested to recant their former confessions. With public confidence in the trials slipping, the cries of the afflicted were steadily ignored, and the accusations eventually stopped.
Spectral evidence is testimony given that an accused person's spirit or spectral shape appeared to the witness in a dream at the time the accused person's physical body was at another location.
There is no evidence that supports a love affair between John Proctor and Abigail Williams. John was 60-years-old at the time of the trials while Abigail was only 12. Also, they lived over eight miles apart, a sizeable distance in 17th Century America.
Bridget Bishop was found to have "poppets" with pins stuck in them in the cellar walls of her house. Martha Carrier was known to tell people's fortunes. Both were considered forms of Black Magic during this time. Therefore, it could be said that witches did exist in Salem. However, there is no evidence that any of the accused were practitioners of Wicca or any other neo-pagan religions.
Nineteen people were hanged, one person was pressed to death, and as many as thirteen people may have died in prison.
One-hundred and forty (140) people were accused of witchcraft.
Only 43 people total - were afflicted.
How Does This All Apply to Us As Muslims Living in America?
As Muslims, we should always be careful to get all the facts - before we open our mouth and get ourselves in trouble with Allah.
A number of incidents have occurred over the last decade or so, pertaining to Muslims in general and our youth in particular.
Many have compared the treatment of Muslims in America to the 'Witch Hunts' of the Puritans in Salem over 300 years ago.
For this reason it is important to keep in mind, often times especially under heavy emotional straing people are given to exaggerating and twisting facts around a bit and make it seem as though the Muslims are the target of just about every type of investigation going on.
We will readily agree there are far too many occassions where Muslims are coming under suspicion and face accusations that are improper in many ways. However, at the same time we do know there are those Muslims who take advantage of this situation and claim their rights are being abused, when in fact they are guilty of abusing others rights.
What can we (you and I) do about all of this?
Good Question - First, and foremost we are Muslims and as true believers in Allah and the Last Day, we are commanded by our prophet, peace be upon him, to either say what is 'khair' (good words) or else remain silent.
And then, after that we must work hard to get out the real truth about all things, not just what we like, but what the real truth is all about.
Just reminding myself - - -