The Salem Witchcraft Trials Of 1692: The History, Proceedings, And Legal Consequences Of The Mass Hysteria

2045 words - 9 pages

Salem, Massachusetts. Before the 1600’s, it might have been regarded as a peaceful farming community, but in 1662, everything changed. A bout of what might have been regarded as religious fervor, but was actually a wave of panic over the fear of witches and witchcraft swept the Christian Puritan-dominated Essex County, located in Massachusetts. The panic originated in the now-infamous town of Salem. During the famous Salem Witch Trials of 1662, over 150 men and women were formally charged with the crime of witchcraft. Of those 150, only 19 were ever executed (Godbeer). The trials at Salem had both immediate and lingering aftereffects, some of which have changed the world today. The witch trials represent the largest outpouring of anti-witchcraft activity in the British colonies bordering the Atlantic Ocean, as well as its last. No more would there be mass witch-hunts or trials. Though a few trials still took place in America, and many more in Europe, they were not undertaken with nearly as much hysteria and fervor as the ones before the end of the Salem trials. The trials also had an impact on the early justice system of America, altering the legal process of how trials of this magnitude, in all felonies, would be handled at later dates. Finally, with the passing of the last execution, an end was finally put on the hold the Puritan oligarchy had over the control of England’s public affairs (Goss). However, though those had shattering impacts on the world then and now, nothing could be as shocking as the immediate impact of the loss of innocent human lives. The Salem Witch Trials of 1662 destroyed the lives and careers of a large amount of innocent victims, both of those who were accused and those who were not.
2. The History of Witches and Witchcraft
Witchcraft and witches, in general, have been known about and feared since ancient times. The definition of a witch, according to Jean Bodin’s De la Demonornanie (1580) is, “A sorcerer or witch is one who by commerce with the Devil has full intention of attaining his own ends” (Goss). In other words, a man or woman who has made a contract with the Devil, exchanging his or her soul in for items or non-materialistic gains such as status. Part of the hatred against witches was that they were not born with supernatural powers. Instead, they must “voluntarily enter into a personal relationship with Satan in order to be given supernatural ability to work evil” (Goss). By choosing to voluntarily consort with evil, they were regarded as truly evil and lost to God (Goss).
In the early civilization of Mesopotamia, witchcraft was condemned as a most serious crime and the penalty for practitioner of the craft was always death under Hammurabi’s Code. Even in the Holy Bible, witchcraft is mentioned, as the passage of Exodus 22:18 says, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (The Holy Bible). Another instance in the Bible where witches and their craft were mentioned was in the passage where Samuel, the prophet,...

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