Sprenger and Kramer informed secular authorities to fight witches by any means necessary. It was followed by other texts that described, often in great detail, the alleged practices of witches, or that outlined the procedures for conducting a trial of a witch. These texts created some of main aspects of wild beliefs of witches that permeated Europe for two centuries: that witches had deviant sex with one another and with the devil, that they interfered in natural reproduction, that they caused death and disease and other natural occurrences such as storms and that they turned away from their Christian faith. In short that they threatened every form of religious and secular order. Between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries, the seven deadly sins had came into place which had taken the place of the ten commandments.3 This made it sins against God rather than sins against fellow neighbours and the community.
The witchcraft hysteria in Salem, Massachusetts resulted from the strict Puritan code which aroused the girls interest in superstition and magic and caused strange behavior. The Salem witch trials were based on the Puritans and their God versus Satan and his followers and their strict codes. Puritans had always thought that they were the new chosen people, abandoning a land of sin and oppression to establish the Promised Land (New England). Puritans beliefs were rooted in contrasts. (1) They believed that if there was something good there was something bad to contradict it, for instance since there was a God, there must be a devil.
The Puritans of this time were very harsh, unyielding, and quick to judge. They condemned innocent women on the basis of intangible evidence, confessions, and such things as "witchmarks" (Hill). As Dorcas Hoar said, "I will speak the truth as long as I live" (Salem Home Page). Nine year old Betty Parris and eleven year old Abigail Williams, the daughter and niece of Reverend Parris, were the first to start to display signs of strange behavior. Some of this behavior included profane screaming, convulsive seizures, trance-like stages, and unexplainable animal-like noises.
4 Levin, What Happened in Salem?, 97. 5 Levin, What Happened in Salem?, 98. 6 Brian P. Levack, Witchcraft in Colonial America, vol. 8 of Articles on Witchcraft, Magic and Demonology (New York : Garland Publishing, Inc. 1992), 281. 7 Levin, What Happened in Salem?, 101.
Several centuries ago, many practicing Christians and people of other religions strongly believed that the Devil could give a few people known as witches the power to cause harm to others for their loyalty. In the 1600s, a Reverend’s daughter and niece started having “fits”; they would scream, throw things, make weird noises, and put themselves into strange positions. Claiming that they were being “bewitched” by other townspeople, these young girls caused one of the most controversial court cases ever to be considered: the Salem Witch Trials. Some of the witches were tortured and thrown into jail; they had to pay for their food and many other things. They also had to pay for the chains they were held in; many of them died in these very chains.
Here Mather is alluding to the Native Americans as being a people associated with the devil rather than with their God, a common point of view held towards all savage people. Mather saw the witches of Salem as being "his [the devil's] incarnate legions" sent to Salem "to persecute us. . ." (Mather 421).
There are many literatures works and in-depth studies over the trials. Even now, there is still no certain reason why or how the hysteria of witchery befell on the village. The Salem Witch Trials are best described by George Lincoln Burr: The episode is one of the nation's most notorious cases of mass hysteria, and has been used in political rhetoric and popular literature as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, religious extremism, false accusations and lapses in due process. (197) There were different theories of why the Salem girls acted the way they did. Family feuds, influences, ergot poisoning, and the bewitchment of Satan are potential concepts of the witchcraft hysteria.