Witches Get Stuff Done: The Salem Witch Trials

By Brianna Green

Happy Halloween Roos! Thank you for watching the Witches Get Stuff Done video and for coming to the blog for more information about the Salem Witch Trails!

So, what were the Salem Witch Trails? The Salem Witch Trials were, as the name indicates, witch trails that happened from January 1692 until May 1693. Around 150 people (men, women, and children) were accused of being a witch or using witchcraft. Sadly, 19 people, mainly women, were hanged after being convicted of witchcraft. Outside of the 19 hangings, a man was crushed to death because of his refusal to plead guilty or not guilty, and another 4 people died in prison awaiting trial (Brooks).

What started this mess that lead to 24 people dying? Let’s start with the context of the time. This was the late 1600s. Salem was a rural community that was very religion and had very strict gender roles, especially for women (Hasset-Walker). Not only that, but there had been a smallpox outbreak; they had a rivalry with a nearby community; they had fears about Native American attacks; and they were still dealing with after affects from the British war with France that happened in 1689 (Brooks; Hasset-Walker). They had a lot going on and there was already a lot of tension.

In January of 1692, two young girls (9 and 11) were diagnosed with bewitchment after having “fits” where they would have outbursts of screaming and violent contortions (History.com). After their diagnoses, other girls from the community started experiencing similar fits. Now, the first two girls named who they thought were causing their bewitchment. They named Sarah Good, Sarah Osborn, and a slave named Tituba. Tituba did confess to witchcraft and claimed others were involved; this confession made people go into panic and hysteria (Brooks). Although these were the first people accused, the first trail and execution happened in June of 1962 with the accused Bridget Bishop.

What’s interesting is that these women were considered outcasts before their accusations. For example, Bishop had been accused of witchcraft well before the trails even started (Brooks). Tituba was a slave. Osborn was an elderly widow who remarried a farmhand. And Good was a homeless beggar. These women did not fit the traditional mold women in these communities usually had which would include being proper, religious, married mothers who acted like caregivers (Hasset-Walker).

As you already know, the trails officially ended in May of 1693 after 24 people had perished. Over the course of the year, the panic slowly subsided and the court realized that they shouldn’t rely on spectral evidence, which is testimony in regard to visions and dreams, to convict someone. The court system apologized for what happened and provided financial restitution to the deceased family members in 1711 (History.com). Along with that, they pardoned the people accused of witchcraft and restored their names (History.com). Of course, with something horrific like this, the damage stayed with the community. This tragedy also inspired the play “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller in 1953 (History.com).

Now, what can we learn from this and how can we apply it to today? I would argue that women are still held to high standards today. From the way we look to the way we act. We can’t be fat but also can’t be too skinny. We need to wear makeup but not too much of it. We can’t be too sexual but also cannot be prudes. Working mothers are criticized for using nannies to help raise their children but if they were stay at home mothers, they’d also hear about how they can work and have a family. Although it’s no longer the 1600s, we still need to fight for our rights and our equality. However, we can use terms like “witch” to our advantage and make it liberating and empowering. After all, witches get stuff done.

Sources:

Brooks, Rebecca Beatrice, et al. “History of the Salem Witch Trials.” History of Massachusetts Blog, 28 May 2020, historyofmassachusetts.org/the-salem-witch-trials/.

Hassett-Walker, Connie. “Perspective | What the Salem Witches Can Teach Us about How We Treat Women Today.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 1 Apr. 2019, www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2018/06/10/what-the-salem-witches-can-teach-us-about-how-we-treat-women-today/

History.com Editors. “Salem Witch Trials.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 4 Nov. 2011, www.history.com/topics/colonial-america/salem-witch-trials.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Settings Change, but the Story Doesn’t

By Caitlin Easter

I recently came across an illustration by Kasia Babis that made me think about the state of women today in relation to where we were as women when the Salem witch trials were happening. This got me thinking about the oppression of women that we see incessantly perpetuated throughout history, and why things don’t appear to be getting any better.

The image was a two panel comic strip with a witch being drowned and a man saying, “If she dies, she’s innocent, if she survives she’s a witch.” The second panel depict a woman holding a sign that says “#MeToo” and a man saying “If she seems ok, nothing happened. If she claims it was an assault, she’s just seeking attention.”  The artwork can be viewed at: https://thenib.com/how-sexual-assault-claims-are-like-a-witch-hunt.

While we may no longer be placed on ducking stools for behavior that is deemed inappropriate by society (aka white men), we are now put on trial to defend ourselves and our stories. Perpetrators might be the ones literally on trial, but the burden of proof and behavior has always rested on the shoulders of the victim. While going from being on trial and killed for being a “witch,” to being grilled at a trial that is not our own because of our “decisions” might be a step in the right direction, symbolically it isn’t that huge of a leap towards what we need to see.

At what point in history did we stop trusting women? Have we just always had this innate distrust for this entire diverse group of people? Women aren’t trusted by doctors when we say that there is something wrong with our own bodies, and we aren’t trusted by society when we talk about our experiences. Why is the scope of women’s expertise concerning ourselves and our environments seen as something that has such an incredibly limited quantity? In the future, when I talk, I want to be heard. A women’s experiences are just as valid as a man’s.

“Your silences will not protect you….We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language. I began to ask each time: ‘What’s the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth?’ Unlike women in other countries, our breaking silence is unlikely to have us jailed, “disappeared” or run off the road at night. Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called bitchy or hypersensitive and disrupt some dinner parties. And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever….Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end. And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had…And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.”

― Audre Lorde