Salem Witch Trials:
In Salem, Massachusetts in 1692, eight young women were victims to strange fits, outbreaks of rage, and wild partying in the local woodland. The girls claimed they were bewitched by other members of the community and possessed by the devil. Among the first accused were Sarah Good, Sarah Osbourne, and Tibuta. Tibuta was a Caribbean slave owned by Samuel Parris, the father of one of the girls who was victim to the strange fits. These women were charged of witchcraft and put in prison. Over the summer of that same year, the court of Salem heard cases about witchcraft about once per month and only those who pleaded being guilty or accused other people of being witches were able to spare their lives. Over 19 people died during the Salem witchcraft hysteria and many other were sent to prison. The witch trials ended in January 1693, although the people that already in jail for witchcraft were not all released until the next spring.
It is no longer believed that the girls in Salem were bewitched by any of their neighbors or were possessed by the devil. Some experts think that the accusers were motivated by jealousy or spite and that their strange behavior was only an act. Others believe that they were afflicted by hysteria, a mental illness. In 1976, a psychologist discovered that the girl’s symptoms mirrored those of poisoning by ergot. Ergot is a poisonous fungus that grows on cereal grains, like rye and wheat, which were commonly grown in Salem. Now days ergot is one of the basic components of an illegal hallucinogenic drug called LSD. The girl’s symptoms included convulsion, jerking, stupor, delirium, and hallucinations. Ingestion of the infected grains can lead to severe cases of ergotism, which include the symptoms mentioned above. The psychologist’s theory is that these girls ate the infected grains and were poisoned by them. The people in Salem had no other explanation for the symptoms of ergot poisoning but to call it witchcraft. All of the symptoms of this poisoning are mentioned in the Salem court witchcraft records.
Influence of Caribbean Slaves in witchcraft:
Many Caribbean slaves were accused of witchcraft because of the pagan rituals they had, which included some sort of voodoo. The puritans began accusing the Caribbean slaves of teaching witchcraft to one of the girls that were victims to the strange fits in Salem. Tibuta, one of the first Caribbean slaves to be accused, spend a lot time talking to two of the girls that were victims to the strange fits, Betty and Abigail. Before they were “bewitched,” the girls and their friends would disappear into the forest to play voodoo, which of course stood against everything the Puritans believed in. When Betty’s conditions worsen, a doctor was called in but he could not diagnose what was wrong. He blamed the situation on the Devil, in the form of witchcraft. During one of her seizures, Parris, Betty’s dad, asked his daughter if Tituba was the cause of this. Apparently glad to recognize a name, Betty simply repeated it and the Parris took this as proof that his slave was responsible. Seeing her fate sealed before her, Tituba confessed to having performed witchcraft and was immediately arrested. After this, many other Caribbean slaves were blamed for witchcraft and they were either executed or put in jail.