Histrionics Repeats: It’s the Salem old thing

September 22, 1692 was the height of the Salem witch trials, the night when eight people were murdered for “the crime of witchcraft”, along with another twelve victims around the same time.  It was the height of religious depravity and depths of religious ignorance, the belief that false accusations made for political, social or financial gain shouldn’t be questioned.

Remembering the Victims of the Salem Witch Executions

On September 22, 1692, eight people were hanged for their alleged crimes as witches. They were among 20 who were killed as a result of the hysteria that took place in the New England village of Salem where fear of demonic possession struck panic among the Puritans and led to more than 200 accusations against anyone suspected of witchcraft.

The witch hunts resulted in the arrests of 150 people

In Massachusetts in the late 1600s, a few young girls (including Elizabeth Parris, age 9, Abigail Williams, age 11) claimed to be possessed by the devil and blamed local “witches” for their demons. This sent panic throughout the Village of Salem and led to accusations of more than 200 local citizens over the next several months, including Dorothy “Dorcas” Good who was by far the youngest accused at age 4 (she spent eight months in the prison’s dungeon before being released) along with her mother, Sarah Good (who was later executed).

Sometimes described as “witch hunts” (as also seen in Europe from the 1300s-1700s), this hysteria resulted in the arrests of nearly 150 people, multiple court hearings, and the guilty convictions of dozens. Those found guilty were often chained to the walls in the prison’s basement, known as the “witch jail:” a perpetually dark, cold, and wet dungeon infested with water rats. While in prison, the accused, many of them women, were repeatedly humiliated by being forced to strip naked and undergo physical examinations of their nude bodies.

About 20 years after the convictions, in 1711, the colony passed a bill pardoning those accused and granted monetary restitution to the surviving victims and their families. However, hundreds of lives were damaged by the Salem witch hunts. A total of 24 innocent people died for their alleged participation in dark magic. Two dogs were even executed due to suspicions of their involvement in witchcraft.

See also: History.com, “Salem Witch Trials”

Witch hunts were the original “satanic panic”.  But they were as much an attack on women as an exhibition of ignorance.  Women who had status, education, or wealth could become targets of accusations, or just as easily those who rejected unwanted advances.

That sounds a lot like today and certain individuals.

Proctor’s Lodge in Salem, Massachusetts is a memorial to those murdered 328 years ago, the names of nineteen innocents engraved into a monument.  This link provides an online tour of the site.

Salem Memorializes Those Killed During Witch Trials

July 19, 2017

The 19 men and women who were hanged at Proctor’s Ledge during the Salem witch trials 325 years ago have been memorialized at the site of their deaths in Salem, Mass.

The city of Salem, Mass., has opened a memorial to commemorate the people who were convicted and killed during its notorious series of “witch trials” in 1692.

The memorial stands at the site where 19 innocent women and men were hanged. According to the city, the memorial opened on the 325th anniversary of the first of three mass executions at the site, when five women were killed: Sarah Good, Elizabeth Howe, Susannah Martin, Rebecca Nurse and Sarah Wildes.

I consider today to be the beginning of Hallowe’en.  It’s forty days (inclusive) from September 22nd to October 31st.  Normally I view this as the first day of fun, but not this year as the extreme right keeps trying to drag the world backwards into the dark ages.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Nearly all the anti-“witch” violence in Europe occurred during the Medieval period (say, 800-late 1400s).

    The “Dark” ages – so called because we have relatively few documents to cast light on what happened then, particularly in the British Isles – from the fall of Rome (400s) to the rise of Charlemagne (~800), had their share of violence, but by amazing coincidence without so much supernaturalist motivation, and without much centralized Church authority.

    Witch-hunting had passed its peak in Europe in the 1600s, exemplified by English-Scottish King James, who condemned witches at the start of his reign but ended up writing a book denouncing the whole process as a fraud driven by greed to confiscate assets of the accused. The eruption of violence in and around Salem was widely considered proof of the backwardness of the colonies, a view which never died out and now enjoys a substantial revival.

    • jrkrideau says

      @ 1 Pierce R. Butler Nearly all the anti-“witch” violence in Europe occurred during the Medieval period (say, 800-late 1400s).

      This seems highly unlikely. It seems that the witch-hunting craze was a feature of the very late Middle Ages and the Renaissance/Enlightenment periods in Europe. There were scattered witch trials before that and a number of “heresy” trials that seem to be counted an “witchcraft trials” in modern thought but which were not—they may have been about older pagan rituals that had blended into local/rural versions of Christianity


      Prosecutions for the crime of witchcraft reached a highpoint from 1580 to 1630 during the Counter-Reformation and the European wars of religion, when an estimated 50,000 people were burned at the stake, of which roughly 80% were women, and most often over the age of 40.


      Throughout the medieval era, mainstream Christian doctrine had denied the existence of witches and witchcraft, condemning it as pagan superstition.[

      Witch trials in the early modern period

      England’s infamous “Witchfinder General,” seems to have flourished between 1644 and 1647. ( Matthew Hopkins)

      According to one commentator I managed to track down.

      Again, contrary to popular belief, the idea that alleged witches were regularly victimised by the Church in the medieval period is largely incorrect. The heyday of the Witch Craze came much later, with its peak in the sixteenth century. The position of the Church for most of the Middle Ages was that “witches” did not exist and even that it was sinful to claim they did. This changed in the last two centuries of the Middle Ages, but this change seems to have been, at least in part, a reaction to the Black Death and only came much later in the fourteenth century. Fear of supposed witches does not manifest itself in any substantial way until long after the plague of the 1340s and there is no official Church acceptance of the existence of witches until 1484.

      Cats, the Black Death and a Pope

      Or from another source;

      On August 9, 1390, two women, Margot de la Barre and Marion la Droiturière , were sentenced by the judges of the Châtelet in Paris to the pillory and then to be burned at the stake. Their case, carefully recorded in the Registre du Châtelet de Paris by the notary Aleaume Cachemarée, offers a telling example of the shift in attitudes toward sorcery that occurred as the Middle Ages drew to a close. Sorcerers—both men and women—who had long been a traditional part of the social fabric of their communities were increasingly finding themselves targets of the judicial system. Clever women skilled in divination, magic love philters and the uses of herbs, were now carried off to the torture chamber, where they were tormented into confessing their allegiances to the Devil and participation in a celebration of evil known as the witches’ Sabbath. Under the condemnation of ecclesiastical and lay prosecutors, the formerly accepted figure of the sorcerer was now transformed into a demonic puppet of Satan.

      French “Witches” (14th–16th centuries)

      • Pierce R. Butler says

        jrkrideau – Thanks for the corrections. I was flat-out wrong to imply the witch hunts ended with the Medieval/Middle Ages period – as you note, after that’s when they went into high gear.

        And I shouldn’t’ve leaned so hard on the connection with the (Catholic) Church – most of the “witch craze” violence occurred in Protestant areas, or in places where the bishops had little control (even though the Church ignited much of the frenzy with the publication of the “Hammer of Witches” book in 1486.

        … there is no official Church acceptance of the existence of witches until 1484.”

        That would require an explicit repudiation of certain Bible verses, wouldn’t it?

        • jrkrideau says

          Ah yes, Hammer of Witches or the Malleus Maleficarum. I could not remember the name. It seems to have been a really horrible book.

          That would require an explicit repudiation of certain Bible verses, wouldn’t it?

          I am not sure. My biblical scholarship is close to zero. The opposition to the existence of witchcraft by the Church suggests that its best theologians did not have a problem.

          The King James version of the bible says “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” but, IIRC, the translation of “witch” is questionable and that could be true for the Witch of Endor and so on.

          We have to remember that the King James version was produced by Protestant scholars at the height of the Witch craze.

          My guess is that the Church (Catholic, Orthodox, Syriac, the Thomasian Church in India, and so on) did not interpret some term %^*&$# as “witch” until it became accepted in the late 1300’s or early 1400’s.

          An uneducated hypothesis is that this was in some ways a reaction to the Plague witch produced some weird behaviors in its aftermath.

  2. jrkrideau says

    @ Pierce R. Butler
    the Church ignited much of the frenzy with the publication of the “Hammer of Witches” book in 1486.

    This is a minor point but the book seems to have been mainly written by one crazy monk. Any idea if it had an Imprimatur? A lot of wild stuff was being printed at the time. I wonder if the Church would have sanctioned such a book.