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Salem Witch Trials

Posted by dystressed on September 14, 2008

Review: In Search of History, the Salem Witch Trials

Before the United States began, Massachusetts was filled with a small cult of Puritans who fled religious persecution in Britain only to bring it to the American shore.

Because life was hard in the early days of the colony, disease and starvation claimed many lives. People feared nothing more than death because they were so perversely religious, they weren’t sure they were going to heaven if they died. Even though they lived pious lives and prayed ceaselessly, they thought they deserved all of the bad things that happened to them as a form of punishment from God.

Along comes a mystic slavewoman who entertains some of the children with stories of ghosts, spectres and witchcraft.

The girls she is entertaining become wild and uncontrollable, and they blame it on the people in the village who they don’t like, stating that they used witchcraft and were in league with the Devil.

On and on this goes, men and women are killed, even the village’s former minister, until rational people at a higher court ban the use of so-called “spectral evidence” i.e. (the spectre of so-and-so made me shake and convulse and swear). It also helped that they accused several wealthy and influential people of witchcraft.

According to the video’s analysts, the girls who accused everyone of witchcraft were thrilled to be doing something other than their chores and praying and became so drunk with power that they just couldn’t help lying about seeing this person or that person with the devil.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I think that this speaks volumes on the state of history and the power of preying on the fears of our neighbors.

Women have always gotten the short end of the stick in history, all they way back to the Myth of Adam and Eve. The girls probably couldn’t read, and had no other way to distract themselves from the death, drudgery and tyranny of 17th century Puritanical life.  When the literal power of life and death was thrust upon these pre-teen girls, they didn’t know what do do except keep making the lies grander and more elaborate.

The religious zealotry of Purtanism was self-perpetuating. Fear of God makes one work harder, Fear of death makes one fear God more. The poor villagers when confronted with these tales had to take action. They were completely dominated by fear.

Looking at the matter skeptically was not even an option for the villagers. When you live a life of a subsistence farmer and the presence of evil threatens that God will blight your crops or livestock, you’d probably want to kill the person supposedly responsible too.

It’s always a bad idea to be ruled by fear.

The biggest reason I heard for believing is that if I weren’t saved, I would surely go to hell. But it seems to me that a God who would send part of himself to die for the world wouldn’t let me be born just to die and go to hell. Belief logic always seems to break down at the most fundamental premise. The belief that there is a soul and that the only way to save it is to believe in something even more improbable is simply a self-perpetuating abstraction of a myth, much like saying Zeus is raining down thunder from Olympus.


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