The Cause And Effects Of What Caused The Salem Witch Trials
From 1662 to 1663 mass hysteria broke out in Salem, Massachusetts. The people of Salem believed witches were residing in Salem and people had sold themselves to Satan. Citizens were persecuted for being accused of either of these things. Innocent people were forced to stand trial, imprisoned, tortured, and even killed. It is estimated that about 200 people were accused in Salem. There are many theories about what caused the Salem Witch Trials, however the overall cause was the lack of knowledge at the time which directly led to the people’s development of superstitions, something that is still present today.
The people of Salem did not have the knowledge that we have today. For example, the towns lack of medical knowledge. In Arthur Miller’s The Crucible Reverend Hale sent for the town doctor when his daughter Betty Hale would not wake up. Also a girl named Ruth Putnam could not wake up. The doctor could not find anything in his books that explained why the girls wouldn’t wake up. With the medical knowledge that we have today there are numerous things that it could have been. One thing that Ruth or Betty could have had is epilepsy. Epilepsy is a neurological condition that causes seizures. During a seizure a person could become faint or confused and end up in an unconscious state where they are unresponsive. The unconscious state a person is in when they have an epileptic seizure is similar to how Betty and Ruth were unable to wake up. Another condition that the doctor’s at the time did not know about is ergot poisoning.
When a person eats a food that has the fungus ergot they could start to show numerous symptoms. These include violent muscle spasms, vomiting, delusions, hallucinations, crawling sensations on the skin, and many others. All of these are present in the records of the Salem witch trials. It is also very likely that the rye crop that was grown in Salem was infected with this fungus. These symptoms are similar to many of the actions of the citizens of Salem. For example in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible Ann Putnam says, “Why, it’s sure she did. Mr. Collins saw her goin’ over Ingersoll’s barn, and come down light as a bird, he says” (1. 75-77). It could be possible that Mr. Collins, along with many other citizens of Salem, where suffering from ergot poisoning and where just hallucinating. Overall the doctors at the time lacked the medical knowledge to diagnose what these girls had, however, they also lacked knowledge of mental illness. At the time of the Salem witch trials they did not know that a person could have a mental illness. They did not know anything about things like schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder which can cause behavioral and emotional changes in people. Any of the girls could have had a mental illness or some type of disease that they just did not know existed. This caused them to look at witchcraft and satan as a cause for these girls not waking up.
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