I have always been fascinated by the Salem Witch Trials. The belief that witchcraft was behind unexplained fits of young girls resulted in accusations of witchcraft being thrown in every direction is quite intriguing. I would love to know what “caused” those symptoms the girls displayed. The bigger question, however, is . . . Why did accusations of witchery become popular in 1692?
The Salem Witch Trials of 1692
Looking back at what is known about the beginning of the Salem Witch Trials, we find young girls behaving in an unusual manner. Not knowing what caused the behavior, it was believed that the girls were possessed by the devil. They then accused three women of being witches and bringing this upon them. Thus, the first case of witchery came to trial.
Oddly, there were other girls that soon exhibited the same symptoms. Hence more cases. Still, more and more accusations abounded in Salem and other areas more distant. By May of that year, there were so many cases that a special court was appointed to handle them.
Even upstanding members of the community were accused and found guilty of being witches. Rebecca Nurse, a possible distant relative of mine, was one of those people. In her case, they found her not guilty, then guilty, then she received a reprieve, and finally she was hung. She was 71 and was supported by a large number of people in the community. Yet, it didn’t save her.
In most cases, however, men and women were found guilty based solely on the accusation. None of them were allowed to have lawyers and had a difficult time defending themselves. Have you ever tried proving that you aren’t a witch?
The question was . . . Why were so many people so willing to believe that members of the community were witches? Speculation includes that the people funneled their fear of outsiders and other fears into the witchcraft hysteria.
The hysteria quickly wound down and dissipated in 1693. Many of the convicted witches were later fully exonerated. Unfortunately, it was too late for those who were hung or died in prison.
In 1953, Arthur Miller brought the Salem Witch Trials to life in his play “The Crucible.” He was driven to write the play because of current events. At the time, Senator Joseph McCarthy used “witch hunts” in the name of stopping the spread of communism.
McCarthy was a fearmonger, constantly stirring the fear of Communism, which was very pervasive in the 1950s. The fear was so strong that many people were accused of being communist or communist sympathizers. Many of them lost their jobs or were blacklisted despite not belonging to the Communist Party. Others were afraid to object for fear that they, too, would be given the badge of communist.
Those accused were investigated or questioned before panels. Like the Salem Witch Trials, accusations were often accepted even when there was a lack of evidence. Likewise, the risk the person posed to the country was often elevated. Still, the damage was done although many decisions would later be reversed or determined to be illegal.
Repeating The Past
It is 2020 and despite the 5th and 14th amendments to the Constitution guaranteeing due process we are again repeating the Salem Witch Trials. The witch trials have been modernized, but they still have the same principle of guilt by accusation.
In today’s world, you aren’t likely to be hung after an unfair trial where you have to defend yourself. Instead you are “cancelled” by a decision of the Internet mob. In cancel culture, you aren’t given a chance to defend yourself at all. The Internet mob decides what is right and what is wrong. You can be found guilty by association. Worse yet, you can be found guilty for not publicly taking a stance on an issue at all.
It seems that like in 1692, fear has driven the world a bit mad. Today it isn’t a fear of witches or communism that is behind the accusations. Yet, it remains a fear based on people being different and having different perspectives.
The Tech Giants and the mob rule simply do not allow for free thought and conversation. They have decided to take the law into their own hands and change all the rules. One and only one opinion is allowed in the social media court. Wish to explain yourself or even to apologize and you just may find yourself banned from the platform.
If you think it is only people with extremist viewpoints that are banned, I suggest you do more research. Like Rebecca Nurse, who was an upstanding citizen respected by many, you may be accused if you don’t parrot “the stance” perfectly.
What We Can Learn?
So, what can we learn from our current situation? First, history does repeat itself unless you learn from it. Clearly, we have not yet learned this lesson.
Second, there are many dimensions to being different. Anytime someone is condemned simply because they are different it is wrong.
Third, judging without a fair trial or worse without any facts is a disgrace. And, it means that a majority of the time you will be wrong.
And, fourth, fear can drive people to act a little crazy. As discussed in our recent article “Why Fear,” Franklin D. Roosevelt was correct when he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
The bottom line is that we need to learn to accept people who are different – no matter what that difference may be. They may look different, act different, express their feelings in a different way, have different religious beliefs, have different political beliefs, raise their family in a different way, etc.
This sentiment was echoed on a Little House on the Prairie rerun as I was writing this article. Laura was pleading with the people of Walnut Grove to stop a woman who was considered odd from leaving town. Laura said, “So what if she was different? We’re all different!”