It is human nature in times of distress to want to blame others for our problems, to find a scapegoat. We frequently blame people who are different than us, people we feel threatened by, usually people of different political point of view, religion, racial or national origin. It would be nice if we could all take personal responsibility for our own lives…finding solutions rather than finding someone else to blame. But that is our nature. When we as a society do it we often, at least in retrospect, refer to the mass hysteria as a witch hunt, in reference to the Salem Witch trial which began on this day February 28th, 1692.
The Puritans had come to Salem, Massachusetts to avoid religious persecution in England. However, they found the isolation and difficulty of colonial life to be highly stressful. Fear of the devil was very real. Life was precarious. When some young girls fell ill after playing a fortune-telling game a doctor was called. They suffered “fits” of hiding under furniture, contorting in pain and fever. Modern theories suggest, it might have been epilepsy, boredom, mental illness or some disease brought on by a fungus in the rye they might have eaten. However, the doctor felt they were bewitched.
It might have ended there, but one of the girls confessed to being a witch. That confession triggered a series of accusations. Most of those accused of being a witch were social outcasts. Trials began and lasted until May of 1693 with 200 people accused and 20 executed.