THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS: History of Halloween Series, Article 1

By: The Everything Housewife

This article is the cornerstone article in which my entire Halloween Series will revolve. In this series, I use the dark history of Salem, Massachusetts to dissolve fear-based illusions surrounding the holiday of Halloween, the supernatural, witches, witchcraft, ghosts, and magic. I expose how “patterns of thought” fueled fear and spread a “hysteria” that led to the hanging of innocent victims—a massacre recorded in history! Still today, misconceptions fuel fear-based, assumptions surrounding witches, Halloween, and the supernatural. If knowledge is power, let’s use REAL power to dissolve FEAR, and unraveling the history of Salem, Massachusetts is the perfect place to begin!.


A few years ago, my husband and I spent a couple days in Salem, Massachusetts during the week of Halloween. The energy of that town during that time of year gave me a high that I can’t explain in words! Salem has become a place that celebrates the exact opposite type of mentality that fueled the Salem Witch Trials itself.

Now, it is a place where free-spirited souls celebrate creativity, imagination, and history—all wrapped into one experience. The very illusions created by the accusers, like the infamous Reverend Cotton Mather, to fuel panic and hysteria in the late 1600’s have dissolved as time has passed, and instead flourished into the most energetic climate—celebrating the holiday of Halloween. This holiday, celebrated most intensely in present-day Salem, where nearly every woman in town, during the month of October, is wearing a witch hat!


Now, visualize me, The Everything Housewife, standing in the middle of Salem’s Town square surrounded by massive crowds of women in witch hats, with my fist raised into the air, looking up into the sky yelling, “Cotton Mather, you fool!—Didn’t you realize what your actions would spawn?” BOOM! Did you see me? It was an intense moment for me as well—a moment of true paradox to be exact. By the time I am done with this article, I hope to see YOU in MY mind’s eye, standing with me with YOUR fist raised in the air!


Before you embark on this journey, know that I believe that weak minds don’t go on hunts to understand complicated events. Why? Because, in my opinion, they realize very quickly they won’t make it back. Exploring The Salem Witch Trials is NOT for the weak-minded! WARNING! No one believes they are weak minded anyway, right? And so, I don’t expect this warning to stop anyone from going on this journey, back-in-time to Salem, Massachusetts in the late 1600’s. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to get to Salem, follow me, I will be your guide. Now, let us embark…..


Salem was a town filled with contention. Some people like to fight, don’t they? And usually, those people already have a reputation for it. Well guess what? Salem already had that reputation. It was already known as a place of internal strife and contention long before the the Salem Witch Trials began. This Puritan town couldn’t agree to ordain a preacher—like repeatedly. Even when they did ordain a preacher, he wouldn’t accept the position because the town’s people might not pay him his due wages–which he needed to survive. Then, those that were ordained as preachers used public shaming in the worst way to make public examples of individuals they deemed as sinners. Have you ever heard of the book/movie, The Crucible? It was based off the lifestyle and culture of Salem, Massachusetts. I mean, can you see the chaos brewing in Salem? And it doesn’t sound like it was actual witches doing the brewing!


After the witch trials ended, 18 victims had been hanged and one victim was pressed (you know, crushed with stones)–for a total of 19 dead. Over 200 individuals were accused of witchcraft during this 1 year period, beginning in Salem, Massachusetts, then spreading out to other communities throughout the state. The “patterns” for appointing religious AND political leaders were a direct contributor to the chaos that spread like wildfire throughout that region. In the Puritan community of Salem, politicians were vetted (on a religious level) before they would be appointed on a political level—giving way to a most dangerous climate in which religious and political views were interwoven into one. I don’t think good, honest Christian views are dangerous, however, the religious climate in Salem was dangerous. Hence, ALL views became dangerous, and therein lies the problem.


You know, I have observed an odd pattern of behavior. Here is what I have “seen.” Sometimes the same people, who have been persecuted in their own communities, have a hard time letting go of past offenses—so much so that they end up acting out those same harmful behaviors on innocents who end up in their paths. Have you seen this too? In the early 1600’s, the Puritans that settled Salem, were fleeing a climate in England where The Church of England had been persecuting them for their religious beliefs.


This Puritan community in the America’s rejected previous forms of worship from The Church of England that conflicted with their own personal experiences with God. No big deal right? They wanted to worship what they believed, and I see no problem with that. However, here is the part I do see a problem with. In their flee to the America’s to have this religious freedom, the Puritans in their own communities, neglected to also allow others that same right. You know, the right for people to worship freely according to the dictates of their own conscience (my fellow Mormons should recognize this phrase). As a result, the Puritans in Salem brought that same “spirit of persecution” to their communities—that same spirit that caused them to leave England in the first place.


Have you ever noticed that the people most hell-bent on making sure you go down in flames don’t really follow their own rule books—I mean because the rule book gets really long after a while (you know, so that they can accuse more and more people). And then, it is so long that the accusers can’t even keep up with all the rules they made in the first place? George Burroughs, of Salem, DID follow the rule book—and he was still hung!

Burroughs was dragged from his home during The Salem Witch Trials and accused of witchcraft. At his own hanging, standing in the gallows before his accusers, he recited “The Lord’s Prayer” PERFECTLY as his last words. He was a minister (that’s right, I said minister)—and according to the “accusers” own “rule book” for identifying a witch—if you could recite “The Lord’s Prayer” perfectly, you were not a witch. And so, Minister Burroughs, stood before his accusers, and recited “The Lord’s Prayer” PERFECTLY. Then, the crowd’s eyes filled with tears at the mere thought that they had just hung an innocent man. In this EXACT moment, the town’s people, with their imaginary pitchforks and torches paused to reflect upon their own character—but don’t worry, they didn’t reflect for too long because that might have caused them to become aware of their own sins—you know, like the sin of hanging an innocent man.


Immediately following Burroughs hanging, the crowd began to be disturbed, and so thank goodness accuser and ringleader, Reverend Cotton Mather was there to clear up their mental conflict. Reverend Cotton Mather and other accusers declared openly before the crowd that Burroughs was never “ordained” as a minister. Paraphrasing scripture from the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians, Reverend Cotton Mather said that the “devil stood and dictated to him,” and that “even the devil had been transformed into an angel of light.” Sheeeeez! Thank goodness for that scripture used in that context to clear up that mental conflict the towns people were experiencing. You know, because you have to be “ordained” to be a true servant of God, and because the ability to memorize and quote scripture makes you holy—in or out of biblical context, right? I mean the rule book says it, so it must be true. The very words of Reverend Cotton Mather appeased the onlookers so that the other hangings continued on that same day.


What you read that I write, you mentally ingest at your own risk. I write it as I “see” it. What the individuals in Salem read and ingested, they also mentally ingested at their own risk, and those that wrote what others mentally ingested were also writing it as they “saw” it. So as I ingest their writings, I also spit them back out (especially if they left a bad taste). Are you following me? I hope so. If not, read this paragraph again until you “mentally ingest” what I’m teaching you. But be careful—ingesting others “ideas” can bring out the crazy in YOU and OTHERS! To avoid going crazy—learn to spit!


In the 1600’s and for a long time before and after, information traveled by the “written word”—pamphlet, book, literature, etc. There were no phones or emails. There were no televisions or news outlets. When information was distributed, it was printed and carried on foot (or horse) in a written format. That meant that the writer had to communicate their message clearly, and the readers must also be able to “comprehend” the message communicated. It was a lengthy process to not only deliver, but to “get” your message across. In addition, not everyone was educated, and so those who were LESS educated depended on those who were MORE educated to deliver the the information. It was a delicate balance. Community position, wealth, and religious status of the individual giving and delivering the message directly influenced those who would receive the message.


Reverend Cotton Mather’s writings were very influential during his day. His father came from a highly respected, educational background (you know, President of Harvard) of which Cotton Mather was never able to obtain that “seat” at Harvard himself. However, Reverend Cotton Mather’s sheer number of writings were an achievement, as he wrote more than 450 books and pamphlets that were distributed throughout the entire region. Most of his writings were in the scientific research field— and they were advanced for their time. Also, his writings on religious and moral codes made him one of the most respected religious leaders throughout not only Salem, but also throughout the entire Americas. Now, can you imagine how his “reputation” for respected, scientific writings might also have given his religious and moral writings a “boost” in the eyes of the public. People might say to themselves, “We already respect this Mather guy and his writings on science, so naturally, he must also have this religious understanding in the bag too.” I mean, I could totally “hear” people saying that (in my mind anyway). So how influential was this Mather guy’s speech and rhetoric on the “little people” during the Salem Witch Trials?


Can you imagine, having that type of power to influence others through your written and spoken words, and abusing that “position”? WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! As a writer who is also aware of how to wield this sacred staff of power, I warn my readers as they choose to venture down the path of obtaining knowledge through the “written word”—when on this path, you’re only as safe as your own ability to sift truth from error. Can you sift truth from error when your own interpreter of the information can’t? BEWARE, BLIND FOOLS! BEWARE, even of me! BWAHAHAHAA!


Whoa! Wait, that last paragraph sounded a little hysterical! Let me regroup—(imagine the sound of me clearing my throat and adjusting the collar of my shirt). Okay, let’s continue. Where did all of these ideas about “executing witches” begin? Look no further than the very “lands” the Puritans traveled from by boat— the mother land over there in Europe. By the time this “hysteria” spread to Salem, Massachusetts (because that is what this “mental plague” was called and is still called today by historians— hysteria, these hysterical ideas about executing witches had already begun to come to a close throughout the rest of Europe—but in Salem, the people were now experiencing a revival of all this “crazy” way of thought.


Not all writings during this time period (1600’s) were crazy. Some published writings on the paranormal, supernatural and spirit world were actually “deduced” using sound reason and scientific methods. I have actually read some of these writings from this time period myself (1600’s), and I can see how these ancient writer’s perceptions on the “realm of the supernatural” were a field of science AND study rather than just some philosophical, bogus commentary written by religious posers. Joseph Glanville, one of the most influential writers of paranorml studies (mid-1600’s) actually used scientific “deduction” and biblical understanding, to discover truth about this spirit world. And in my personal opinion, the supernatural realm should be studied like a field of science—just saying, like these ancient writers—I confess! I am a believer too.


Did you know that over 75 percent of those accused AND convicted for witchcraft in Salem, Massechusettes were women? Did you know that the majority of people who were actually executed were also women? Ladies can we just stop with all the confessing. I mean I know I just made a very public confession (which you can read about right HERE,) and that is purposeful for my own personal journey, and I know I just confessed above to being a believer in the supernatural—and I am a believer of many things that people find weird, out-there, and CREEPY!!!!!! However, confession is NOT always the best route for the ladies to take, especially if you’re prone to “feeling” guilty for anything AND everything! Why are ladies such easy targets—okay, now I’m starting to get a little ticked here, ain’t I a lady? I consider myself a lady—or at least I try to act like one, some of the time anyway, and when I don’t, I just politely pull a Scarlet O’Hara and say, “Tomorrow, is another day.” So, why are all the ladies in Salem such targets? Well, probably for the same reason many ladies are STILL targets.


Why were these ladies targets? These are just my opinions as a lady—so if you’re of the opposite sex, be prepared to NOT be offended by this lady’s honest thoughts out loud. Here I go—I honestly think it was a language barrier between men and women, during a time, when men could “speak” a very intricate and eloquent, educated sounding language and women (and the “little people,” like those dirty-old peasants, poor people, slaves, and mangy children) not having access to the same resources, through no fault of their own, could not even defend themselves through language when challenged (political, religious, and scientific language to be specific). In Salem, a South American Indian slave named Tituba, was among the first of the women accused of witchcraft. Also, let the record show, her master, Reverend Samuel Parris beat her UNTIL she confessed. Apparently witchcraft was a sin and a crime, but not beating a woman.


Most, if not all, of the literature written during these time periods were written by educated men of status, and their arguments presented compelling “thought patterns” for communities. Most of the scientific and religious literature was also studied, interpreted, preached AND spoken by educated men. Oh yeah, and the political leaders of the time were ALSO the SAME religious leaders of the time (because, remember, the Puritan Sect appointed men to political office after, and only after, they “approved” them first. I am sure this process was completely unbiased—NOT!


According to 19th century historian Charles Wentworth Upham, and according to ME, The Everything Housewife of course, Upham and ME, credit the writings of Reverend Cotton Mather for directly laying a foundation for defining “witchcraft” in Salem—because without those writings, there would have been no foundation (from a respected religious and scientific figure such as Cotton Mather) for defining and executing the charges of witchcraft in Salem. Someone with a certain level of status and authority had to lay out the “thought patterns” for all the town “minions.”


In fact, let the record show that most historians believe that women who confessed during the Salem Witch Trials were more likely to confess because of “not knowing” if they were guilty of witchcraft themselves (you know, relying on their superiors to do the interpreting for them) while also “feeling guilty’ for having “weaker souls” than the men (from all the Eve/fruit eating interpretations they were taught under Puritan thought—because this was a doctrinal teaching). I mean, I personally see the whole Eve incident as the exact opposite, but of course, I am just a woman doing the interpreting though the eyes of another woman—Eve, so beware. Don’t let us women get to thinkin’—especially in large groups! We will start “seeing” through our own lens—maybe even a crystal ball by the time it’s over with!


Yeah, that’s right, the whole “weaker souls” thing was a Puritan Religious teaching of the day. Abigail Faulkner, one of the accused witches in Salem, confessed to being a “witch” because she “knew” she had been angry with a neighbor—therefore, she “knew” she had been influenced by the devil—therefore, she must be the reason her neighbors were “harmed”—therefore, she must be a witch!!! Ooooohhhh the guilt-factor in these women—do you have the “guilt-factor”? I’ve been ridding myself of it, if you can’t tell— because I personally think chronic guilt is often used to KEEP the strongest of souls weak. It’s a nasty cycle. Some of these “witches” may have also confessed to spare their own lives, because confession kept you alive longer in Salem. Truth-tellers, and non-confessors got hung, and the trials were speedy—because who wants to give those people time to talk and get their story out! From beginning to end, for another accused witch, Bridget Bishop—from the initial accusation, to her trial, and then to her own hanging—a whopping total of ONLY 8 days. How’s that for a thorough investigation into her innocence!


I love stereotyping (in a comedic sense), and the people of Salem, Massachusetts also loved stereotyping. I mean, the only difference between me stereotyping individuals, and the Salem-Accusers stereotyping is that I do it to make you laugh, and they did it so they could make you an easy target. Have you ever watched the television sitcom, The Office? Oh, I just love Michael Scott and all his stereotyping! He makes me laugh, however, stereotyping can get you into trouble depending on what purpose you are using it for—especially if those purposes are for malicious intent. Women, social outcasts, and non-conformist, were stereotyped and made examples of in Salem, Massachusetts. In 1692, that same Bridget Bishop who was hung in ONLY 8 days— in her trial records, she was described in EXACTLY this way: wearing black clothing that was “awkwardly” torn, also found not living a Puritan lifestyle, and described as “immoral.” Now that you have read how THEY stereotyped her, which by today’s standards IS a laughing matter, let’s discuss where some of these ideas on identifying “witches” originated…


Over in Europe, only the upper classes and religious clergy spoke Latin. It’s how they “preserved” translations so that ancient biblical and religious texts couldn’t be corrupted. The Hebrews did the same thing. Brigham Young, a Mormon Leader from the 1800’s from my faith attempted to start his own language in Utah too. To make my point—it’s been done by religious communities before. On the flip side, using an unfamiliar and dead language like Latin, limited those who could actually read these texts for themselves—if you didn’t know Latin, you just had to trust the big guys reading and teaching it to you. Now, the next questions you should ask is who published and spread philosophies about how to identify witches?


One of the most influential and controversial pamphlets for identifying witches was written in the 1500’s and titled, Malleus Maleficarum, which when translated from Latin into English meaning, Hammer of Witches. Did you catch that? It was written in Latin. That means the “peasants,” who didn’t speak or write latin, weren’t responsible for this particular piece of literature. It was written by a man named, Heinrich Kramer—and this guy was pure evil! It is estimated that more than 30,000 copies of this document were distributed throughout Europe over the 16th and 17th centuries, and this document is believed to be a direct contributor to the deaths of over 60,000 “witches” during this time period.


The Hammer of Witches, with the official approval of the sitting Pope at the time, elevated the crime of “witchcraft” to one which should be punishable by death. Witches, according to the the pamphlet, were most likely weak individuals—such as the poor, mentally-ill, midwives, and those who used herbs for medicine. When these suspected witches were interrogated, these women were often stripped of all their clothing and physically tortured, while also being interrogated profusely about their sexual habits. One of the interrogation tactics included purposely misleading the woman by claiming that if she confessed, her life would be spared. However, upon her confession, she was declared a witches and burned at the stake.

Kramer’s personal favorite method of torture was hanging women by their arms, from the ceiling, until their arms were pulled out of socket. However, not everyone liked Kramer’s methods. Kramer was also considered a weirdo by many fellow members of the cloth. In one witch trial in particular, the trial was suspended because of Kramer’s “obsession” with the “sexual habits” of the accused woman. I don’t know about you guys, but that sounds like a pervert to me.


Now this literature is creepy—but seriously, deep study of most religious literature takes a creepy path at one point or another. I mean, wherever there is God, isn’t there also the devil! The Hammer of Witches pamphlet was eventually condemned as being inconsistent with Catholic doctrines. It only took about 300 hundred years to do so, but that’s okay, we got there. All religious institutions have their heresies—and I’m not making excuses for it either. It’s actually a nasty cycle found in most faith based institutions—BEWARE of this cycle! Mormons like to call this cyclical pattern of behavior the “pride cycle”—and we as Mormons are not immune from this cycle, and so I am stepping off my high-horse right now. I hope others of all faiths will join me. Just sayin.


As the story goes, the initial accusations against “witches” came from a group of young girls in Salem—children to be exact. And after careful analysis, the “adults” determined it must be “witchcraft” that caused these “fits” and “spells”—not a medical condition or normal manipulative behavior that accompanies young children. And so, the “adults” allowed the girls to make accusations of witchcraft against others purely on the basis of “spectral evidence,” which I will explain momentarily. One of the young girls, was the daughter of Reverend Samuel Parris (you know, the same Reverend who beat a confession out of his slave). It is, now, most often thought by historians, obviously, that the young girls were used as “pawns” to make accusations against others.

What is spectral evidence you ask? Well, it’s “unseen” evidence such as the appearance of apparitions, invisible demons as tormentors, or a demonic presence that could cause “fits” or epileptic “spells.” So, basically, you could throw a tantrum in the court room, or say you saw the spirit of that person “taunting” you, or have an actual epileptic fit for medical reasons, and the court would consider that as evidence for convicting the accused of witchcraft. Does anyone use established biblical doctrine to prove their “spectral evidence” anymore? I mean, isn’t that what Jesus did when he made His claims (Matthew 7:28).


My heavens, I think using small children (particularly using young, naive girls to do the accusing) would be a genius way to convict the masses. Children wouldn’t understand the magnitude of these actions, until long after the fact. These young girls were just pawns in the grand scheme of things. Victims like, Ann Putnam of Salem, who nearly a decade later, made an open, public confession that the accusations she made against others as a young girl were false, because she, herself, was misled by the devil (and probably a few Reverends I’ve already spoken about who were leading the trials)—some of those individuals that she accused were amongst those 19 victims who were executed. What a “mental” burden to bear!


How did this “invisible” evidence even become evidence—well you can thank the writings of Cotton Mather for that, and you could probably thank the writings of crazy teachers over in Europe like Kramer long before Cotton Mather even had his own thoughts on the subject—and you could probably also thank the actual devil, because the devil walks people down that path of thought one day at a time.

Walking down the path of heresy begins one rationalization at a time—it’s a mental thing. So how do we stop the spread of this type of hysteria once its starts? How did Salem stop the hysteria?


How did the hysteria in Salem finally stop? Well, the easy answer is that someone eventually accused the Governor’s own wife of being a witch—and that’s it people! That’s the answer! You want to stop a crisis, just accuse the governor’s wife, and then they will finally take the situation seriously. Around the time that Governor Phip’s wife was accused in nearby Boston, he issued an order that there would be no more executions of witches— 19 victims later. The lessons from this debacle, recorded in history, are simply endless.


I’m confident God is quite witty! I am also confident that he is constantly “schooling” us —and we are constantly getting “schooled.” Did you know that the word Salem is a Hebrew word used in the Bible? Do you know what Salem actually means? This one is gonna be a shocker—it means peace! Isn’t this a total paradox? Salem, Massachusetts named after the place where the scriptural Melchizedek was King of Salem—this King dwelled in a place called Peace— this “King of Peace” was a “type and shadow” of Jesus Christ.

I think that’s the lesson isn’t it! When we put His name upon ourselves, in name only, instead of letting the true King of Peace manifest His name in our countenance—we also become known as a “place of peace”, in name only, while outwardly manifesting our internal strifes and contentions. Whoa Salem! You have been marked, and will be, for generations to come! Like I said, God is quite witty!


Did you know that Salem, Massachusetts has a place in Mormon History? In 1836, Joseph Smith recorded section 111 of our Doctrine and Covenants right there in Salem, Massachusettes—in which the Lord tells Joseph, “I, the Lord your God, am not displeased with your coming this journey, notwithstanding your follies. I have much treasure in this city for you, for the benefit of Zion, and many people in this city, whom I will gather out in due time for the benefit of Zion, through your instrumentality.”

You see, Joseph was visiting Salem looking for a little bit of treasure—the cash kind (you can read about this HERE), but instead God schooled him using a little bit of paradox, because God is the Master of paradox (You can Read what gets recorded HERE). Instead, Joseph found a different “kind” of treasure in Salem—the same kind of treasure that I have also found after visiting Salem—WISDOM!!! I consider this— prophecy fulfilled.


Oliver Cowdery—Joseph’s friend, fellow believer, and traveling companion said of Salem, “This ancient town like a monument set up to remind after generations of the folly of their fathers. This witch business began in 1691, and was so effectually carried on for about two years ‘that the innocent blood of hundreds moistened the earth to gratify the vile ambition of jealous mortals.’” Cowdery goes on to recount several other journal entries in which he describes personal atrocities of the victims of The Salem Witch Trials. (You can read his ACTUAL recorded words HERE).


This is my first article in my History of Halloween Series! I hope you will stay with me as I post a few more this Halloween season! Stay on the path—I will be your guide!

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