Salem Witch Trials and Mass Hysteria

Updated: Oct 31, 2021

It all started with a division among the people of Salem and one man who added to the tension, Reverend Samuel Parris, who was the first ordained minister of Salem Village in 1689. Parris was unable to keep the people of Salem from disputing and dividing, but instead added to the conflict by making church members suffer public penance for their sins. This potential threat by Reverend Parris is perhaps responsible for what psychologists refer to as Mass Hysteria. Mass Hysteria is an outbreak of abnormal illness or behavior that cannot be explained, and which spreads through society as a result of rumors or fear whether real or imagined. This is perhaps the reason why more than 200 people were accused of witchcraft and a large portion were executed in Salem during 1692. "The Salem witch trials are an infamous case of mass hysteria; they are an example of the consequences of religious extremism, false allegations, and lapses in the due legal processes." Witch Trials/mass hysteria. The first girls afflicted with what people assumed was demonic possession, brought about by the practice of witchcraft, were Betty Parris(age 9) and Abigail Williams(age 11), who complained of being pinched and pricked with pins. A local doctor, could find no physical evidence of ailment, and when other young women in the village began to exhibit similar behaviors, this only added to the belief of demonic possession and witchcraft. After further investigation, some historians believe that the accusations of witchcraft were a result of family quarrels rather than the practice of witchcraft, and may have been the main result of the witch trials. The Witch Trial executions were held at Proctor’s Ledge, one of the most central and visible sites from Boston Street, and which served as a warning to those in the town who might be accused of witchcraft. This site of execution was named after John Proctor, a 60-year-old Tavern Keeper who was one of those executed at the site.

Proctor's Ledge was high enough to be seen prominently, but not too high to be reached by cart, so it was symbolic as well as practical. Do you believe that symptoms of disease can spread through Mass Hysteria? Is Covid-19 a result of Mass Hysteria? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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