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Salem witch trials - Mystery of History

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I was previewing Mystery if History today and picked a random chapter to read. I read a chapter on the Salem Witch Trials. It had been a long time since I’ve read anything about the trials, and I thought it would be interesting.

 

The author concluded that it is probable that the initial girls were involved in witchcraft. Is this a view others share? I’ve always heard of false accusations, women being targeted, mass hysteria. I’ve never heard it all started bc some were actually witches.

 

Anyone an expert?

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I have not ever heard that. The only other explanation, besides what you listed, that i have heard of concerned a fungal toxin on the wheat storage.

 

 

ETA: not an expert!

Edited by jewellsmommy
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I thought ergot poisoning was generally regarded as the most likely explanation.

 

ETA: Oops - Tammy already said it!

 

Also, NOT an expert. :D

Edited by Greta
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I've never heard that and I did a pretty extensive research paper on it in college. Ergot poisoning is considered the most likely explanation, although my research was on the possibility of encephalitis lethargia being what the victims we're suffering from.

 

In all my research I never came across any mention of anyone actually practicing witchcraft

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Also not an expert, but wasn't there a slave woman who had possibly been engaged in a religious practice that might have been considered witchcraft? Or was she just added in some of the later stories about the events? I can't really recall, honestly.

 

I'm not sure where people stand on the existence of "witchcraft" in this thread, but I would personally assume that no one was practicing actual magic that led to any of the issues experienced by the townspeople. Whether or not anyone was engaged in non-Christian religious practice that would have been labeled witchcraft though...

 

ETA: It's Tituba - that's who I was thinking of. Wikipedia says she was the first accused and that she may have told the girls voodoo tales. With what I know about life then - again, not an expert on this period of history, but I know a little - it seems totally possible and even likely that she would have been practicing elements of voodoo religion and even have told the girls in the town some of the stories she knew. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tituba

 

Double ETA: I feel compelled to add that whether this bit is true or debated or what, that I would personally feel very uncomfortable with a curriculum that portrayed the root of the Salem Witch Trials as being "witchcraft" without any other contextualization of what was meant by that. But also, I wouldn't personally use a Christian perspective history program like MoH, so feel free to take that with a grain of salt.

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This is why we stopped using MOH in the middle of a school year. Not that particular entry; we never got so far as the Salem Witch Trials. But the author made history to much about herself. She was always referencing herself, “I think this is a great story in history!†“I think this part is just wonderful, don’t you?†That was bad enough, but then I noticed that she would speculate from time to time about what might have happened—just like you said with the Salem entry.

 

I didn’t really want a history program that told me the author’s opinion and speculations on history and I normally enjoy a chatty style of writing, but this was beyond mere chattiness to me.

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The slave who was accused of being a witch "confessed" to practicing witchcraft, but she later recanted and admitted that she had made it up in order to save herself. Since those who "confessed" to the sin of witchcraft were usually spared, while those who maintained their innocence were executed, many of the accused confessed to the practice (often under torture) in order to spare their own lives.

 

I'd be pretty suspicious of a history curriculum that claimed the women accused of witchcraft were actually practicing it. That is not a mainstream interpretation of events, and there is no evidence for it at all.

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ETA: It's Tituba - that's who I was thinking of. Wikipedia says she was the first accused and that she may have told the girls voodoo tales. With what I know about life then - again, not an expert on this period of history, but I know a little - it seems totally possible and even likely that she would have been practicing elements of voodoo religion and even have told the girls in the town some of the stories she knew. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tituba

I'm a bit suspicious of the references to voodoo/vodoun, which is rooted in West African religion, since scholars seem to think that Tituba and her husband were likely Arawak Indians. She might have been telling them tales of Arawak practices, for that matter, or even tales about things she had seen African slaves doing, but if she was indeed Arawak, it seems unlikely that she would be practicing a creolized African religion that had no real connection to her own culture.

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I believe that suggesting there may have been actual witchcraft (though I'm struggling to define 'actual witchcraft') going on is completely irresponsible and... I don't know, un-academic, I guess.  But the biggest point (to me, for me, imo, and all that,) of covering the Salem Witch Trials is to discuss the context, including the many things that absurdly counted as evil, and the things that fear and ignorance led people to do.  Including the fear of different beliefs and practices, and anything that couldn't be explained to people's satisfaction.

 

Anyway, I guess I'm saying that I'd be willing to entertain the question "Was witchcraft being practiced?" by discussing perception and definitions at the time.  Sort of like how my kids do magic tricks, we call them magic tricks, and we don't question their "legitimacy" as magic tricks.  Except we happen to know that there isn't any magic involved, and we never believed it existed in the first place.  If we believed that someone was truly pulling quarters out of our ears, would we get excited about our earning potential, or scared out of our flipping minds?

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The book 'Witches, Nurses and Midwives' has interesting ideas about one of the reasons for burning women as witches.

 

"WITCHES LIVED AND WERE BURNED LONG BEFORE the development of modern medical technology. The great majority of them were lay healers serving the peasant population, and their suppression marks one of the opening struggles in the history of man’s suppression of women as healers. The other side of the suppression of witches as healers was the creation of a new male medical profession, under the protection and patronage of the ruling classes. This new European medical profession played an important role in the witch hunts, supporting the witches’ persecutors with “medical†reasoning:..."

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That is crap history. Throw it in the garbage. Truly.

 

There are a variety of theories about why that most famous case of mass hysteria happened but no one and I mean no one thinks it was actual witchcraft. Including the State of Massachusetts who reversed the convictions, the minister who un-excommunicated at least one woman during the trials, and the accusers who recanted.

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I was previewing Mystery if History today and picked a random chapter to read. I read a chapter on the Salem Witch Trials. It had been a long time since I’ve read anything about the trials, and I thought it would be interesting.

 

The author concluded that it is probable that the initial girls were involved in witchcraft. Is this a view others share? I’ve always heard of false accusations, women being targeted, mass hysteria. I’ve never heard it all started bc some were actually witches.

 

Anyone an expert?

You’re right to be suspicious. No credible scholar believes “real witchcraft†(however that may be defined) was the cause of the trials. As Poppy said, even primary sources from Massachusetts don’t support that view. Did the author cite any actual evidence or scholarly research?

 

Truly, this is so egregious that it would call the rest of the book into question for me. I simply couldn’t trust the author after reading that bit of extremely sloppy “researchâ€.

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The author is wrong, or at the very least does not agree with the vast majority (um, all) of experts on the subject.

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Does the author also say the people were burned at the stake? If so,run far away from that book.

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We will be visiting Salem next year as part of our studies, but many original documents are available online.  We plan on using Reading Like A Historian to do a before/after study when we revisit the issue in middle school.  RLAH is free, uses primary sources & gathered data, and changes history to be more like a detective story - looking for clues and evidence before making up their minds.

 

 

I have issues with history curricula that treat the past as interpreted stories only.  Even SOTW.  My 7yo caught on to the bias in book 2 when he read about the Islamic Invasion before our break and The Age Of The Crusades after the break.  "Mama, the Christians invaded, too.  But when the Muslims did it it was a bad thing and this is not."  So, um, yes, we will be relying on the book less as we get to the age of "discovery" and bring in more resources like Letters of Note, Reading Like A Historian, Mysteries In History (not to be confused with MoH), How To Teach What Really Happened, and as many field trips as we can manage.

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We will be visiting Salem next year as part of our studies, but many original documents are available online.  We plan on using Reading Like A Historian to do a before/after study when we revisit the issue in middle school.  RLAH is free, uses primary sources & gathered data, and changes history to be more like a detective story - looking for clues and evidence before making up their minds.

 

 

I have issues with history curricula that treat the past as interpreted stories only.  Even SOTW.  My 7yo caught on to the bias in book 2 when he read about the Islamic Invasion before our break and The Age Of The Crusades after the break.  "Mama, the Christians invaded, too.  But when the Muslims did it it was a bad thing and this is not."  So, um, yes, we will be relying on the book less as we get to the age of "discovery" and bring in more resources like Letters of Note, Reading Like A Historian, Mysteries In History (not to be confused with MoH), How To Teach What Really Happened, and as many field trips as we can manage.

 

The Brown Paper School publishes pretty good primary-source based histories too.

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This is why we stopped using MOH in the middle of a school year. Not that particular entry; we never got so far as the Salem Witch Trials. But the author made history to much about herself. She was always referencing herself, “I think this is a great story in history!†“I think this part is just wonderful, don’t you?†That was bad enough, but then I noticed that she would speculate from time to time about what might have happened—just like you said with the Salem entry.

 

I didn’t really want a history program that told me the author’s opinion and speculations on history and I normally enjoy a chatty style of writing, but this was beyond mere chattiness to me.

 

Yes - I hated it. My one son was using it in the co-op we joined - against my better judgment but I digress - and he wasn't able to keep up with the reading so I purchased the audio version. It was painful. She was always inserting herself into history. I noticed right away and told myself to say nothing, maybe the kids wouldn't notice - but they did. It could have been a drinking game.

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The Brown Paper School publishes pretty good primary-source based histories too.

 

Thanks!  I hadn't heard of them until I realized we had a few of the Marilyn Burns books on our shelves. :lol:  The preview of their American Revolution book on Amazon looks pretty good!

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I wasn't familiar with this resource at all, and I was wondering what exactly the author meant by saying that there was actual witchcraft involved.  So I appreciated reading the replies, and I definitely don't feel that we missed out by not using this curriculum.  

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What is particularly chilling is that the only reason I can think of for her to insert a "story bit" about the supposedly-practiced-witchcraft is to give justification for what followed.....

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What is particularly chilling is that the only reason I can think of for her to insert a "story bit" about the supposedly-practiced-witchcraft is to give justification for what followed.....

 

 

She says as much in the book. None of it would have happened if not for the girls initially dabbling into witchcraft and listening to stories that were forbidden. They were disobedient... and look what happened.  I did not appreciate her conclusions... but was curious if there was proven to be actual initial witchcraft.

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She says as much in the book. None of it would have happened if not for the girls initially dabbling into witchcraft and listening to stories that were forbidden. They were disobedient... and look what happened.  I did not appreciate her conclusions... but was curious if there was proven to be actual initial witchcraft.

 

Wow.  That's really awful.

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She says as much in the book. None of it would have happened if not for the girls initially dabbling into witchcraft and listening to stories that were forbidden. They were disobedient... and look what happened.  I did not appreciate her conclusions... but was curious if there was proven to be actual initial witchcraft.

 

This is actually horrifying.  She would have been better off writing a fiction book than trying to teach truth.

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I am not an expert by any means and it has been a number of years since learning about the Salem Witch Trials. The last theory I remember learning about was the tainted wheat. At no time has it ever been suggested to me in my studies that anyone was actually practicing witchcraft.

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If this is a topic that's piqued your interest, I highly recommend Stacy Schiff's The Witches. It goes into a ton of detail about what happened while still being a well written. The story itself is terrifying as the hysteria spreads and people start to see how they can profit from it. So many people were accused because of land disputes or efforts to rid the community of nonconformists or internal church politics over the minister's pay. It's one of the most disturbing true stories I've ever read.

 

To answer the OP's question, she explores various natural explanations including ergotism but IIRC doesn't come to a hard and fast conclusion. TBH, that's not the part that most stuck with me. For me, people accusing others for fun and profit was much harder to deal with emotionally.

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Also not an expert, but wasn't there a slave woman who had possibly been engaged in a religious practice that might have been considered witchcraft? Or was she just added in some of the later stories about the events? I can't really recall, honestly.

 

I'm not sure where people stand on the existence of "witchcraft" in this thread, but I would personally assume that no one was practicing actual magic that led to any of the issues experienced by the townspeople. Whether or not anyone was engaged in non-Christian religious practice that would have been labeled witchcraft though...

 

ETA: It's Tituba - that's who I was thinking of. Wikipedia says she was the first accused and that she may have told the girls voodoo tales. With what I know about life then - again, not an expert on this period of history, but I know a little - it seems totally possible and even likely that she would have been practicing elements of voodoo religion and even have told the girls in the town some of the stories she knew. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tituba

 

Double ETA: I feel compelled to add that whether this bit is true or debated or what, that I would personally feel very uncomfortable with a curriculum that portrayed the root of the Salem Witch Trials as being "witchcraft" without any other contextualization of what was meant by that. But also, I wouldn't personally use a Christian perspective history program like MoH, so feel free to take that with a grain of salt.

 

Farrar - I think the fact that you ALWAYS post exactly what I'm thinking, regardless of the subject, is clearly witchcraft.

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Is she saying that actual magic was involved in some way, or some people were doing something like trying to contact demons or practicing a pagan religion?

 

I mean, I guess the latter is not logically impossible but I have no idea if it is true.  If it was true, in that place and time it certainly would have caused issues if you were discovered.

 

Actual magic though - um, no.  

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Is she saying that actual magic was involved in some way, or some people were doing something like trying to contact demons or practicing a pagan religion?

 

I mean, I guess the latter is not logically impossible but I have no idea if it is true.  If it was true, in that place and time it certainly would have caused issues if you were discovered.

 

Actual magic though - um, no.  

 

I don't know.  The quote reads, "I don't know if Betty or Abigail or any of the other girls of Salem were truly influenced by witchcraft or not, but in my opinion, it is probable. If they were, it seems that the tragic trials could have been prevented if the girls had heeded God's Word to begin with and avoided the stories of witchcraft.  When it comes to evil, Jesus said, 'be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.'"

 

Beautiful books, though. Hard covers, nice pictures, readable.  

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Beautiful books that apparently teach that witchcraft is a real thing? And that tragedies are the fault of children listening to stories?

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I don't know. The quote reads, "I don't know if Betty or Abigail or any of the other girls of Salem were truly influenced by witchcraft or not, but in my opinion, it is probable. If they were, it seems that the tragic trials could have been prevented if the girls had heeded God's Word to begin with and avoided the stories of witchcraft. When it comes to evil, Jesus said, 'be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.'"

 

Beautiful books, though. Hard covers, nice pictures, readable.

My personal interpretation of the quoted passage is that the author is not implying actual witchcraft was involved, but the influence of reading or hearing such stories came between these girls and god's commands to stay away from "evil".

 

It does seem that she is implying that the girls' "sins" are what led to the trials and that adherence to god's word would have prevented the whole thing.

 

Not a curriculum I would use either way.

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Beautiful books that apparently teach that witchcraft is a real thing? And that tragedies are the fault of children listening to stories?

 

Just to be clear, I'm not defending them. More like, dang it. They looked pretty. It's like double disappointment.

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Those beautiful books would be in my trash so fast. I couldn't even justify reselling them because of how wrong the passage you quoted is

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I don't know.  The quote reads, "I don't know if Betty or Abigail or any of the other girls of Salem were truly influenced by witchcraft or not, but in my opinion, it is probable. If they were, it seems that the tragic trials could have been prevented if the girls had heeded God's Word to begin with and avoided the stories of witchcraft.  When it comes to evil, Jesus said, 'be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.'"

 

Beautiful books, though. Hard covers, nice pictures, readable.  

 

Hmm.  It sounds to me like she thinks they were in some way influenced by evil forces.  It's not an unusual idea in some evangelical circles, though I'd have thought even if you'd accepted that, you'd need some actual evidence to make that kind of guess.

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The quote reads, "I don't know if Betty or Abigail or any of the other girls of Salem were truly influenced by witchcraft or not, but in my opinion, it is probable. If they were, it seems that the tragic trials could have been prevented if the girls had heeded God's Word to begin with and avoided the stories of witchcraft.  When it comes to evil, Jesus said, 'be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.'"

 

 

 

Speaking of evil, that's what this quote is. Ignorant and evil. 

 

Not quite as bad, but surely still a sin, is her use of an inordinate number of exclamation points! And her rampant abuse of quotation marks is a crime against the English language. 

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I don't know.  The quote reads, "I don't know if Betty or Abigail or any of the other girls of Salem were truly influenced by witchcraft or not, but in my opinion, it is probable. If they were, it seems that the tragic trials could have been prevented if the girls had heeded God's Word to begin with and avoided the stories of witchcraft.  When it comes to evil, Jesus said, 'be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.'"

 

Beautiful books, though. Hard covers, nice pictures, readable.

 

I wondered when you first posted if this is what she meant. It’s common in some types of churches to see the inflluence of satanic forces everywhere. Since what happened (accusation, torture, and death of innocents) was profoundly evil, the thought process is to wonder where that evil came from and wonder if any people opened a door to it, allowed it to influence them, stepped out of God’s protection, etc. There are scriptures about how we aren’t in conflict with other humans but are in conflict with spiritual powers, so people will look to see what sort of spiritual powers might have influenced the events. It’s not that uncommon of a thought process in many Christian denominations.

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I have issues with history curricula that treat the past as interpreted stories only.  Even SOTW.  My 7yo caught on to the bias in book 2 when he read about the Islamic Invasion before our break and The Age Of The Crusades after the break.  "Mama, the Christians invaded, too.  But when the Muslims did it it was a bad thing and this is not."  

 

While I do not recall the invasions being presented as good vs bad, I do agree with you overall, particularly for older students. SWB emphasizes the importance of primary sources at the start of logic stage in The Well Trained Mind, and the general method outlined in that book utilizes encyclopedias from the earliest stages. Unfortunately, some people do go straight to Story of the World and use it as is, without the activity books, study guides, or just the simple advice from the original book. I don't think any history course should rely on the story format only. 

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