Dictionary.com defines witch-hunt as an intensive effort to discover and espouse disloyalty, subversion, dishonesty, or the like, usually based on slight, doubtful, or irreverent evidence. If Dictionary.com existed back in 1450, it would have probably had a different description of it, something like “a search and followed up execution of people, who were suspected of practicing witchcraft and, therefore, called witches”. Were any of those people actually guilty? Does witchcraft exists or ever existed? Would ancient people call Facebook witchcraft? I guess, we will never know. But we can try to find some evidence and that is what I did, writing Abigail Williams essay and dedicating it to one of the first accusers in the Salem witch trials.
Witch-hunt periods all over the world:
Witch-hunts are still happening today, mainly in societies where belief in magic is widespread. In places like Sub-Saharan Africa, rural North India and Papua New Guinea people are being punished for sorcery by lynching or burning. In Saudi Arabia witchcraft remains being legally punished by death.
In our days witchcraft is viewed as a violation of human rights. The victims are often put through exorcism, executed by so-called “witch doctor”.
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Salem Witch Trials
Witch trials have been happening all over the world, but why the little town in Massachusetts became known to everyone as a witch town, taking all of the glory?
The Salem Witch Trials in 1692 that has made Salem so popular were often referred as a dark time in American history. They became en equivalent for mass hysteria that formed from an uncontrollable fear, the fear of the Devil and witches because they were sought as his servants. The community in Salem was devout and highly religious and, leaving in the isolation of the New World, their fear of the Devil was heightened greatly, especially after one of the accused witches, Tituba, confirmed that she and the other women were, in fact, witches. This event caused an immense panic and hysteria that transformed into a massive witch-hunt. It is considered that a Tituba’s confession became the main reason why the Witch Trials in Salem started.
The Witch trials started in January 1692, when a group of young girls, who later became known as an “afflicted girls”, fell ill after playing a game and started to behave strangely. One of those girls was Abigail Williams.
Abigail Williams Story
There’s nothing much known about Abigail’s life before and after the events happened in the time of the Salem Witch Trials. However, it is known that Abigail Williams was born in 1680, and was at the age of eleven when the Witch Trials had started, living with her uncle in Salem after a raid by Native Americans resulted in killing her parents. Occasionally, she and the other girls were experimenting with a fortune-telling technique, dropping egg whites into a glass of water and trying to interpret appeared shapes and figures. During one of those sessions, a coffin shape appeared in the glass and terrified the girls. Soon enough after that, Betty, uncle’s daughter, and Abigail Williams started to behave odd, having fits, crying out of pain, running across rooms flailing their arms, ducking under chairs and trying to climb up the chimney. According to an eyewitness, their bodies contorted into apparently impossible positions.
When Samuel Parris decided to consult with a doctor, the doctor couldn’t find what’s wrong with the patients and suggested that it must be witchcraft. One of the Parris’ slaves, Tituba, was asked to bake a witch cake – rye mixed with the afflicted girls’ urine and feed the mixture to a dog. If the dog would experience the same symptoms, then the witchcraft was, indeed, present.
Abigail and Betty claimed that they were possessed and they accused three women of bewitching them: Sarah Good, Sarah Osbourne and Tituba herself. On February 29, 1692, the accused women were arrested and found guilty. But only Tituba made a confession. The other two didn’t confess, which led to Good being hanged and Osbourne’s death in prison. Tituba was released from jail a year later after an unknown person paid her release fees. Abigail and Betty’s accusations spread quickly trough out the whole Salem and nearby villages, causing the imprisonment of many people.
During the Salem Witch Trials, Abigail accused 57 people of witchcraft, testifying against eight of them. From all of those people, 15 were executed, one was tortured to death and the others died in jail, were found not guilty or escaped.
As the trials and executions continued, colonists began to doubt that so many people were actually guilty and tried to persuade officials to stop the trials in a fear that a lot of innocent people were being executed.
Neither Abigail nor Batty apologized for their roles in the Witch Trials. Only one of the afflicted girls, Ann Putnam Jr., wrote an apology to the church in Salem in 1706.
Arthur Miller made Abigail Williams as one of the main characters in his play “The Crucible”, where she is portrayed as a seventeen years old girl. The play gradually reveals that she has been performing voodoo rituals with her uncle’s slave, Tituba, and other girls. When rumors of witchcraft in town began to spread, Abigail and Betty Parris start to accuse people of practicing sorcery in order to switch suspicions from themselves. In 1996 film adaptation of the play, Abigail was portrayed by a famous American actress Winona Ryder.
There are a few suggestions circulating as to from what condition the afflicted girls had suffered. Some say that the strange symptoms may have been caused by the ingestion of fungus-infected rye, others that they were suffering from epilepsy or mental illness. In my opinion, they suffered from a disease, well known to every child and adult, called boredom, but I don’t think that any of the girls realized to what events can their little game lead.