The Salem Witch Trials and Religious Intolerance

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In the winter of 1692, young girls in Salem Village began behaving oddly. This started in the household of Samuel Parris, the Village minister, and spread to other households, notably that of Thomas Putnam. The children were eventually diagnosed as victims of witchcraft. In February, three women, Sarah Good, Sarah Osborne and Tituba, Parris’s Indian slave, were charged as witches. Other arrests followed in March and April, including Good’s 4-year-old daughter and Rebecca Nurse, an elderly woman whose husband, Francis, owned a large farm in the Village (Frances 28). The pace of arrests picked up in May and included George Burroughs, who had served as the minister in the Village for three years in the early 1680s and who, in 1692, was living in Wells in Maine. During the summer and fall, as many as 200 people were accused although some avoided arrest by fleeing to New York.

From the Salem trials, we learn that religious intolerance can cause conflict in the society. The Puritans living in Salem were a religious people whose goal was to ensure the purity of the Church of England (Stone 31). The Puritans came to America seeking freedom of worship. The puritan’s religion, Calvism, was so strict that it was difficult to abide by. Puritans believed in the existence of witchcraft and considered is as a source of power to harm other people. To them, witchcraft was a partnership between the people and the devil in which evil powers were granted to the people giving them the ability to undertake evil activities in the society. The Puritan was also against the Church of England causing a sharp divide among the two groups. Consequently, the intolerance culminated into killings. From this occurrences and position, we learn that religious intolerance is a great enemy to a peaceful society as was witnessed in the Salem case.

Another valuable lesson we derived from the Salem Witches trials is the role of culture in the society. It can be argued that the case portrays culture as a unique way of defining a people and that which can cause havoc or peaceful relations among people in the society. The Puritans wore coloured garments, had festivals and attended gatherings, and drank alcohol (Frances 3). While they practised all these activities, they observed strictness in all aspects of their lives and regarded activities that yielded copious joy to a person as a dangerous activity that could harm others. At worst, these such activities were viewed as sinful, and they could distract a person from prayers (Frances 5). Therefore, such activities had to be practised with maximum restraint and caution. It is, however, the Puritans believed in the existence of Satan that takes centre stage in the Salem Witch Trials. Believing in the presence of Satan in their lives, the girls sparked a game that led to the Salem witch trials, an experience that will forever define their community.

Lastly, the Salem witches trials teach us that injustice in society can be propagated through the judicial system. Whereas the strict Puritan religion, by not passing the death penalty on the accused, and instead presenting them to the trials, the justice was not delivered. Many of those who confessed were pardoned even after many had been hanged. Through the pardon, Tituba and others were able to escape the death penalty. Many of the accused escaped execution by confessing as the arrests continued. Other accused persons such as the wealthy and prominent people like Philip English, a Salem Town merchant and selectman, and his wife, Mary, and Capt. John Alden, one of the colony's military leaders. They were able to flee prison and Massachusetts (Stone 32).

To sum, up, Salem witches trials present a case that we can reflect upon and better the relations in our society today. Religious piety and intolerance, outdated cultural practices and injustice in the court system are enemies of a progressive community as learnt from the Salem witches trial.

Works Cited

Frances. A delusion of Satan: The full story of the Salem witch trials. Tantor eBooks, 2014.

Stone, Alia. "An Invitation to Satan: Puritan Culture and the Salem Witch Trials."Hill,

November 13, 2023


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