List of subjects |  Sources |  Feedback 

Share |

Discover in a free
daily email today's famous
history and birthdays

Enjoy the Famous Daily

Witches of Salem: 1692

Hysteria grips the Massachusetts town of Salem in 1692. Some young girls, claiming to be possessed by the devil, name certain women as having practised witchcraft upon them. It later transpires that the girls' imaginations have been inflamed by voodoo tales narrated by a West Indian slave, Tituba, who is one of the accused. But in the meantime the city council has set up a special court to investigate the charges.

In an atmosphere of mounting tension, the finger of suspicion is pointed at more and more women. Nineteen are hanged, including Tituba, before public opinion turns against the trials. One of the judges subsequently admits the injustice of the verdicts.

Similar hysteria, in pursuit of hidden evil, is easily engendered even in sophisticated societies. The McCarthy witch hunt for Communist fellow travellers in the USA in the 1950s is built upon just such fears and credulities. So is an obsessive search in the 1990s, by social workers in the USA and Britain, for signs of satanic abuse of children.

The Salem tragedy is magnificently dramatized by Arthur Miller in 1953 in The Crucible. Inspired by the McCarthy witch hunt (at its height at the time), the play is a profound study of the way such contagion spreads. It should be required reading for anyone investigating tales of evil and the unknown.