What do characters in the play believe about witches?

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The majority of citizens in Salem believe that witches exist and have extraordinary powers granted to them by the Devil himself. Essentially, the religious citizens of Salem believe that witches do the Devil's bidding and cast spells that have various malevolent effects on their victims. The Putnams believe that witchcraft...

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The majority of citizens in Salem believe that witches exist and have extraordinary powers granted to them by the Devil himself. Essentially, the religious citizens of Salem believe that witches do the Devil's bidding and cast spells that have various malevolent effects on their victims. The Putnams believe that witchcraft is responsible for the deaths of their children, as well as Ruth's illness. Reverend Hale elaborates on the various types of demons, spirits, and wizards in Act One and vehemently believes that it is the Devil's goal to win the souls of upright Christians. As a whole, the vast majority of Salem citizens believe that witches have the ability to physically harm people and influence their souls. Witches also can send spirits out that will tempt Christians with good reputations to engage in sinful acts. These sinful acts range from laughing during prayer, which is something to which Abigail testifies, to encouraging people to kill others. This belief that witches possess extraordinary powers given to them by the Devil fuels the hysteria throughout the community of Salem.

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Their religion has taught them that witches do exist, and they believe that it is possible for a witch to exist in their midst and for them to be unaware of her (or his) true identity and allegiance to the Devil.  The Bible says, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live," and so they believe not only in the existence of witches but in their own religious obligation to root them out and hang them.  These witches could, theoretically, be anywhere and anyone, regardless of how godly they might seem.

For example, Mrs. Putnam's grief over the loss of seven of her eight children compels her to look for a reason for their deaths.  When she is unable to figure out some more practical reason that they died, she assumes that witches must be at fault.  Reverend Parris chastises her for sending her daughter to conjure the spirits of the other dead children, but she cries, "I take it on my soul, but who else may surely tell us what person murdered my babies?"  For her, and for many Salemites, it is a perfectly logical explanation to assume that witches (and the Devil they serve) could be the source of her misfortunes.  

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