What started the Salem witch trials?The discovery of the girls dancing in the woods was merely a tipping point, not the true origin.  The social structure in Salem is what caused the witch hunt...

What started the Salem witch trials?

The discovery of the girls dancing in the woods was merely a tipping point, not the true origin.  The social structure in Salem is what caused the witch hunt and allowed it to accelerate.

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asorrell's profile pic

asorrell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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It is called ergot poisoning and it causes hallucinations, so historically it could be a plausible explanation.

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writergal06 | Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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I've heard the rye bread theory, also, which provides an interesting theory about why the girls made the claims that they did. Arthur Miller implies in The Crucible that it was caused by the legalistic system established by the Puritans. He says that the system needed to be strict and rigid when the Puritans first arrived, in order for the society to survive. As the settlement thrived, however, people strained against the legalism forced upon them. One crack, and the entire system fell apart.

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morrol | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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There is actually a theory that rye bread started the Salem witch trials. There was a bacteria growing in rye bread that can cause hallucinations. People may have hallucinated and then accused others of bewitching them.

Link  to Smithsonian article.

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The woods in early American history have always been associated with things unholy and something to be feared.  The fact that the girls were in the woods, some naked, all dancing (against the rules of Puritan living), and cooking something in the pot, points to witchcraft.  Rev. Parris tried to put a hush-hush on it quickly to save his reputation with the town, but the fact that two girls--Betty Parris and Ruth Putnam--could not wake after the incident put fear in the hearts of the townspeople.  The Putnam family was instrumental in starting the whole thing since Ruth was their only surviving child and Mrs. Putnam was jealous of Goody Nurse, the midwife, and her multiples of surviving children and grandchildren.  At first, it was fear.  Then jealousy and revenge factored in and the townspeople used the excuse to get rid of those they disliked and wanted out of the way of their secret desires of land, money, etc.

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dtarver1003 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Honors

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What started the Salem witch trials?

The discovery of the girls dancing in the woods was merely a tipping point, not the true origin.  The social structure in Salem is what caused the witch hunt and allowed it to accelerate.

The witchcraft outbreak originated in Salem Village with Betty Parris being the first afflicted girl. The first examinations took place March 1, 1692. The first trial for witchcraft under the Court of Oyer and Terminer was May 27, 1692. There really was no one cause for the Salem witch trials. A combination of events and factors helped in the creation of a climate for the birth and growth of the trials. A recent small pox outbreak, the revocation of the Massachusetts Bay Colony charter by Charles II and the constant fear of Indian attacks helped in creating anxiety among the early Puritans that God was punishing them. This fear of punishment established a fertile atmosphere in which a case of possible witchcraft could easily be interpreted by the Puritans as the cause of God's wrath. Add to these events the economic, political, imaginations and fears of the people, family feuds and religious factors of the time, it is easier to understand how the Salem witch trials grew and prospered for almost a whole year.

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unksticky | eNotes Newbie

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The inablity of the men to be sucessful in the hunt for game, as well as the lack of a good growing season for the crops lead to the determination that witches had cursed the puritan way.

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