Just as a follow on to the answer above. In addition to the important points made above, we need to remember that the Puritan belief system that informed the inhabitants of Danvers (Salem), MA, in 1692, encouraged people to believe that evil, in the person of the Devil, was not...
Just as a follow on to the answer above. In addition to the important points made above, we need to remember that the Puritan belief system that informed the inhabitants of Danvers (Salem), MA, in 1692, encouraged people to believe that evil, in the person of the Devil, was not merely an abstract concept but a real and physical threat to their well-being.
The Devil as an active force in their society had, according to their Puritan belief system, the ability to make people ill and die, to make livestock sicken and die and, perhaps more important, invade people's minds with evil thoughts--often through dreams--that caused them to act out those thoughts. As you can see from the results of the Witch Trials and executions, Puritans believed that girls and women were more susceptible to the Devil's influence than men (as daughters of Eve), and so the violence inflicted by the judicial system fell on women to a much greater degree on men.
Many of the accusations of witchcraft were based on what is called "spectral evidence." In other words, the girls who were originally "afflicted" by the witches' torture accused people on the basis of seeing their spirits performing the torture. Because there is no way to defend yourself effectively against such evidence--you can be two places at the same time--the accusations had weight in court. It wasn't until 1693, when Increase Mather wrote a tract against the admission of spectral evidence, that this type of evidence became suspect in court.
For much of the witch trials, juries included the most important (land owning) church members. As the concept of spectral evidence weakened, the courts began to allow juries to be made up of ordinatry church members (not necessarily the most wealthy), and these juries were more likely to exonerate the accused. Also, toward the latter part of the witch hysteria, the wife of the Governor of Massachusetts Bay was accused, and that went too far. Soon after this, the witch trials were ended.
The witch trials ended in part because spectral evidence became suspect; juries were no longer made up of only the richest, most powerful people in the community; and perhaps most important, the society became truly horrified by the results of the trials.