Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 306
Mary Beth Norton identifies several factors that contribute to creating the conditions that led to the Salem Witch Trials. For one, she writes,
The foundation of the witchcraft crisis lay in Puritan New Englanders' singular worldview, one they had inherited from the first settlers of Massachusetts Bay more than sixty years earlier. That worldview taught them that they were a chosen people, charged with bringing God's message to a heathen land previously ruled by the devil.
These English men and women felt that they were doing God's work, that they were chosen by God to light the way for the rest of the world. They believed that, in the colony, they lived in a moral and spiritual wilderness, corruption on all sides, and this made them particularly vigilant, even paranoid, when it came to threats, either real or perceived.
Then in the last quarter of the seventeenth century, two successive, devastating wars on the northeastern frontier, King Philip's War and King William's War—or the First and Second Indian Wars—together wreaked havoc with what had been prosperous settlements along the coast northeast of Massachusetts.
These wars help to establish the highly charged emotional environment needed to foster the Salem Witch Trials. Settlers may have interpreted these wars, wars that forced many to abandon their prosperous settlements and homes not once but twice, as evidence of some kind of divine retribution or, at least, disfavor. Because "assaults from the visible and invisible worlds became closely entwined in New Englanders' minds," it became easier and easier to believe that some invisible assault could be imminent.
Norton doesn't argue that the wars caused the trials, but rather that they helped to create the right conditions for the trials to become the large-scale production that they did. Even the "ongoing conflict within Salem Village itself" contributed to these conditions.
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