Salem Witchcraft Essay, Research Paper
Was the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria
Caused by a Fear of Women?
Although there has been a long history of witchcraft, the main concentration is
from the periods of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the British North American
colonies alone there were over 100 witchcraft trials alone, were 40 percent of the accused
were executed. Now two professors, Carol F. Karlsen of history and Kai T. Erikson of
sociology, examine the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria to see if it was caused by a fear of
women and give two entirely different interpretations.
The first professor, Carol F. Karlsen, agreed that the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria
was caused by a fear of women. She agrees that the belief in the Puritian culture, that
women were evil, existed because they were seen as a potential threat to the order of the
society. That is why women were generally seen as witches.
When witchcraft was initially seen, it was uncertain of wether or not it would
benefit the New England society, because of the fast changing conditions of the early
settlement. By the late 1640?s, New Englanders believed that a witchcraft belief system as
integral to their society. The Puritian rituals, myths, and symbols from then on were seen
perpetuated to the belief that women were a danger to their society. This idea of women
connected directly to witchcraft was only reinforced by the newer post-Reformation ideas
Puritanism in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century in England caused
much controversy over the nature of women and their roles in society. Puritian and
Catholic witch-hunters both believed that women were, ?evil, whorish, deceitful,
extravagant, angry, vengeful, and, of course, insubordinate and proud.? Women ?are
altogether a lumpe of pride,? one author said in 1690-?A masse of pride, even altogether
made of pride, and nothing else but pride.? One of the many reasons that women were
being seen in this way was from the increasing independence, impudence, masculine dress,
and masculine ways. It was all seen through the women?s new ways of forwardness and
A good example was with Adam and Eve being punished for the sin of pride,
rebelling against the order of creation, but Eve was seen as rebelling both as part of man
and as man?s other. This is how Eve was seen as the fall of man. ?Yet looking upon her as
made for the man, and by the Creators law owing a subordination to him, so she may also
be looked upon as instrumental.? as said by Willard. Willard means that Eve should have
encouraged Adam to obey God since she was created to serve man, but she didn?t. This
caused her to be seen as a mischief and for the cause of the downfall of man. For the
actions of Eve God placed a special curse on the female race, ?Unto the woman he said, I
will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth
children: and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.? It was seen
that part of women?s sin was the seduction of man and another was her failure to serve
man. Although Willard never actually said that there was a direct connection between
woman and Satan, he thought that woman was influenced by the Devil and she did what
she did voluntary of her own free will.
In the Puritian society, Eve was seen as the main symbol of women as evil. She
was considered in many ways to be the first witch ever. The values of order and hierarchy
were very important to society in the Puritian culture. And the ones that could not accept
their responsibilities in the society were considered the most evil of all.
The second professor, Kai T. Erikson, took an entirely different stand on the
Hysteria of Witchcraft in Salem. She did not feel that it was caused by a fear of women,
but by a product of the Puritian colonist? efforts to restore a common sense of mission,
which they believed had vanished after the first 60 years of their settlement.
During the times of the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria, there were men from
Massachusetts that were in London trying to convince William to restore the old charter
or to issue a new one so that Massachusetts could have all of the advantages that it once
had. At these times it was understandable that the anxiety of the settlement was very high.
In the settlement it was supposed to be a land of bliss and harmony, but this was not so.
The courts were making their way through the settlement and were tearing apart the ways
of the people. The courts were filled with land despots and personal feuds. The spirit of
brotherhood which the original settlers had, had been diffused into commercial
competition, political contention, and personal bad feelings. At the time of the Salem
Witchcraft era, the way of New England had become a thing of the past by the people of
the Bay not being able to learn from their past or to see what to look for in the future.
Massachusetts had become, in Alan Hiemert?s words, ?a society no longer able to judge
itself with any certainty.?
Historically, as pointed out by George L. Kittrege, ?there is nothing unique in the
fact that Massachusetts Bay should have put people on trial for witchcraft, the whole story
should have been seen not as an abnormal outbreak of fanaticism, not as an isolated
tragedy, but as a mere incident, a brief and transitory episode in the biography of a terrible,
but perfectly natural, superstition.? During the Civil Wars in England was when the
witchcraft hysteria was the strongest. There may have been hundreds or even thousands
of witches burned at the stake during these times. It was seen that ever time something
rash happened it began with the burning of witches.
The witchcraft hysteria was seen only as a brief moment in time in Massachusetts
Bay by Erikson. She sees it as the first of the witch hysteria being born as a group of
excited girls who drifted around the edges of the community. The people of these times
tried to discover some place for them and in this time they searched for something that
they were unable to find.
As I have reviewed the interpretations of both of the professors for the Hysteria of
the Salem Witchcraft and if it was caused by a fear of women, I would have to agree with
Kai T. Erikson from the evidence that she has given. She spoke of the political battles that
were going on and all of the court cases that were being held due the shellfishes of the
settlers. In all of this chaos I feel that it was inevitable that something would arouse from
this madness as a scape goat for the disorder that was happening. If you read through the
argument of Karlsen, you get the sense that she herself wasn?t sure of her own evidence.
She didn?t have any solid or physical evidence to support her ideas, she
only had biblical evidence that doesn?t stand out for much. I feel as Erikson did when she
said that all of the outbreaks or wars or any disturbance of that time always started with
the execution of witches. From this evidence I can only agree with that of Erikson that
the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria was not caused by a fear of women but only of the
settlement not knowing how to deal with all of their misfortunes and chaos with having an
explanation or scape goat for them.