Witchcraft at Salem
In 1692, nineteen villagers were put to death in Salem, Massachusetts.
The reason for conviction was the torment of teenaged girls by supernatural
means: witchcraft. These teenagers had experienced "pricking" and
"pinching" sensations, and some contorted into strange bodily positions,
reaching unusual postures of extreme rigidity. The village doctor blamed
the abnormal behavior on the supernatural; he delared, "An evil hand is on
them."(1) With those words began the greatest witchhunt in America's
In 1976, Linnda Caporeal from the University of California at Santa
Barbara explained the actions of the girls as the effects of an illness
resulting from the ingestion of ergot--a fungus with LSD-like properties
that resides in rye. Perhaps this is not the true cause of the strange
behavior, but to the twentieth century world, it is a justification more
believable than that of the village doctor.
It is a human tendency to jump to conclusions without knowing all of the
facts. In the case described above, the village doctor probably did not
feel that he was jumping to conclusions because of the abundance of
"witches" in those days. Even today, with the abundance of knowledge about
the way things work, some hasten to postulate "God's doings" as the answers
to all of our unanswered questions. Are we on this earth because "God put
us here"? Was it a chance arrangement of amino acids in a molecular pool
which evolved into a human being? Or does the answer lie in some different
theory that only time will reveal? Whether it be in the case of medicine,
religion, history, or anything requiring judgement, even gossip, one must
realize that reality is impossible to pin down. Although we may be sure
that two parallel lines could never meet, there may be someone named
Lobachevski who is sure that they can.
(1) Alice Dickenson, The Salem Witchcraft Delusion (New York: Franklin
Watts, Inc., 1974), p. 16.