Witch hysteria began in Salem in January of 1692 when two young girls, Elizabeth Parris and Abigail Williams, fell ill. Betty, as Elizabeth was known, was the daughter of Reverend Samuel Parris, and Abigail was his niece. They had fits that included uncontrollable outbursts of screaming and violent bodily contortions. After a doctor couldn’t diagnose their illnesses, he told Reverend Parris that they had been the victims of witchcraft. Between January 1692 and the spring of 1693, over 150 people were accused of witchcraft, and 19 of them were hanged. When the hysteria was at its peak, almost anything could get you accused of being in league with the devil. Below, we’ll talk about some of the sillier things that would qualify you as a witch in 1692.
- Having a Vagina
Yes, simply being in possession of a vagina made you 80% more likely to be accused of witchcraft than someone without one. This was because it was believed that women were more susceptible to sin, and thus more susceptible to the devil’s trickery and temptations.
- Being Too Poor
If you sometimes have trouble supporting yourself and have to resort to asking your community or friends for help, you could have been a suspected witch in 1692. One of the first women hanged for witchcraft in Salem was Sarah Good, a poor woman who often begged her friends and neighbors for food, and was thus disliked and distrusted by the community. Due to this, they accused her of witchcraft.
- Being Too Rich
Are you self-made without the need of a man or family to help you financially? If yes, then you’re obviously a witch. In the 17th century, it was believed impossible for a woman to be financially comfortable – or even stable – without the help of a man, which meant she had to be in league with the devil.
- Having No Friends
Are you an introvert? BURN HER! BURN THE WITCH! Women who were shy or had trouble making friends were often accused of witchcraft because they were easy targets. With no one to stand up for them, the trials were a breeze, and off to Gallows Hill they were marched.
- Having Too Many Friends
On the flip side, if you are an extreme extrovert with a whole squad of awesome women surrounding you, you’re also a witch. The famed Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, started this rumor after he happened upon a group of women chatting together and having a good time. He called them a coven and accused them of chanting incantations. They were executed.
- Being Too Old
Older women were an easy target for witch hysteria. Whether married or not, it was believed that only the work of the devil could help a woman get to an advanced age, and so seniors were often accused of witchery. Rebecca Nurse, a septuagenarian, with a husband, children, and many grandchildren, who was also a respected member of the community, was hanged for witchcraft because of her advanced age.
- Being Too Young
Are you starting to see a pattern here? Quite literally, no one was safe from the accusations of witchcraft in 17th century Salem. Dorothy Good, daughter of Sarah Good, was accused, at the ripe old age of four, of witchcraft. Her accusers claimed she bit them and attacked them like an animal. After being interrogated for two weeks, Dorothy broke down and admitted to whatever her accusers were saying. She was imprisoned for four months, an ordeal which left her with permanent and extreme psychological damage.
- Having Too Few/No Kids
Being married and having no or too few children was grounds for execution for witchcraft. The devil must have cursed you and your unholy womb with infertility. Additionally, if any of your neighbors who had a lot of children found themselves with problems, it was obviously because the childless crone next door had put a curse on them due to jealousy.
- Having Too Many Kids
Of course, on the other hand, if you had too many children, you were obviously performing witchcraft and stealing the babies that would have been born to the infertile couple next door.
- Being Kind to Animals
You better not let anyone see you cooing to the cute dog down the street, or petting the stray cat behind your house because everyone knows that people who are kind to animals are witches! Believing in the idea that all witches had familiars – animals that would help them in the devilry – this meant that any woman caught talking to or paying attention to an animal would automatically be assumed to be a witch and put on trial.
- Being Eccentric Or Loud
Talking to yourself, being different from the rest of society, or even being too loud and sassy was a surefire way to get you put on trial. Women in the 17th century were supposed to be quiet, calm, submissive, God-fearing Christians. If you displayed any kind of characteristic that went against these traits, you qualified as a witch.
- Being Able To Swim
The ability to swim was not as widespread in 1692 Salem as it is now. One of the reasons trial by water became so popular during witch trials was because it was believed that if a person, once dropped in water, was able to make it back to the surface, evil forces had to be at work.
- You Made Someone Angry
At the height of the Salem Witch Trials, people were accusing each other left and right. All it took was for you to upset someone, or make someone angry, or, in the case of Rebecca Nurse, accidentally bump into someone at church, and they would accuse you of witchcraft.
- You have birthmarks
Called the Witch’s Mark, any birthmark, or mole, or scar, or tiny skin imperfection you had was all it took for you to suddenly be a suspected witch. It was believed that through these Witch’s Marks, the witch would feed her family her blood.
- You Had Spoiled Dairy Products
During the Salem Witch Trials, something as simple as your butter or milk spoiling could qualify you as a witch. Essentially, anything out of the ordinary that happened in everyday life that the people of the time couldn’t understand was blamed on witchcraft, including spoiled dairy products. Several people claimed that their butter had gone bad in the presence of a witch on trial. This was considered evidence against her.
1692 was a dangerous time. Literally, anything could be misconstrued or misunderstood and that would automatically qualify them as a witch. To learn more about the witch trials, check out our blog about the weird tests they performed to prove someone was guilty of witchcraft in the 17th century.