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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

about women.

West 2

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.

West 3

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.?

West 4

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

West 5

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.

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