As a country we have done some silly things, but by far the silliest was when we decided people were dabbling in the occult because a bunch of teenagers said it was so. This resulted in the executions of twenty innocent men and women between 1692 and 1693, which is a tragedy, but an absurd one if you look at the actual reasons people were accused of being flesh vessels for the devil.
Here are some of those reasons:
Reason #1: Being sarcastic. There was this constable, John Willard, who was responsible for making the arrests. Having brought in a staggering number of obviously not-witches, he grew disillusioned with the whole charade. Eventually he threw up his hands and said with great mockery, “Hang them all! They’re all witches,” probably with an exasperated eye roll to boot. The town responded with “Well, that sounds like something a witch would say,” and Willard was promptly executed.
And let me tell you—had I been living in seventeenth-century Massachusetts while people were being hanged for witchcraft left and right, this is exactly what I would have gone down for.
Reason #2: You didn’t hear the question. At the hallowed age of 71, Rebecca Nurse was one of the oldest people accused of witchcraft in Salem. The nail in her coffin, so to speak, was when they straight-up asked her if she was a witch and she failed to respond because she was an old lady, slightly deaf, and literally just didn’t hear them.
Reason #3: Slamming the church door. Sarah Cloyce had heard of closing the goddamn door. The problem is that the door in question was a church door, and she was allegedly shutting it WITH THE DEVIL’S STEADY HAND.
Reason #4: Lifting something heavy. Not to make light of this man’s death, but whenever I see someone lifting something heavy, I too feel sure that the only possible explanation is sorcery. I’m just saying—if George Burroughs didn’t want people accusing him of witchcraft, maybe he should’ve thought about that before he picked up a really heavy musket.
I saw Jean Valjean with the devil.
Credit: Universal Pictures
Reason #5: Making a witch cake, as requested. If you’re unfamiliar with what a witch cake is, you’re about to get real familiar. A witch cake was made from the urine of somebody thought to be a victim of witchery. This unholy human offense was then fed to an innocent dog, an act said to cause pain to the witch in question (thus outing them to the public) using a combination of 1) dark magic and 2) the greatest leap of logic ever committed on historical record.
What’s wild is that the person who took the fall for the witch cake, Tituba, wasn’t even the one who started it. A neighbor said, “HERE’S HOW WE FIND THE WITCHES,” and Tituba, a slave girl, was like, “Okay, sure.” The town then said, presumably, “TO THE GALLOWS WITH THIS HELL-WOMAN, POSTHASTE.”
Reason #6: Someone claimed to have seen a flock of birds land on your head one time. A lot of testimony in the Salem trials relied on totally arbitrary “spectral evidence.” I guess, to be fair, we cannot conclusively say that a flock of birds did not land on Martha Corey’s head.
Reason #7: Laughing at how stupid the Salem witch trials actually were. The judge told Susannah Martin she was being accused of witchcraft because her presence was causing people to have fits. Susannah laughed at the accusation, which I don’t mind saying is raw as hell. Imagine staring down the business end of a hangman’s noose and throwing back your head with a carefree chortle. She died for this, however; the best heroes always do.
Reason #8: Your child said so. Sarah Goode was ratted out by her own four-year-old daughter. Now this is pretty ridiculous for a number of reasons, and all of them include the fact that children are sometimes dumb. I know this because I was the dumbest of them all. One time I told my mom I swallowed a quarter even though I didn’t. Why did I do this? There is no why, I just did it.
Reason #9: Having an unfavorable personality. Rachel Clinton was unpopular in Salem. She was impoverished, basically divorced, and given to sometimes shouting things at people in the streets. As a result, she was deemed suspiciously witchy. Records say the allegations involved Rachel “hunching her elbow” at people in public, whatever that means.
Reason #10: You got into an argument with someone and then, later on, something bad happened to them. This was called “anger before mischief,” and it was the basis for a number of arrests in Salem, including Elizabeth Howe’s. The family accusing her said they had rejected her request to join their church, and, consequently, one of their cows died. I am 100% serious about this.