I have always been interested in the idea of witchcraft and what it really means.  I had recently visited Salem to see some of the history for myself. What I learned is that these people who were charged with witchcraft were not even practicing witchcraft!! I saw a reenactment of what a trial looked like, I saw a replica of what the living spaces were like for those accused and being held in a jail, and I saw the memorials of all of those that lost their lives. 

 There was so much energy in this little place, and I cannot wait to go back because I know that there is something more that I can learn. There is so much information about the history of Witchcraft that you could really research for days!!  Not only in Salem, but accused witches were hunted and tortured all over the world!! 

The infamous Salem witch trials began during the spring of 1692, after a group of young girls in Salem Village, Massachusetts, claimed to be possessed by the devil and accused several local women of witchcraft. The first convicted witch, Bridget Bishop, was hanged that June. Eighteen others followed Bishop to Salem’s Gallows Hill, while some 150 more men, women and children were accused over the next several months and endured horrendous conditions being held in jail.

Bridget Bishop was the first person brought to trial. Bishop had been accused of witchcraft years before but was cleared of the crime. Bridget was accused by five of the afflicted girls, Abigail Williams, Ann Putnam Jr., Mercy Lewis, Mary Walcott and Elizabeth Hubbard, who stated she had physically hurt them and tried to make them sign a pact with the devil.

During her trial, Bishop repeatedly defended herself, stating “I am innocent, I know nothing of it, I have done no witchcraft …. I am as innocent as the child unborn…” Other victims included two dogs who were shot or killed after being suspected of witchcraft. It’s a common myth that the Salem Witch Trials victims were burned at the stake. The fact is, no accused witches were burned at the stake in Salem, Massachusetts. Salem was ruled by English law at the time, which only allowed death by burning to be used against men who committed high treason and only after they had been hanged, quartered and drawn.

By September 1692, public opinion turned against the trials. Though the Massachusetts General Court later annulled guilty verdicts against accused witches and granted indemnities to their families, bitterness lingered in the community, and the painful legacy of the Salem witch trials would endure for centuries.

Belief in the supernatural–and specifically in the devil’s practice of giving certain humans (witches) the power to harm others in return for their loyalty–had emerged in Europe as early as the 14th century, and was widespread in colonial New England. In addition, the harsh realities of life in the rural Puritan community of Salem Village (present-day Danvers, Massachusetts) at the time included the after-effects of a British war with France in the American colonies in 1689, a recent smallpox epidemic, fears of attacks from neighboring Native American tribes and a longstanding rivalry with the more affluent community of Salem Town (present-day Salem). 

In January of 2016, the site where the Salem Witch Trials hangings took place was officially identified as Proctor’s Ledge, which is a small wooded area in between Proctor Street and Pope Street in Salem. In 2017, on the 325th anniversary of the Salem Witch Trials, the newly built Proctor’s Ledge Memorial was unveiled at the base of the ledge on Pope Street.

Do modern witches exist? It’s been over 400 years since the Salem witch trials, but the fascination and practice of witchcraft in its many forms has never waned – it just went underground.

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Bonnie D’Angelo