NOTE: I am putting this on the Internet to give you an example of my more serious, scholarly work, and to provide you with some help in understanding the Salem Witchcraft Trials historically. This paper does not stand out as strictly a Theological one, but it does, of course, mention Witchcraft. It may be of some interest to those studying the beliefs of Puritanism and Calvinism, but do keep in mind that mainly secular authors are quoted in this paper. Let me say that I do NOT want this paper to be plagiarized! The reason I felt comfortable putting this on the internet, is that it is on a Christian webpage. Let me also say that I do not agree with all the comments in this paper, even though I was the one writing it, if that makes any sense. The point is that I wrote this paper for school, not seminary. I wrote what applied to the book, The Crucible, by Arthur Miller. After studying Biblically, I do not agree with many of the statements that were made about Calvinism. Some were a little unfair. Anywise, here is this paper that I worked so hard on for my 9th grade Honors English class. The names Reverend Parris, Reverend Hale, and John Proctor are from the novel, and the page number indicates the page number in The Crucible. The authors mentioned have been provided with the adequate information at the bottom of this paper. Parentheses indicate the page numbers that I found these quotations on in that particular book. I hope this doesn't bore you too much. (o:
Kenny Wells (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Honors English 9
May 26, 1998
Witchcraft is the most important theme in Arthur Miller's The
Crucible, for it is from the
belief in witchcraft that the action of the story is fully displayed. Therefore, it is imperative in
fully understanding the story, to know its historical and theological background must be known.
It is essential to know the overall definition of witchcraft, from Puritans and more contemporary
writers alike. Also, understanding the Puritan conceptions of their belief in witchcraft is just as
vital, for if their reasoning remains unknown, the trials will not make sense at all, but will seem
utterly foolish--having no real basis for the idea of trials for witches. One thing that must be
considered is that these beliefs, although very important to the Puritans of that time, show their
lack of formal education since there are numerous mistakes recorded before, after, and during the
proceedings of the infamous witch trials of Salem, Massachusetts. Not only should definitions,
explanations, and mistakes be brought forth from the trial, it is just as vital that the total outcome
of the trial be known, such as the excuse for the trials' end and the full body count and overall
damage assessment that these trials have brought about. Witch trials may seem rather confusing,
but hopefully with the help of Puritan writings, contemporary scholars, and other writers alike
the many readers of Arthur Miller's famous play can finally understand the full meaning and
historical, theological, and factual information that is portrayed in the content of the play.
Although now quite dim, hopefully it is still possible to shed some light on the subject finally
comprehend the importance of the trials to the people of the 17th century--most notably the
As shown during the Salem witchcraft trials of the late 1600's, the majority of Puritans of the time hated sorcery of any sort; this fact is frequently present in the various written documents describing the religious convictions of the Puritans of the 17th century. Explanations vary only slightly concerning the definition of witchcraft. The words of Cotton Mather, a contemporary of the trials, can be ascribed to form an accurate description of witchcraft. "Witchcraft is the doing of strange (and for the most part ill)things by the help of evil Spirits, covenanting with (and usually representing of) the woeful Children of Men" (Mather 193). Mr. Mather adds his opinion also, in saying that "Suchan Hellish thing there is as Witchcraft in the World" (Mather 193). Also, "Witchcraft is the use of supposed magic powers, generally to harm people or to damage their property"(Dundes 373). While seeking Reverend Hale's help, Reverend Parris inadvertently gives his own idea of the doctrine of witchcraft since he wants someone who "has much experience in all demonic arts. . ." (14). Needless to say, most interpretations of this evil doctrine provide the negative connotations that the Puritans must have recognized as being abhorable and totally detestable.
Now that the definition has been given, the need should be to understand the things that have shaped their belief in witchcraft and provide the background of the Salem witchcraft trials; the three most important reasons being the Bible, ancestral tradition, and paranoia. Each has good applications and supports the intensity and conviction that is present in the writings of several Puritans of the time, such as Cotton Mather. Likewise,"[t]he Salem witch trials represent how far the Puritans were ready to go in taking their doctrines seriously" (Warshow 112). One of the most important factors is the platform ofScripture, since the Scriptures are a foundation to many in providing the justification of the court proceedings. The principle verse quoted is "[t]hou shalt not suffer a witch to live" (Ex. 22:18). Their teaching is not humanistic to say the least, since "[t]hey lived in a universe where each man was saved or damned by himself, and what happened to themwas personal" (Warshow 113). The reason for the seeming cold-heartedness towardpersons in the trial is their idea of election, according to Robert Warshow:
For this community of "dissent" inexorably stripped of all principle and all specific belief, has retreated in at last into a kind of extreme Calvinism of its own where political truth ceases to have any real connection with politics but becomes a property of the soul. Apart from all belief and all action, these people are "right" in themselves, and no longer need to prove themselves in the world of experience. (121)
Tradition was equally important:
The people of Salem did not, of course, invent a belief in witchcraft; they were however, the inheritors of a witchcraft tradition that had a long and bloody history in their native England and throughout most of Europe. To the Puritans of Massachusetts, witchcraft was as real a manifestation of the Devil's efforts to overthrow "God's Kingdom" as the periodic raids of his Indian disciples against the frontier settlements. (Martin 94)
Ancestry plays an important role since their "forefathers believed in witchcraft, not because they were Colonials, not because they were New Englanders--but because they were men of their time" (Kittredge 22). Finally, paranoia has played a major role in the course of the novel. Parris's paranoia shows forth when he concludes that "[t]here is a party in this church. I am not blind; there is a faction and a party" (30). Although previously noted by Mr. Martin, witchcraft "was as real manifestation of the Devil's efforts to overthrow 'God's Kingdom' as the. . . raids of his Indian disciples" (Martin 94). Their perseverance is supported by the idea of defending and upholding the Bible.
Now that the explications and reasonings of the Puritans are now known, it should be considered wise to look at the mistakes in the chain of events of the trials, for there are many. The evidence of mistakes is contained in the words of Mr. Henry Popkin, who claims "[t]he citizens of Salem have been concerned with scoring points against one another, with establishing their own superior virtue and the depraved character of their enemies" (81-82). Brattle Thomas, a contemporary of the trials, also provides a record of the mistakes:
These confessors, as they are called, do very often contradict themselves, as inconsistently as is usual for any crazed, distempered person to do. This the Salem gentlemen do see and take notice of; and even the judges themselves have at some times, taken these confessors in flat lies, or contradictions, even in the courts. (203)
Reverend Parris expresses that the whole community might recognize these errors when he says "[t]his way, unconfessed and claiming innocence, doubts are multiplied, many honest people will weep for them, and our good purpose is lost in their tears" (128). Then, Reverend Parris proves the community dissent in saying "when I summoned the congregation for John Proctor's excommunication there were hardly thirty people come to hear it. That speak a discontent, I think. . ." (128). Today's scholars, like the Puritans, obviously notice the mistakes in this historical tragedy.
The ideas are presented, but scrutinous, correct perceptions of the event should include the reason for the ending of these trials and the overall damage and harm that remains recorded in history. The explanation for the trials' end is rather unusual, since"[a]s historians occasionally have pointed out, the executions did not stop because the people in Massachusetts suddenly ceased to believe in either the Devil or witchcraft; they stopped, simply and ironically, because of a legal question" (Martin 101). After completion of this mockery of judiciality, the physical effects are still recorded in history, for "the darkest page of New England history is, by common consent, that which is inscribed with the words Salem Witchcraft" (Kittredge 20). The effects of the Salem witch trials are "[b]y September 22 the court had tried and convicted 27 persons. Nineteen were hanged, and one, Giles Corey, was pressed to death by stones. In addition, about 50 had confessed, 100 were in prison waiting trial, and accusations had touched another 200" (Zeichner 31). After the damage's completion, redresses were made. It should be known that "[i]n the subsequent reaction, jurors admitted their errors, and Judge Samuel Sewall publicly confessed his culpability, as did Rev. John Hale, chief witness against Bridget Bishop. In 1711, heirs of the alleged witches were voted compensation for their losses" (Zeichner 31). The driving theological source, according to Robert Callif, is difficult to determine:
And whether to ascribe such power of commissioning Devils to the worst of Men, be not direct blasphemy, I leave to others better able to determine. When the Pharisees were so wicked as to ascribe to Beelzebub, the mighty works of Christ (whereby he did manifestly shew forth his Power and Godhead) then it was that our Saviour declard'd the Sin against the Holy Ghost to be unpardonable. (214)
According to the Puritans, the driving force of the trials is unknown, yet the fact remains that history can never be changed.
The Salem witchcraft trials will never be forgotten. Hopefully now the facts are understood. Universally, the definition is unchangeable, the reasonings are often unclear, the mistakes prevalent, and the outcome is forevermore sealed as an event in history that is best left unrepeated. To avoid unnecessary repetition, such mistakes are to be learned from. A court, or other governmental body, should know the problem's true definition, have clear reasonings, possess few mistakes, and ultimately accheive a fair and proper outcome in order to go beyond a simple understanding of the Salem witchcraft trials, but use the knowledge attained to learn from the past.
Brattle, Thomas. "'Witches' Have Been Unfairly Persecuted." Puritanism: Opposing Viewpoints. Eds. William Dudley and Teresa O'Neill. San Diego: Greenhaven, 1994. 200-207.
Calef, Robert. "The Witch Trials Reflect a Lack of Faith in God." Puritanism: Opposing Viewpoints. Eds. Wiliam Dudley and Teresa O'Neill. San Diego: Greenhaven, 1994. 200-207.
Dundes, Alan. "Witchcraft." The World Book Encyclopedia, 1988 ed.Kittredge, George L. "Witchcraft and the Puritans." Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Crucible. Ed. John H. Ferres. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972. 20-23.
Martin, Robert A. "Arthur Miller's The Crucible: Background and Sources." Critical Essays on Arthur Miller. Ed. James J. Martine. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co, 1979. 103-104.
Mather, Cotton. "Witches Should Be Condemned." Puritanism: Opposing Viewpoints. Eds. William Dudley and Teresa O'Neill. San Diego: Greenhaven, 1994. 192-199.
Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. 1952. New York: Penguin, 1981.
Popkin, Henry. "Historical Analogy and The Crucible." Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Crucible. Ed. John H. Ferres. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1972. 77-85.
Warshow, Robert. "The Liberal Conscience in The Crucible." Arthur Miller: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Robert W. Corrigan. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969. 111-121.
Zeichner, Oscar. "Salem Witch Trials." Lexicon Universal Encyclopedia. 1983 ed.
Back to Kenny Wells' Home Page
Back to Lambert Dolphin's Library