Ergot & Salem Witch trials
Research into the Salem Witch trials should include a study of Ergot. A fungi growth on cereal plants including rye. A lysergic fungi,it can have profound LSD like symptons. Cause delusions,miscarriges,hallucinations and death. It can also cause extreme contortions. So in effect a food poisoning,Ergot,that comes and goes with cycles controlled by unusual rainy seasons,could well be the root cause of the symptons.
I believe the history channel covered a study of Ergot and Witchcraft outbreaks in the Middle Ages.
Hope this helps,it should be a good study.
Re: Ergot & Salem Witch trials
A few years ago I read that an epidemic in Northern France where people behaved erratic or were violently ill was produced by an ergot fungus., By coincidence my daughter had recently read that there had been many crop failures around Salem, and surrounding towns in the late 1600's.
Rumors of weird behavior In Salem and other North Shore towns in that time period caused by ergot illness could have produced "the fits" which young girls claimed had been caused by witches. Besides destructive accusations against certain people in Salem area, there might have been sheer jealousy or malice or the need for attention by the "witnesses".
My late husband is descended from the sister of John Proctor Jr, who was a fairly successful man with property and a popular tavern. John was the first man hung as a witch, but his pregnant wife (also accused of witchcraft) was finally freed and then found that their property had been seized by the town officials.
A relative of my husband's (also a Proctor descendent) married a descendent of Rebecca Towne, also accused of witchcraft. Another ancestor was one of the judges at the witch trials. Dane. His descendent married into my husband's Knowlton family. Another ancestor, Henry Herrick, later publicly apologized for being one of the jurors at the trials .
I have stayed away from the annual high jinks in Salem where people don costumes and have a high old time in that town for a wild evening, even though my daughter had lived close by in Ipswich. LHD
Re: Ergot & Salem Witch trials
Ergot poisoning was put out as a theory for the witch hysteria of 1692 by a woman who had no background in botany or medicine. It was quickly debunked by people who did have such backgrounds.
* Changing economic climate. Initially, farmers like the Putnams were the important people in the area. But as schooners set out from Salem Town harbor to bring back enormous wealth and the available land was quickly spoken for, the Putnams felt squeezed and very angry as their influence in the area declined.
* Victims. The persons accused and persecuted as witches were initially vulnerable, older woman and those who had won law suits against the Putnams.
* Samuel Parris' influence. Samuel Parris was extremely unhappy about the meagerness of his situation in Salem and as the pastor, had opportunities to speak against persons he felt offended him. Instead of a bringer of peace and understanding, he had a talent for sowing discord and divisiveness. His daughter, Elizabeth, and niece, Abigail Williams, were among the early "afflicted girls".
* The First Americans. Many Puritans feared the Natives, whom they considered to be agents of the devil. Some of the major 1692 hysteria participants had been survivors of the Indian-Puritan battles in Maine. I believe that Abigail Williams was one of the Maine war survivors.
* Charter vacated. The Royal Charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was vacated in 1684 by the Crown. Until a new charter was secured in 1692, as the Province of Massachusetts Bay, the status of the planters and their government stood on shaky ground.
* King William's War. In 1689, King William's War against the French caused people among the populations of Quebec, Nova Scotia, and northern New York to flee into Essex County. Refugees caused a lot of disruption in Salem Village.
* Suppression of segments of the population. Suppression of children and their playful natures and even hints of child and woman abuse have swirled in the Salem Villages since 1692, indicating a community in stress and children who had little opportunity to express themselves appropriately.
* Pre-meditation. The broken knife incident and many other actions by the afflicted girls abundantly indicate pre-meditation.
* Goody Glover's execution. The 1688 incident of Goody Glover's supposed enchantment of the Goodwin children in Boston was fresh in everyone's mind. The afflicted Salem girls would have known the "symptoms" the Goodwins exhibited. They mimicked them. Glover was executed for witchcraft, but really for being a widowed Catholic who spoke little English, and recited the "Lord's Prayer" in Gaelic and Latin, not acceptable to the court officials.
* Superstition blamed. "They ALL thought they were witches." No, the witch hysteria was NOT accepted by everybody in 1692. Petitions were signed to support victims, people spoke out against the kangaroo court (some became likewise accused for it, like Giles Corey), people even spoke out in 1688 against the railroading of Goody Glover. That the accused were witches who deserved to be expunged from the community was NOT a universally held opinion among Salemites.
* Apologies. When Ann Putnam Jr publicly apologized in 1709, she blamed Satan's influence in leading her astray, but never once claimed that she had hallucinations or that she had no memory of the incidents. "And particularly, as I was a chief instrument of accusing Goodwife Nurse and her two sisters, I desire to lie in the dust, and to be humble for it, . . ." Judge Samuel Sewall also apologized for his role in the trials, though he didn't take as long to do so as Putnam. "I have sinned against the Lord."
There are surely other influences that I'm not remembering at the moment. Read a variety of respected books about the events - they will bring out different aspects of the situation and surrounding history, thereby enhancing each other.
My ancestor is Henry Kenney, neighbor and friend to the Putnams. He didn't roll around on the floor howling, but was patently unhelpful. His name appears on Martha Cory's arrest warrant and he spoke out from the visitor's gallery against Rebecca Nurse during her hearing. His words were dutifully written down as though he was a sworn witness. (Ironically, his grandson eventually married her granddaughter, healing a rift.)