Salem Witches

‘ As an anthropologist, I spent decades interviewing people in the Mayan highlands, throughout central America and Mexico, and the Andes all about their folklore, ghost stories, and witch stories… but I want to tell you the one that I grew up with in New England, a piece of folklore so important to me it changed the way I live. When we were kids, the histories and the stories of the Salem Witch Trials are something that everybody was taught. We were told these stories from our first grammar school class. I grew up during a period in the 70s where there was a whole revitalization of interest in witches. Because of the feminist movement, there was a retelling of who these women were. It is said that in 1692, the craze started… it went for a full year. Anyone who was considered an outcast or spoke out, were all accused of being witches. Here, in these little towns of New England, people were paranoid beyond belief. They were having heavy winters, people were starving, they were jealous of each other… there was so much religious belief that the devil was constantly surrounding them… he’s in the goats… he’s in your neighbor… he’s everywhere. So, in the late 1600s, this group of girls sitting around the fire, with a Caribbean woman named Tituba and the girls asked her to tell them a story to pass the time. Her story was about the devil, and the devil turning girls into witches. This got in the little girls’ heads, and before long, all of them start to have these visions of witches… that people are having paralytic attacks, epileptic attacks, visions and hallucinations, sleepwalking… They say this was all because of the witches. During this brutal Winter, the town of Salem used a book written by a British King called “How to Tell a Witch”, and they used this book to identify the ‘witches’. Over 200 people had been accused as witches. So, when I was growing up, I grew up with pictures of the Devil with puritanical etchings, pictures of the devil riding goats in the churches… These things were in my brain as real things that really happened. I was taught that the history is in my house, my clothes, the furniture, everywhere. Somehow, I am connected to them. So, I grew up with this belief that witches were our friends… that witches were these falsely accused woman… not falsely accused because witches don’t exist… we believed they did, and that they were killed because they were smart woman who spoke out and killed for that. Many of us identified as witches growing up… I did. So many of us growing up during this time thought we were witches and led a life to resemble the tales we heard of our ancestors.” – JB

JB has a personal connection to the tales of the Salem Witch Trials, specifically to the tales that were revitalized during the 70s. JB grew up very close to Salem Town, in which the trials happened. They were passed down to her throughout her childhood in places like school, or from friends and their parents. She felt so strongly about these tales and memmorates that she began to live a life similar to that of a witch. She believed she was one, she decided that her and her friends were the “new witches” and with that she prayed to the trees, the rivers, and to something much older than any religion she knew. JB recalls that the story she tells now, the tales she passes down to her own family are intertwined with those of the Salem Witches.

To me, this piece of JB’s life was very interesting, as I also grew up learning about the Salem Witch Trials, but not during a time where these stories were regenerated and strengthened. I learned about it more in the historical sense, what my teachers believed to be factual events during this time period. I was not told any tales or legends of these times. JB’s recounting of her experience shows how much historical folklore can be passed down through generations and continue to take effect on those who hear them, as it did to her and her peers. Additionally, the cultural beliefs of these legends have continued to adapt and be passed down to many audiences across the world. The adaptation can even be seen in JB’s interpretation of the legends, as in the 70s, the theme had changed to show the power of the women, rather than the ‘sin’ many past tales condemned them to have. It can also be assumed that these tales in the late 1800s and early 1900s were performed for audiences, as much folklore is. This folklore also took hold in shaping many communities throughout the last centuries, growing over time and bringing people together, fostering a sense of connection to such historical events.