History It Happened Once

I Googled the Salem Witch Trials so you don’t have to – and they are hella confusing

As a part of our Halloween series this year, since we’ll be mentioning witches a lot, let’s talk about the Salem Witch Trials and how the events that took place do not make any sense.

Honestly, after reading a bunch about the “trials,” I still do not really understand what happened or why it happened. Suggestions about fungus causing illnesses and other analyses on political issues within Salem at the time are speculations that are often used to try to explain the trials. But, you have to admit that there are a bunch of missing pieces in the story. The whole thing sounds like complete chaos to me!

I have so many questions. Like, why did they randomly believe the claims of young girls without any true evidence? Who really thought that allowing spectral evidence was a good idea? How were the accused supposed to prove to a court that they were not actually witches? And lastly, what were the true reasons and motivations behind this tragedy?

So let me explain what all went down in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692 and 1693.  It all began when the daughter and niece of Reverend Samuel Parris, the minister of Salem Village, began having violent fits, intense contortions, and uncontrollable outbursts such as screaming. After a local doctor in Salem could not find anything physically wrong with 9-year-old Elizabeth Parris an 11-year-old Abigail Williams, he diagnosed them and other young girls within the community that showed similar behaviors and symptoms with bewitchment. This first diagnosis of witchcraft led to the imprisonment of over 200 people and 20 hangings throughout Massachusetts.

Puritan pioneers first settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. During this time, the Puritan communities established their own theocratic government systems. Theocracy is a form of government largely led and structured by those who believed to be divinely guided. The government and legal system are structured based on religious law.

You still with me?

The Puritans believed that the Devil could give individuals on Earth powers in return for their loyalty. (and that isn’t even the most ridiculous claim) Those who received powers from the Devil were called witches. The principle of witchcraft became prevalent in 14th century Europe, where between the 1300s and 1600s, thousands of people, the majority being women, were executed for accusations of witchcraft. Under the legal structure in Salem, an individual who consorted with the Devil was considered a criminal. The punishment for committing such a crime was hanging, yikes!

During the time of the Salem Witch Trials, the community was stressed and struggling. The King William’s War put a strain on the community’s resources. Additionally, there was a rivalry between wealthy families and the working class that depended on forms of agriculture. There was also an on-going smallpox epidemic and fear of attack from neighboring Native Americans. The stressful and anxiety-fueled climate of the community led to ongoing tensions and suspicions among the Puritan villagers.

After the diagnosis of bewitchment, a few of the “bewitched” young girls blamed three women for bewitching them. The first is Tituba, an enslaved woman from the Caribbean bought by the Reverend Parris. The second woman was Sarah Good, a homeless beggar.  And lastly, an impoverished elderly woman named Sarah Osborne. Of course, all three of the accused women were considered “outsiders” based on race and/or class. (Is anyone shocked?)

It remains unclear if the girls were persuaded or forced to accuse these three women. However, I think that the social statuses and positions of the women in society should be considered when trying to interpret the potential reasons that these three women in particular were actually accused of the crime of witchcraft.

This is where the whole thing launched full speed into a downward spiral to me. The imprisonment of the three women led to further paranoia in a society that already suffered from numerous stresses. Good and Osborne claimed that they were not guilty; while Tituba confessed and named other witches who were working along with her against the Puritans to receive repentance. In response to Tituba claiming other individuals were also practicing witchcraft, the governor of Massachusetts ordered the establishment of the Court of Oyer and Terminer to pass judgment on witchcraft cases.

The accusations of witchcraft continued to spread across the Massachusetts colonies against mostly women and a few men (which I did not know). Similarly to Tituba, those accused confessed and named others who practiced witchcraft. The court allowed testimony based on spectral evidence. This refers to evidence that is based on visions, dreams, and a person’s spirit. The testimony was based on witnesses claiming that they interacted with or saw a person’s spirit, in place of basing testimony on a person’s physical actions. The trails lacked focus on truth and investigation. Under religious practices, the courts preferred that the accused confessed, asked for forgiveness, and vowed to not engage with the Devil again.

After years and the (unlawful) deaths and imprisonment of so many people, the Court of Oyer and Terminer was finally replaced with the Superior Court of Judicature, the testimony of spectral evidence was no longer allowed, and the trials were deemed unlawful. In 1697, the General Court ordered a day of fasting and soul-searching due to the events that had occurred during the trials. Additionally, in 1711, the families affected received reinstitution and the restoration of the names. However, it was not until the 1950s that Massachusetts formally apologized for the event.

The whole story is definitely a lot to digest, but it did give me a lot to think about.

While many aspects of the Salem Witch Trails are perplexing, within this tragedy remains lessons that should be reflected on and questioned today. It remains crucial to have objectivity, to think about the consequences of unjustly punishing individuals, to be cautious of the use of fear within the justice system, and to foresee the damages of groupthink going unquestioned.

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TV Shows Pop Culture

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is wickedly good

When I was younger I wanted to be a witch. I’m not talking about signing my soul to Satan and all that, I just wanted magical powers. I blame my love of witches on shows and movies like Charmed, Halloweentown and of course the OG Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

That was my favorite show as a child. I loved the hijinks and Salem’s sassy lines. I appreciated the love connection between Harvey and Sabrina. There is a lot to love about the original sitcom, but I don’t want to compare it to the newest Netflix reboot.

I’ve had the pleasure of watch The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina early. The show is produced by the same team who brought you the wonderful mess that is Riverdale. The premise is simple: Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka), a half-witch, half-human must choose between her mortal life or the path of darkness. It’s a trope we’ve long grown tired of. A woman forced to choose between two things she really loves!  What will she choose? How will she muster up the strength to leave her boyfriend behind?

Yes, it is a tired trope. But by the end of the season, Sabrina Spellman grows into her own, not only as a witch but as a woman. From the first episode we see Sabrina struggling to accept the fact that on her 16th birthday, the day of her dark baptism, she might be signing away her autonomy.

Once a witch signs her name in the book of the beast, she belongs to the Dark Lord. Sabrina wants the power, but she always wants to retain her freedom. It’s Prudence (Tati Gabrielle), a marvelous witch, who reminds her that having both freedom and power is an unrealistic feat for women like them: “He’s a man, isn’t he?” It’s this dichotomy between freedom and power that really sets a grim tone for the series. These women are powerful but also trapped in their own prison created by the Dark Lord himself. Even the Church of Night is dripping with sexism.

It’s the sumptuous visuals and self-aware lines that really portray a haunting and chilling world of Greendale. Sometimes I was frustrated with Sabrina’s love of the mortal world (Let’s be real, being a mortal is a snoozefest). The world of Wicca is enticing and much more interesting than anything the world of Greendale an ever offer (Orgies! Sacrifice!).

There is a lot to say about the season, but I would break down the highlights and downsides of the show.

The highlights were, of course, most of the female characters. The best ones, the evil ones, were fully fleshed out and human. Witchcraft has always been viewed as a practice for women. A community of women sticking together and having their own power.

Aunt Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Zelda (Miranda Otto) are of course here to lead Sabrina and guide her. The two are completely reimagined from the sitcom, with Zelda being much sharper and witty then Hilda. Netflix’s version of Aunt Hilda is sweeter and more docile, which isn’t bad. I just wish there was a little more edge in her character.

Ambrose Spellman (Chance Perdomo), Sabrina’s cousin and guide is also a delight. He’s pansexual (hello representation), smart and yes very handsome. His character arc doesn’t rely heavily on Sabrina, he can shine as his own separate entity. I hope to see more of him next season.

The A+ role goes to Ms. Wardwell or otherwise known as Madame Satan (Michelle Gomez). She is cunning, manipulative and evil. Everything a good witch should be. Even when she’s trying to manipulate Sabrina into doing her bidding (per order from Satan himself) you kind of almost… root for her.

I would also say that the side characters, Susie (Lachlan Watson), Roz (Jaz Sinclair), and Prudence shine in their own light. While Susie’s storyline could use a little more character development, the two other characters who are black women prove they’re more than just tokens. Roz deals with the possibility of disability and Prudence struggles to maintain her own power.

The greatest downside, however, is attributed to the focus of the mortal world and Sabrina’s romance. Sabrina and Harvey falling in love is canon. You cannot tell the story of Sabrina the teenage witch without including Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch). The problem is the relationship between the two of them is so boring I found myself rooting for Sabrina to fall in love with the sexy, charming warlock Nicholas Scratch (Gavin Leatherwood). It came to a point where I was yelling at her from my screen.

Why is she so in love with him? I mean is that love really worth giving up a life of awesome magic, for a man with the personality of a wet towel? I would say no.

Besides the failed Harvey romance and lack of voice from our favorite cat, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a deliciously wicked show. The intertwining of themes like freedom, power, and womanhood really blend together to bring wonderfully supernatural horror show.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina streams on Netflix on Friday, October 26th.