The Salem Witch Trials in Context:
In chapters 17 & 18 of Judges, we find a story about Micah=s idol. Early in the story we learn that a man named Micah and his mother agree to make an idol. Judges 17:3 records the mother as saying, AI solemnly consecrate my silver to Yahweh for my son to make a carved image and a cast idol.@ Consider that statement: She was making an idol for the Lord.
Since these were good Israelites, they realized that appropriate worship of Yahweh required the use of a Levite as priest. A young Levite happened upon the home and was hired by the pair to act as a priest for the idol in their home. Following various other dealings which involved a cohort of Danites traveling through Judah, we learn that this young Levite was a grandson of Moses himself. Judges 18:30.
This story illustrates a few things which are important for our consideration tonight: First, godly parents, even when parents as godly as Moses, do not guarantee godly children or grandchildren. However true the springs of grace in a home, they can go dry even when certain forms of religion remain.
Second, true religion can be mixed with foreign elements which completely change the meaning of the true religion. When people mix true religion with foreign elements, they do not think that they are doing something strange or inexplicable. Remember, Micah and his mother thought they were actually following after Yahweh B even though Yahweh specifically condemned the making of idols.
When Micah and his mother made an idol, they believed themselves to be acting in a rational, reasonable manner. We, of course, think of the use of any statutes in worship to be gross superstition. Yet, in 1300 B.C. in Canaan, idol worship was the height of science and reason. When Micah made an idol, he was merely using the most up‑to‑date thinking available and applying it to the worship of Yahweh.
Everyone used idols. Idol worship was what the best people did in the big cities like Babylon and Nineveh. It was done in Egypt. In fact, the only people who did not use idols were the country rubes in the hill country of Canaan: the Israelites. The Israelites apparently decided that the things they saw in the world around them were worth weight than the scared decrees of God.
That sort of thinking plagued the people of God before the time of Christ. And, adding the world=s views into the Church has plagued the people of God since the time of Christ. The sorry events in the history of the church have all come from church compromising with the world and incorporating worldly ideas into a place where the Bible should have full sway.
An example of this is the Salem Witch Trials.
If you speak well of the Puritans, you=re like to hear about the Salem Witch Trials in response. Such a person will say, AThe Puritans were violent, superstitious men who hated and violently suppressed anyone who disagreed with them; particularly women who had the temerity to speak up or act differently.@
The sorry events which took place in Salem and the surrounding are probably the most famous events which are attributed to Puritans and puritanism. What most people know about the events comes from Arthur Miller=s play, The Crucible.
Let us start with the obvious: Miller was writing a work of fiction and he was trying to make a point about American politics. Whether it is a good or bad play, whether good or bad politics, is irrelevant for us. It=s not good history. So if you think you know something about the Trials based upon the play, please forget what you heard. While we=re at it: Also forget everything you every thought you knew about the Puritans which you gathered from The Scarlet Letter.
What we are going to do tonight is try to put the Witch Trials into some perspective and see if there is any useful lesson we can learn from them, both about the Puritans and about ourselves.
Professor Linder of the University of Missouri, Kansas City summarizes the results of the hysteria as follows:
From June through September of 1692, nineteen men and women, all having been convicted of witchcraft, were carted to Gallows Hill, a barren slope near Salem Village,
for hanging. Another man of over eighty years was pressed to death under heavy stones or refusing to submit to a trial on witchcraft charges. Hundreds of others faced
accusations of witchcraft. Dozens languished in jail for months without trials. Then, almost as soon as it had begun, the hysteria that swept through Puritan Massachusetts ended.
Why did this travesty of justice occur? Why did it occur in Salem? Nothing about this tragedy was inevitable. Only an unfortunate combination of an ongoing frontier war,
economic conditions, congregational strife, teenage boredom, and personal jealousies can account for the spiraling accusations, trials, and executions that occurred in the spring and summer of 1692 .
How did all this come about? As you may know, the entire series of events began when a young girl became strangely ill. Her perplexing illness set off a series of bizarre accusations,investigations which led to the deaths and imprisonments.
Well respected academic historians have poured over the records of the event in remarkable detail. Despite the large amount of contemporary evidence and the work of hundreds of investigators, there are still fundamental facts which are disputed.
What appears to be fairly certain is that Salem Village was a nightmare of petty jealousy, unkindness and gossip. The small church in Salem Village was a litigation machine. Twoconsecutive pastors of the church sued the Village B as you probably know, locales retained ministers as a public expense. The third minister left on less than happy terms. The witchcraft trials began in house the current minister, Samuel Parris.
Samuel Parris was at war with his village. Most everyone wanted to go to church, but not everyone in village was converted. Thus, the obvious problems of church, state, a public religion and individual nature of conversion all came to the forefront. Parris preached scathing sermons directed at the Villagers. When communion would come, he would dismiss those he understood to not be truly converted. He seemed to be making worse the personal animosities existing in the Village by emphasizing a kind of spiritual warfare which pitted the saved against the unsaved. Note that Paul said our warfare is not against flesh and blood, nor are our weapons carnal.
In this strife‑ridden village, in this intense atmosphere of us‑and‑them conflict which confused personal, political, economic and spiritual concerns the first witchcraft victims emerged.
There is dispute as to whether the girls were engaging in fortune telling and other superstitious or occult activities Parris= home. Parris had a slave he had picked up in the Carribean, who very well could have been superstitious and given fortune telling. She may have taught the girls such things. This slave was the first one to confess to being a witch. Professor Horton of Cornell describes the confession process as follows:
Tituba [Parris= slave] previously questioned at Parris=s request,  had acknowledged some acquaintance with witchcraft but denied being a witch. [At the next questioning] Tibuta confessed to committing malefice [being a witch] because, she later informed a critic of the trials, Parris beat her until she agreed to admit guilt.
In the Devil=s Snare, p. 27. At the time, torture to obtain confession was an accepted European practice, going back to pre‑Christian law. By way of contrast, look through the Mosaic law, which would be the closet biblical model. Nothing in the law even suggests torture as a basis for confession. The dignity and value of humanity is everywhere emphasized in the law.
While it is a topic for another time, you should know that as the dignity of humanity is being decreased in popular scientific world B humans are essentially meat‑machines driven by their genes and environment, controlled by education and victims of their biology B the law is changing to match the decreased value of humanity. I recall an essay in a legal publication saying something along the lines that we don=t punish bad machines. Anyway, back to New England.
In the wider world, things were certainly stressful. There was vicious and quite dangerous warns going on with the Indian Tribes. There had been serious political problems involving the Colony and England. In fact, judges involved in the eventual witch trials had been unsuccessful military leaders in the Indian Wars.
Professor Norton made an interesting connection between the Indian Wars and the descriptions of the spirits who afflicted the people:
There were Arepeated spectral sightings [visions of the devil or a spirit] of the >black man=, whom the afflicted described as resembling an Indian; and in the threats that the witches and the devil B just as the Wabanakis [Indians] had B would >tear to pieces= or >knock in the head= of those who opposed them.@ 297.
There were other such connections to the colonists= nightmares about being killed in the wars. In fact, Professor Norton goes so far to say that if the Second Indian war had not occurred, Athe Essex County witchcraft crisis of 1692 would not have occured. This is not to say that the war >caused= the witchcraft crisis, but rather that the conflict created conditions that allowed the criss to develop as rapidly and extensively as it did.@ 298 She supports this conclusion by noting that there had been other accusations of witchcraft which did not explode at the Salem incident did: The extraordinary fear and stress provoked the people to give vent to the search.
Perhaps going further than the evidence will permit, but certainly possibly, Professor Norton suggests that the people, particularly the judges, were anxious to find responsibility for their failings in the war as arising from something other than themselves, a power so great that they could not control it: hence the witches. While I am not certain of her ability to read into the minds of people hundreds of years past, you can certainly see the sort of motivations which could have made the scare easier to occur.
The people were fearful, bored, stressed, angry and beset with non‑Christian superstitions, as we shall see. The historians which have examined the evidence have concluded that the accusations had more to do with jealousies, fears, retribution and self‑defense than anything else. The conduct of the people had nothing little to do with Christianity and little to do with Puritanism.
The theories of witches and witchcraft derived ultimately from cultural forms and Ascience@ if you will then current in the world. At times, various biblical texts were pressed into service to support the idea which everyone already held. In our introductory story about Micah: He and is mother still talked about Yahweh and still hired a Levite to help with their worship. So they were still using elements from the Mosaic Law to support their ideas.
So let=s consider the context in which these things transpired and how that relates to Christianity and Puritanism.
The prosecution of witches in Salem sprang from the following theory:
A. If something good happens to us, it is because God is pleased with our conduct. If something bad happens to us, it is because God is displeased with our conduct.
B. If something bad happens to us, God has permitted Satan and his evil spirits to work against us.
C. Satan and his evil spirits have used human beings to somehow facilitate the evil which is done to us. These human facilitators are Awitches@.
D. Bad things have happened to us. Therefore, we must find the witches and kill them to make the bad things stop happening.
Just look at that theory and consider: While there are points of contact with biblical ideas, the biblical content has been so diluted and mixed as to be completely perverted: Just like Micah making an idol for Yahweh.
The Salem Witch Trials did not arise out of Christianity or Puritanism. The Witch Trials occurred because the people of New England had mixed worldly ideas with Christian words.
Here is the lesson: Every‑time the Church allows worldly authority to invade the sphere reserved to God=s authority, every time the church compromises the truth of Scripture with the ideas of man, the Gospel suffers.
The Belief in the Supernatural:
I looked at the Wikipedia article on the Witch Trials, not because I considered it a reliable source about what happened, but rather because it is a source about what the public believes happened. One paragraph in the article, given as the AReligious Context@ for the trails reads:
The Puritans believed in the existence of an invisible world inhabited by God and the angels, including the Devil (who was seen as a fallen angel) and his fellow demons. To Puritans, this invisible world was as real as the visible one around them .
This article tells us nothing but that the people in New England believed in the supernatural. This belief is not peculiar to Christians or to Puritans. . Non‑Christians from around the world at all times have believed in the supernatural.
As a side note a recent study of American believes determined that being a conservative Evangelical made you least likely to believe in nonsense, pseudo‑science and superstition. The following is a quotation from an Article in this weeks= Wall Street Journal:
In fact, the more traditional and evangelical the respondent, the less likely he was to believe in, for instance, the possibility of communicating with people who are dead.
This is not a new finding. In his 1983 book “The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener,” skeptic and science writer Martin Gardner cited the decline of traditional religious belief among the better educated as one of the causes for an increase in pseudoscience, cults and superstition. He referenced a 1980 study published in the magazine Skeptical Inquirer that showed irreligious college students to be by far the most likely to embrace paranormal beliefs, while born‑again Christian college students were the least likely.
Surprisingly, while increased church attendance and membership in a conservative denomination has a powerful negative effect on paranormal beliefs, higher education doesn’t. Two years ago two professors published another study in Skeptical Inquirer showing that, while less than one‑quarter of college freshmen surveyed expressed a general belief in such superstitions as ghosts, psychic healing, haunted houses, demonic possession, clairvoyance and witches, the figure jumped to 31% of college seniors and 34% of graduate students.
We can’t even count on self‑described atheists to be strict rationalists. According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life’s monumental “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey” that was issued in June, 21% of self‑proclaimed atheists believe in either a personal God or an impersonal force. Ten percent of atheists pray at least weekly and 12% believe in heaven.
On Oct. 3, Mr. Maher debuts “Religulous,” his documentary that attacks religious belief. He talks to Hasidic scholars, Jews for Jesus, Muslims, polygamists, Satanists, creationists, and even Rael ‑‑ prophet of the Raelians ‑‑ before telling viewers: “The plain fact is religion must die for man to live.”
But it turns out that the late‑night comic is no icon of rationality himself. In fact, he is a fervent advocate of pseudoscience. The night before his performance on Conan O’Brien, Mr. Maher told David Letterman ‑‑ a quintuple bypass survivor ‑‑ to stop taking the pills that his doctor had prescribed for him. He proudly stated that he didn’t accept Western medicine. On his HBO show in 2005, Mr. Maher said: “I don’t believe in vaccination. . . . Another theory that I think is flawed, that we go by the Louis Pasteur [germ] theory.” He has told CNN’s Larry King that he won’t take aspirin because he believes it is lethal and that he doesn’t even believe the Salk vaccine eradicated polio .
Yes, it=s true that the belief in a supernatural world was necessary to believe that someone could be league with Satan. However, that belief is not a unique Puritan belief. For example, the Puritans also believed that there was a physical world which they could experience. The belief in a natural world was also necessary for the witch trials to occur.
Second Point: Retribution Theology:
The people in New England, like Christians elsewhere believed that God was interacting with the world. Again, there is nothing peculiarly Christian or Puritan about this belief. In the beginning of the Illiad, Homer tell us that Zeus was busy accomplishing his will in the acts of the Trojan War.
Now, there are uniquely Christian aspects of the belief in God=s providence. Unfortunately, the people of New England did not hold to a biblical or even a Puritan understanding of God=s providence. There is significant evidence that while there were many AChristians@ in quotation marks, there were significantly fewer people who were truly converted.
On this point, there non‑biblical ideas caused a problem. The people of New England held to a basically pagan understanding of God=s providence: They believed that if things went well, it was because God was happy with the things which had been doing just then. If things went poorly, it was because God was unhappy with their most recent behavior. They thought that they could tell what God was doing and why he was doing it. This is a radically unbiblical idea. One of the main points of the Book of Job is that God does not always permit suffering as a response to a great sin; nor does God bring material prosperity as a sign that God is rewarding righteousness.
The great Puritan preacher Thomas Brooks specifically warned against just such a kind of thinking:
No man can tell how the heart of God standsCby his hand. God’s hand of mercy may beopen to those against whom his heart is setCas you see in the rich poor fool, and Dives,in the Gospel. And his hand of severity may lie hard upon those on whom he has set his heartCas you may see in Job and Lazarus.
Mute Christian, 304. The people of New England were under a great deal of pressure do to the growth of the Colony, a conflict with England and the Indian Wars in Maine. The people in
Salem Village were involved in petty conflict with their neighbors. The church in which the problem started was pressured with problems. Everyone saw these problems as a sign of God=s displeasure brought active work of Satan.
This is the point where witchcraft comes in: The people believed that if they suffered a setback in their crops or their health or the wars, it must because someone was a witch, in league with Satan who was acting to send ill‑fortune. Of course they believe that God had permitted it the witch=s work, but it was still the work of a witch.
Point Three: Witchcraft
The concept of dangerous witches who need to be killed is by no means an idea which existed only within the context of Western Christianity. Witches have been considered dangerous by non‑Christian and non‑Western people. Killing of Witches occurred before Christianity. And killing of witches continues to this day.
Just this last week, I found a story about a Muslim Cleric calling for the killing of Soccorers (witches) who did they work on television.
If medieval Christianity had any particular effect upon witch‑hunting it may have been the advent of some sort of trial, a process to determine whether someone was actually a witch prior to killing the person. Moreover, even during the Middle Ages there were disputes about the existence of true witchcraft or what to do about such people The fact of witch trials began in earnest during the 1400’s. In 1486, Pope Innocent VIII published the Malleus Maleficarum, The Hammer of the Witches (written by James Sprenger and Henry Kramer ), which gave detailed instructions for understanding witches, their conduct, and the means to properly try them .
During the 16th Century, the social, political and religious disturbances that place during the time of Reformation only increased suspicion and lead to an increasing number of witch trials and persecutions. The total number of such executions is not the 9,000,000 promoted by various neo‑pagan writers. The true number is something under 100,000, likely around 50,000 . The executions were made by both Protestants and Catholics. The figure in England is far smaller. According to Professor Sommerville of the University of Wisconsin‑Madison:
The number of witches who were tried and executed was very low by Continental standards. In Britain between around 1550 and 1685, there were probably fewer than 5,000 witchcraft trials (more than half of them in Scotland); in England, rather fewer than 500 witches were executed (in Scotland the figure was more like 1,000‑1,500). (These figures can be contrasted with approximately 50,000 trials of German witches during the same period, or with the 300 Protestants executed during the five and a half years of Mary Tudor’s reign).
Many of those accused of witchcraft were not found guilty, and many of those found guilty were not executed. Repeat offenders and those found guilty of causing a person=s death by witchcraft were the most likely to suffer capital punishment. (On the European Continent the worst outbreaks of witch‑hunting resulted in very high rates of conviction and execution because the use of judicial torture tended to initiate a chain‑reaction of accusations and confessions) .
Within English society, the reality of dangerous witches appears to have been taken for granted. For example, the Anonymous publication of Witches Apprehended, Examined and Executed published in London in 1615 includes a Amost true trial how to know whether a woman be a witch or not@. In AThe Trial of Witchcraft, or Witchcraft Arraign=d and Condemn=d@ published by John Ball answers questions such as AHow to know if one be bewitched@ and the means for helping one who is bewitched. It also contains a discussion on how to tell if one is a witch.
Thus, if you were sick with an illness which had no known cause, you were likely under the spell of a witch. Thus, when the first children in the whole series of events fell ill, they were seen by William Griggs who was the only physician in Salem Village. Dr. Griggs diagnosed the problem as witchcraft.
The trial of the suspected witches followed the broad and general outlines of English law B however, it must be noted that the trials, in some fundamental aspects did not conform to established legal procedures. For example, the Colony was subject to a legal charter from England. AAt that moment, as the old judicial systm had fallen with the Charter, there were no regular courts.@ Wendell, p. 72. Therefore, a special court was established to investigate the witch matter. You must also note that the trials specifically accepted evidence and obtained confessions in direct contradiction of specifically Puritan teaching on the questions of witchcraft.
William Perkins, an early and influential Puritan wrote an extensive book upon witchcraft. According to Professor Middlekauff of UC Berkeley:
Perkins had urged that convictions of witchcraft should be obtained only one two bases: one, the confessions of guilt by suspected witches, and the other, the testimony of at least two witnesses that the accused had made league with the Devil or had performed some recognized demonic practice.
The Mathers, p. 157.
The witch trials did not follow these limitations. The judges permitted conviction on the basis of something called spectral evidence: that is, the allegedly afflicted person testified that they had seen a spirit of a particular person as the one who had afflicted them. So, if I said I say a spirit which looked like Tim Carns afflicting me, the judges took that as evidence that Tim Carns was a witch. The conclusion followed along the lines of what passed for reason in some quarters.
What then is the basis for any direct involvement of any ministers, particular Cotton Mather? It is a letter written in June 1962, well-after the legal proceedings had commenced. Here is a bit advice to you when you hear about what some did or said: consult their actual words.
The Return of Several Ministers Consulted by his Excellency, and the Honorable Council, upon the present Witchcrafts in Salem Village
I. The afflicted state of our poor neighbors that are now suffering by molestations from the invisible world, we apprehend so deplorable that we think their condition calls for the utmost help of all persons in their several capacities.
II. We cannot but with all thankfulness acknowledge the success which the merciful God has given unto the sedulous and assiduous endeavours of our honorable rulers to detect the abominable witch crafts which have been committed in the country, humbly praying that the discovery of these mysterious and mischievous wickednesses may be perfected.
III. We judge that in the prosecution of these, and all such witch‑crafts, there is need of a very critical and exquisite caution, lest by too much credulity for things received only upon the Devil’s authority there be a door opened for a long train of miserable consequences, and Satan get an advantage over us, for we should not be ignorant of his devices.
IV. As in complaints upon witchcrafts there may be Matters of Inquiry which do not amount unto Matters of Presumption, and there may be Matters of Presumption which yet may not be reckoned Matters of Conviction, so ’tis necessary that all proceedings thereabout be managed with an exceeding tenderness towards those that may be complained of, especially if they have been persons formerly of an unblemished reputation.
V. When the first inquiry is made into the circumstances of such as may lie under any just suspicion of witchcrafts, we could wish that there may be admitted as little as is possible of such noise, company, and openness as may too hastily expose them that are examined, and that there may be nothing used as a test for the trial of the suspected the lawfulness whereof may be doubted among the People of Cod, but that the directions given by such judicious writers as Perkins and Bernard be consulted in such a case.
VI. Presumptions whereupon persons may be committed, and, much more, convictions whereupon persons may be condemned as guilty of witchcrafts, ought certainly to be more considerable than barely the accused person being represented by a specter unto the afflicted, inasmuch as ’tis an undoubted and a notorious thing that a Demon may, by God=s permission, appear even to ill purposes in the shape of an innocent, yea, and a virtuous man. Nor can we esteem alterations made in the sufferers by a look or touch of the accused to be an infallible evidence of guilt, but frequently liable to be abused by the Devil’s legerdemains.
VII. We know not whether some remarkable affronts given to the Devils by our disbelieving those testimonies whose whole force and strength is from them alone may not put a period unto the progress of the dreadful calamity begun upon us in the accusation of so many persons, whereof we hope some are yet clear from the great transgression laid unto their charge.
VIII. Nevertheless, we cannot but humbly recommend unto the government the speedy and vigorous prosecution of such as have rendered themselves obnoxious, according to the direction given in the Laws of God and the wholesome statutes of the English nation for the detection of witchcraft.
And while the ministers generally encouraged an investigation into the fact of witches, they cautioned that Satan could cause great mischief and manufacture bogus evidence. The Mathers publicly supported the work of the government, while they privately had doubts about the process.
Professor Middlekauff wrote this about Increase Mather:
At several times while the hysteria over the witches convulsed New England, Increase Mather had acted to restore sanity. He declared privately that it was better for the witches to escape detection than that one innocent person be punished. He urged the court not to admit spectral testimony as evidence; and he pointed that the ordeal by sight and touch was no more reliable. On one occasion he was able to discourage a prominent citizen of Boston who was seeking a warrant from the magistrate s against a local woman named by the Salem girls. The Boston gentleman had taken his daughter, suffering from an undiagnosed illness, to Salem for treatment by the girls. They obliged him by proclaiming that far from having an ordinary disease, his daughter was bewitched. Increase disagreed with this mode of treatment and berated the gentleman for forsaking the Lord in Boston in favor of the Devil in Salem. The magistrates in Boston may have received some advice from Increase too. The most admirable act, of course, was the advice given to the Governor in Cases of Conscience. Increase, more than anyone else, had stopped the whole grisly business.
The Mathers, 154. Thus, to lay the witch trials at the door of the Puritans as a significantly Puritan act is a slander.
Point Four: Government
The people of New England held to a theory of Church‑State relations which had more in common with Medieval Roman Catholicism than it did with the Bible. Nowhere does the New Testament invest Christians with a unique mandate for forcing a Christian compliance in outward religious observance.
It is good and right for Christians to be involved in government. In the USA, Christians should vote and support only such things as would in accord with conscience and are compatible with biblical dictates. However, we should not seek laws to make everyone be baptized or go to Church any such thing. Whenever the church becomes married to the State, the Church is compromised.
In England, the Puritans actually acted in many ways to permit religious toleration at a ivil level. Cromwell, for example, permitted Jews to return to England. In New England, there was a lack of civil religious toleration.
This became especially problematic in the generations after the original Puritans came upon the shores of the continent. Like Moses= grandson, not all of the people in the land were true believers. For the most part, all still held to an outward expression of Christianity, even when they were not personally converted.
This confusion of religious and civil, confusion of true and false Christians in the same church, led to a series of problems which could not be easily resolved.
One problem was the use of civil authority to enforce spiritual ends. The problem of witchcraft caused enormous difficulties, because it was a religious act at one level but it supposedly resulted in civil wrongs.
Many Christians were coming to the conclusion that problems of devilish involvement, a spiritual problem, was best solved by spiritual means. Indeed, prayer, fasting and proclaiming the Gospel are the only sorts of tools available to use. We are not called upon to use civil means to obtain spiritual ends.
These lines were hopelessly muddled in New England.
It is very easy one to judge and condemn another=s behavior as bizarre and foolish. However, there are some factors which also must be considered to help make sense of the Salem Witch Trials:
A. The evidence:
1. There were truly bizarre symptoms exhibited by some of the victims. The symptoms were so bizarre that no one knows what was happening to the victims. And while elements could have been the result of purposeful deception, other aspects cannot be simply dismissed as trickery. Something pretty weird was going on and the people there simply tried to make sense of it.
2. Confessions: Some of the Awitches@ confessed to being witches. The confessing witches then gave testimony against other witches.
3. Therefore, the judges had both bizarre evidence and confessions. The combination of the strange symptoms and the confessions would lead the judges to believe that they were acting in a wholly reasonable manner.
B. The context:
1. Stress: There were extraordinary stresses and strains on the people of New England. The Indian Wars, the troubles with England, and the various sorts of interpersonal and economic stresses on the participants made them want to find an explanation for what was going on.
2. Unbiblical beliefs: Everyone probably considered themselves to a Christian no matter what sort of unbiblical ideas and conduct they possesssed.
C. Combination: Take stressed people with unbiblical ideas, present them with a series of confessions and unexplained events and their conclusions seem much more reasonable B even though their conclusions and responses were wrong.
In conclusion: The people of New England were a mixture of true Christians and false Christians. They were not Puritans in the narrow sense of the word, although many were the descendants of Puritans. The people were beset with some very strange symptoms. Even today, no one knows what was really going in many of the cases. There were people who did confess to being a witch. The entire colony was under a great deal of pressure and the people were honestly frightened and stressed and worried. Under the afflictions, they failed to respond in a biblical Christian way. They did not act like Puritans, who were noted for the desire to live lives in accordance with biblical dictates. Instead, they relied upon the current ideas from their culture; they relied upon the latest science B even when their ideas were directly contrary to plain biblical teaching. The encouragement by Increase Mather to not use certain types of evidence was rejected.
In the end, it does seem that the Devil had his way in New England. Many people died or were imprisoned wrongfully. The Puritans were slandered. The name of Christ and biblical Christianity were tarred with a very broad brush.