How A Case Of Mass Hysteria Led To The Salem Witch Trials

Amy Bruni and Adam Berry held a seance in John Proctor’s home, and the contacts they made will surprise you. What really happened at the 1692 Salem Witch Trials?

September 14, 2021
Witch trial in Salem, Massachusetts. Lithograph by George H. Walker. Undated

Witch trial in Salem, Massachusetts. Lithograph by George H. Walker. Undated

Photo by: Bettmann via Getty Images

Bettmann via Getty Images

Witch trial in Salem, Massachusetts. Lithograph by George H. Walker. Undated

The townspeople of Salem were confused and scared when three young girls began experiencing fits of screaming, strange bodily contortions, and murmuring incoherent sounds in January of 1692. The local doctor suggested the behavior was caused by the supernatural. Local magistrates demanded the girls say who—or what—was causing them to behave so strangely.

The girls eventually blamed a homeless woman, a poor woman, and a Caribbean slave for casting some kind of spell on them. Those women were called before the magistrates, and the only one to confess was Tituba, the slave. She told the magistrates she was serving the devil and that there were many other witches in town looking to sabotage the Puritans’ way of life.

The hunt was on. Neighbors grew suspicious of one another and a special court was convened to hear evidence of witchcraft. The first person found guilty and executed was a woman named Bridget Bishop, whose affinity for outlandish fashion, multiple marriages, and visits to taverns made her a target of suspicion.

At the time, the court was allowing people to testify against each other in the witch trials by presenting “spectral evidence.” Spectral evidence was the belief that a witch could torment others by appearing to them in dreams or as spirits while their physical bodies were elsewhere. Multiple people said Bridget Bishop was tormenting them, and she was hanged on June 10, 1692.

Before cooler heads prevailed and spectral evidence was banned, 19 people were found guilty of being witches and hanged on a hill outside of Salem. One man was pressed to death by heavy stones. Several of the accused died in jail awaiting trial.

Another one of the most famous Salemites executed was John Proctor. He had a large home in the center of town and operated a tavern out of it. On March 1, 1692, his wife, Elizabeth, was named as a witch, and John was accused shortly after. Both were jailed on April 11, and John was hanged on August 19. Elizabeth reportedly received a stay of execution because she was pregnant and was released from jail the following May.

In time, all people accused of witchcraft were granted formal pardons, but the trauma has left many spirits roaming the streets and houses of the tiny village.

Salem has long been the site for paranormal investigators hoping to make contact with the falsely accused souls. In an episode of Kindred Spirits, Amy Bruni and Adam Berry held a seance in John Proctor’s home, and the contacts they made will surprise you.

You can stream the Devil in Salem episode of Kindred Spirits on discovery+.

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