Bewitching Myths and Facts About the Salem Witch Trials

By Nova Barela
Qxiorjtjbny5fpmunzz8jyjakum1jrf Aviuxmpwcusoebdxbt7pvl46xobgqt87jts9sdkz0a1ov4zzbsqqo8mpyailioom0cc1jncp98ldgziartzrhpwjke7k7dops102j Nnluaz 3lkug
Photo Courtesy: William A. Crafts/Wikimedia Commons

The Salem witch trials are one of the most significant examples of mass hysteria in history, but there are a lot of tall tales surrounding the actual trials. Over time, many of those myths have been accepted as facts and have even been taught in schools.

While some of those myths are unbelievable, the actual facts about what happened are even more bizarre. Grab a broom and some potion; we’re revealing some bewitching facts about the Salem witch trials and dispelling some of the most common myths.

Nobody Was Burned at the Stake

Many people believe that those who were accused and convicted of witchcraft during the Salem witch trials were burned at the stake. While this did happen in Europe, it did not happen during the Salem trials. This is one of the more popular myths surrounding the events, but it’s a huge misconception.

Vqanwwd6xnzjuge Eoy37w6ryzm7lo5rabg4uiiymtoi8lr1zuqrx 8lpxc Ju2bp X3bxjfxk7icosduu7cmetyezmsgcgl1foonx9pkxakx6yb9mdcfbwswlxgugokr6p An43biwzebkngw
Photo Courtesy: Fototeca Gilardi/Getty Images

Those who were accused and convicted were mostly sent to the gallows where they were hanged. Some perished in jail, and one of the accused was "pressed" to death, meaning a board was placed on top of him before stones were used to crush his body.

Not All the Accused Were Tried

Another common myth is that every person accused of witchcraft during this time was tried for their crimes. This isn't true. Giles Corey, the man who was pressed to death, didn't even acknowledge the accusations against him. He didn't claim that he was innocent or guilty, but he was killed anyway.

Znd 7fotsk8j2ic5jwtnwkmqvhvmgi5lsj6rm2a1p2mrvvss73vj45oxg969qqjikrlpo 1mvt0kqkp5azdnrba5kqxit1md6 E Mplj4sdsdkdatnmih2dojenlnorepmn3vnlpdylfwaz4ag
Photo Courtesy: Douglas Volk/Wikimedia Commons

Sadly, during this time period, law and order didn't hold the same importance they do now. Even those in power had little problem taking the law into their own hands. Some of those accused were put to death without any due process.

Even Dogs Were Accused of Witchcraft

Many don't realize that it wasn't just people who were accused of witchcraft during the trials — even dogs were targeted. At least two dogs were accused of witchcraft and were killed because of these accusations.

Mwzaw9ds3iws 0fxvweg9bi1cvv1uhb5z28a1zb8c9guej4wilgou Upovyqp4kilsyqqa3sk8 Toshgonjrzu E7oy7xg39o0ooldihfoekr3fnz1k0drux V8l7rgrywp2demtrr6rl1r6ma
Photo Courtesy: Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images

Some children had stated the dogs had used witchcraft to send them into convulsions. People of the time also believed there were links between dogs and the devil. In reality, nobody was safe from being named a witch, even man's best friend.

Men Were Also Accused of Witchcraft

It's a myth that only women were accused of witchcraft during the Salem witch trials. There were also at least five men who were accused and subsequently killed. Other men were also accused but managed to avoid death sentences.

Jh9s 0rpni7seiivmggmkmbfofpot8xym Ecqkm6liaafquvhcwogdjjzkxkxytxedxspl0 X6rvtcvntmuw3x4xca4plrpczg05 Hotjnyjeklx16 5x8jbjyguthb5kdbp M32ovitwa5ujg
Photo Courtesy: Daderot/Wikimedia Commons

Even though most of the accused were women, men weren't completely safe during the late 1600s. Anybody, regardless of who they were, could have been accused of being a witch. Most of the allegations were accepted as truth, so virtually anybody could have become a victim. The trials targeted many people.

Not Everyone Who Was Accused Was Killed

There were a lot of accusations at the time — and there were death sentences for many of the accused. However, it's a common myth that every single person accused was put to death. This isn't true. Many were actually pardoned. Lots of them had to wait out the hysteria in jail cells, but they did manage to live.

Xbsnq961 Eu9or6xcdl1dxsrcumenyuopxau6wrlhgq6ikooz4gatauegs4o2igblwfe J9fqzwezuejzomtt0uhhaxmok1phxnseipq1sqwbi6gh05smrztovcdarijxal6qesw8s2z17groa
Photo Courtesy: Alfred Fredericks/Wikimedia Commons

It was a tragic time, but despite the hysteria, hundreds of people survived. Sometimes, community members came out in droves to speak against accusations. This resulted in the accused being pardoned. In some cases, prison guards were also bribed to let the accused escape.

Smallpox Added to the Hysteria

While the trials were a time of hysteria, certain factors only increased that hysteria and likely exacerbated everyone’s stress and panic. Right before the trials began, there was a smallpox outbreak in the town of Salem.

Ccr Wgflhnfih Ytbiw3ibwby9tennvs4sudcudtmnfeyvmd2jx04dmu9ygmeijh0qeij6fkm1pc4aja2gogaik8u6b 28m2nj4hbvk4xj1xkpcf3qajsoqoo4o2dmzhqqlohjrae8wdfxrzjw
Photo Courtesy: George Henry Fox/Wikimedia Commons

Some believed that the illness was brought on by the use of witchcraft coming from certain people living in Salem. Other factors led to trials, but the smallpox outbreak certainly didn't calm anybody down. It likely caused things to escalate, bringing about more accusations and wild stories passed off as fact.

It Wasn't Just About Religion

Religion played a major role in the Salem witch trials. However, it wasn't the only force that caused this mass hysteria to take place, contrary to popular belief. The residents of Salem were under the stress of living in a new colony; conflict with indigenous groups, family rivalries and illnesses faced by the residents also played major roles in what happened.

U5yxbmi09smqcubdyogeavperi6f3vmu7ml8chaqdpawz1bzyey Pmxi Qgdcykfgysfyklrjw6pbnh2 Ggwy5j4yddhgdjokq5d7dhcbmnz9jbfor1abtqdtnkxo Njsd6yvtyxc719r9gxuq
Photo Courtesy: Georges Bretegnier/Wikimedia Commons

There are a lot of theories out there about the contributing factors that compounded to cause the atrocities that resulted. But a perfect storm of various factors played a role, not just religion alone.

Two Girls Started It All

The Salem witch trials began because of two girls who were very young at the time. The girls started having fits and then began claiming they could see invisible spirits. It's unclear what prompted the girls to start citing the supernatural as a reason for their behavior, but children do strange things.

Uvkzuqnhlcrdrsb5r0hu Hdbyze5 L83 Jxslg5xhyu Dlpfhycdy Wyjo Tocsvq6weajdqtjdqgpwhbfvuxdz9wxheybwh Zdt2 8bmv5nhhddxtsznneekrrextlwegnsrdorauwhnvu3sq
Photo Courtesy: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

The girls’ claims initially sparked the hysteria, and the adults of Salem perpetuated it until it grew out of proportion. The children began pointing fingers, and the adults listened. It's hard to believe that this atrocity started on the word of two small children without much questioning from adults.

Dogs Ate Cake to “Diagnose” Witchcraft

As mentioned, there was believed to be a link between dogs and the devil. The people of Salem put so much faith into this that one of the tests to spot a witch involved an odd practice. People baked cakes using rye flour and the accused person's urine.

Pv4ld7wpg8d 9zosj20bbhftyvkyxqqgjuqegdzjij9ityrln1r Klcbmzhklqv3mk6tnmjywrmzntrb9yvijsydq Y Yfugn85mxlybv0pj5j5t08aqtrjrchfzh9 Yvuen5jyan Tn U683g
Photo Courtesy: Hans Kemperman/Wikimedia Commons

They then fed that cake to a dog. If the dog showed "symptoms," it was considered proof that the accused was, in fact, a witch. There are even reports the dogs were able to sniff out the witches during this odd ritual.

The "Water Test" Did Happen

There were more tests administered to those accused of witchcraft, but few are as well-known as the "water test." However, there are some misconceptions about how this test was actually performed. The accused had to have a finger tied to a toe on the opposite side of their body, and then they were lowered into water.

L4tiddxdr8a Cypkietazh0hjvggo91rfmxsobk3yprm4unij T6xkiktt Rvsurbruwcvksvnq64wdwshy7fyqiiltcuwnljit1qwqvfbix7vbdlfyqnipaepirjqblbybdcs Zpaqrg88z1w
Photo Courtesy: Charles Stanley Reinhart/Getty Images

If they floated, it was believed they were a witch. If they sank, they weren't. The accused person risked drowning during this odd practice. Many people were convicted based on this "evidence."

There Were Accusations Galore

As you can imagine, accusations of witchcraft ran wild in Salem. Those looking to settle a score needed only to point their finger at somebody they had an issue with, and their enemy would soon find themselves on trial. There was a lot of this type of petty, revenge-seeking finger-pointing that took place.

Lbx0kqqomhfodznrakhv4f0vzhgw Xjzrqqdt2pc55ncaenn27tea Ugr0z7ih Jqscrurdgydlacpymqpip2nzuxvj2jlsvtcxnlswf Wltcuibyu3lkhyk Yki5z Zlz85dvybkbakceuhoq
Photo Courtesy: Tompkins Harrison Matteson/Wikimedia Commons

Official records show that there were at least 200 people accused of witchcraft during this time period. Out of those 200, about 150 were arrested due to the accusations. Rivalries were very dangerous in Salem during the trials, as it was easy to get back at anybody who wronged you.

The "Touch Test" Also Resulted in Convictions

Another bizarre test administered during the trials was known as the "touch test." Again, this test did really take place, but there are some fallacies out there about how people actually performed it.

Rmnhmyc8qtl2nsdnjtdydetwycwvzv Cjwz1mv4r537yzjntphn6wfebcqdkxbdlxxxd Rrkp8lyx I Pnmaboimg0lw255h6zkflmzsi23tatijmzrh8vx9j7l095omyjsv2pcfgfdxwvydbq
Photo Courtesy: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In reality, if a person who was thought to be afflicted by witchcraft was having a fit, the witch could touch them and stop the fit. Sounds convenient for that whole rivalry thing, huh? So, a person is having a fit and one of the accused is prompted to touch them. They could stop their fake fit and "prove" that the accused was really a witch.

Land Was Seized

In addition to being jailed, possibly tortured and possibly put to death, there was another injustice that happened that people often don’t discuss when talking about the Salem witch trials. Many of those who found themselves accused of witchcraft owned land.

Fkugylfo8vbfowykbwrf7gqbxllywtoyvfcbkzkrd4wd0fmud H2mqobdb6xlwc3or0uica8uvlbof1jogpyajqlf Zbewenpnflszbrlqqjbg8pfwuljccjyw6vkceg7km Aukcm7m H3lm5g
Photo Courtesy: Charles W. Upham/Wikimedia Commons

In some cases in which the accused wasn't put to death, their land was forcefully taken from them. In those days, many people’s land was the basis of their livelihood. Without their lands, some found themselves in poverty even though they survived the trials. Many had no means to survive the conditions that poverty later brought.

Some People Were Likely Poisoned

There have been many theories about why the trials became as bad as they did. One of those theories deals with poisoning, but it isn't the type of poisoning you might have thought it was. The poisoning that this theory references actually has to do with ergot.

Yruhia7 Qn3jxmzdl2axgddgh4uiwc5sjiekldb Eql4p5bqn62p1dypge37a Lykh2ochgarvbg2v4bfwbszh6gx5xldgtbzrg6lbpad0irrlm 9qeq72uh7xmjz2q01fl Mjhf Hrznfmng
Photo Courtesy: Dominique Jacquin/Wikimedia Commons

Ergot, a fungus that can affect rye grain, was common in Salem. All those fits, hallucinations and vomiting that occurred are symptoms of ergot poisoning. However, many historians attribute what happened in Salem to mass hysteria more than anything else.

“Witch Hunters” Exacerbated the Problems

There are a lot of myths out there about "witch hunters" playing a vital role in the trials. While this is true to an extent, it wasn't like anything you've seen in the movies. The witch hunters simply went door to door.

Ybd Vq8wgltwwkciulo Xdal3umv75iyzue2ion0l8vpxwhiahzwbbwjrprxxzwfpxlrtuvbfypijexpj2yhj8rmmrfadrupfwmv4ptfy Tasedolgprdaav1bz02cvuvv1wi8kx8tnjg0xltg
Photo Courtesy: Patrick Wymore/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Essentially, these people were prompting citizens to point the finger at their neighbors to avoid facing accusations themselves. The tactics used by these so-called witch hunters likely involved threats, although no such behavior was ever documented officially. Still, historians have speculated about the methods that were used.

"The Devil's Mark" Was a Form of Evidence

If you've researched the trials, you may have heard about the devil’s mark. Most of the time, these were probably birthmarks or some sort of lesions resulting from a disease. Either way, these marks were a common form of evidence used to convict accused witches.

Lytuke2zovepvhhj7sy 5qcoinl4 Yyu3fcxudmbnvg47aqpskks Zhj2fk1 Ndygdlel295jpwvfljzlv26qoumpheed2sqzvyamjkrhumr11kf Om8mq2bmgualvpaizr K1gzhtloob0b5w
Photo Courtesy: Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons

The people of Salem believed that witches made pacts with the devil. Afterward, it was believed that he would leave his mark on the newly ordained witches. This was used as evidence in some of the trials.

Some People Did Speak Up...

It's a common belief that everybody just sat back during the trials and let it all happen, grateful it was happening to someone else and not them. That isn't true. Some people did question what was happening. Others even went as far as to spread the word that what was going on was wrong.

6iwzd9degjx Axzb2lbjopdz3688hdcx0f1xmwkugdobvtz7ap2qup9hmbodijj1xy7i1zinontl6671ac Cv4nkgf9u7vd2oiqu3icdrfhkusx A4fylg6ly3mc4pjkch9op Bnbncfg4ihaa
Photo Courtesy: Thurston Hopkins/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It was, however, a very different time with very different practices. And though there were those who saw what was happening and had the capacity to understand that it was wrong, speaking up wasn't in their best interest. Despite this, some people did defend their friends and loved ones.

...And They Paid the Price for Doing So

One of the women who did have the courage to speak up may have regretted it almost instantly. As soon as she started spreading the word that what was happening was wrong, she was accused of being a witch herself. Many thought she was trying to halt the investigations.

M Hey3yphvn8urznet1vp2xtky5 Sht5ufdcz8pjt8ertxcaak V426ctzqxmh80ktp8 Kdpxu Jtbnrvluzukam6guwysz9b8gu7 Ssklbfsrwxyscfmfkn9ajwugzjlniero9lirhoi3sjkw
Photo Courtesy: Hanging of Bridget Bishop/Getty Images

The woman was tried for being a witch, and her husband testified against her. It didn't end well for the couple; her husband eventually was the one put to death. It's unclear if anybody else spoke up after that. There’s a high likelihood that people were terrified of becoming the next victims.

The Governor Protected His Wife

Some believed that the trials ended because people realized how ridiculous the situation was. That wasn’t the case at all. The Salem witch trials ended for a reason very close to home for the governor of Salem.

Kzlahd4edv2rbgn28d5yq2rcywzgbcr7zojqbn2hxmw Xtdduxszsfnldo Ytj2vayqepwy6qwqetrmh55jfqkrjmssetbo128ovcnuwmwbw6golbfz Fdy 0q1cveznmhsuzydxpcktpfo3vq
Photo Courtesy: Peter Lely/Wikimedia Commons

After an entire year of madness, the governor of Salem heard whispers that his wife was the next in line to be accused of witchcraft. This scared him enough to put an end to the trials. If only he had been willing to see the truth sooner, many people could've been saved.

Nobody Knows Exactly Where the Bodies Are Buried

There are quite a few memorials for the victims of the Salem witch trials. Despite that, nobody knows the exact locations of the bodies of all those who met their ends at the gallows. Some are buried at a spot known as Proctor's Ledge, but many more are unaccounted for.

H V6alifptb7g4awngzsiyugjurg60aganc3t Xci9cf3dtjt Qu7zblxvorjkq6aink4nyyli Kwl1o1eypyygjbi7y8byenmogsuq3yugf2rz 2vyv9 2ppb5ohwfe Dleunvrzqgeyjyvoq
Photo Courtesy: cheryl h/TripAdvisor

None of those who were put to death during the trials were allowed to have Christian burials. Many of the bodies have never been located. This has left a big hole in the hearts of those related to the victims, even today.

Ridiculous Evidence Was Presented in Court

Forget touch tests and dog cakes for a moment — there was an even more ridiculous form of evidence presented in court. It was known as "spectral evidence." This reportedly involved witches appearing to accusers while in ghost or spirit form.

Iomnqqvhuipjsg Idkd0kwcnfo1okkjfnh6bcsjoboq4u5qkrspeu2jnpqrvwfrnpxiip Qusv2j Jdhp8rhc7nierhpmbk7444ls Fvvu42myhrsjo3hgf9am9h7ckiupafa424zcpexxrew
Photo Courtesy: Robarts - University of Toronto/Wikimedia Commons

Some spectral evidence led to executions during the trials. George Jacobs was one person who was put to death based on nothing other than spectral evidence. Accusers claimed the man led them to water to drown them while he was in "spectral form."

Prison Conditions Were Awful

Some of those accused of witchcraft spent long stretches of time in jail. The conditions in the prison were so horrible that some died while awaiting their trials. Jails filled up quickly due to the mass hysteria that had overtaken society at that point.

Ac9cv Boun E77rms6cs8tr1dunbmdyv2 Te2eay1f Pwpfncpy4myeavxzwmguqazqy4hben9sciqo9lcwosxgnipp A0cgc Kpxfih9jjqz K4lzhzj50wyxczucqccbywhuxqgyzfkguo4a
Photo Courtesy: Nina Leen/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Many prisoners were kept in total isolation while awaiting their trials, and others were forced to work for their meals. The conditions were so terrible that many people’s bodies atrophied, which ultimately helped them get convicted of witchcraft because they looked so withered and gaunt.

There Were Actual Laws Regarding Witchcraft

The past is full of strange laws. However, many people don’t know that actual laws existed regarding witchcraft. The Puritans based their way of life, and government, entirely on religious beliefs; it's not necessarily surprising that their laws reflected those beliefs.

Aoqgkxfcjp Rjsih5kwpjx0p Efvxouxgij Wymznshlaeqjkgnspgrvol7gxi4nbfxpdvjtlm Oyr260o1wthc5bupeq8mqvjerptt2ictic0ymirptoo0t2uewhzb9s3tfqt5riurg4vmufq
Photo Courtesy: Essex County Court Archives/Wikimedia Commons

The first capital crime was idolatry, and the second was witchcraft. This law read, "If any man or woman be a witch, that is, has or consults with a familiar spirit, they shall be put to death." People took this seriously — as the witch trials demonstrate.

One of the Accused Was 4

Nobody — nobody — was safe from being accused of witchcraft in Salem. Case in point? Dorothy Good was only 4 years old when she was arrested. Because she was the daughter of one of the first people to be accused, Sarah Good, it didn't take long for people to start targeting the little girl.

Rxfadmtik2p Azkw6xhd9xfzh Hiix5cng1v46yp Hvgjqxnjgrdiw17jtfgtfra5uggfwbt7su6op8nv9kxlumcdvifxofn6obfzlmtjlkjekzwm Nez2gqg905v Jodfwqqprlznl3hakdow
Photo Courtesy: The Arrest/Getty Images

The child was put in the care of guardians for about eight months and was never put through a trial. That a 4-year-old child was arrested for witchcraft is perhaps one of the more disturbing facts related to the Salem witch trials.

A Minister Was Also Accused and Executed

It bears repeating that nobody was safe. A minister named George Burroughs was the only minister who was found guilty of witchcraft and put to death. The people of Salem believed he was controlling the witches in the village.

Qli19m08rt07kzehhtdapj 4kdugbpwdro2r2dsju9us Itfr17abrmoclvbdsbo4p8phjprdo Xlma3uz0ict3a4hxtmcz0vzaw7ln8jwxbqo Ojhbgugv8ylvzylutifa8nix4xylrinvfkw
Photo Courtesy: Northrop, Henry Davenport, 1836-1909/Wikimedia Commons

Many residents of Salem didn't appreciate his unorthodox practices when it came to the church. He was well-known for reciting the Lord's Prayer during his execution, as it was believed that a witch could not do this. In previous trials, many were made to recite that prayer as proof of their innocence.

Other Countries Had Similar Witch Trials

The witchcraft panic didn't start with Salem. It didn't even start in the United States at all. Switzerland, Germany, France and parts of central Europe saw trials similar to the Salem witch trials first.

8hihfqapfd6la34ry Elottmisnvmaepwhhdlvekqddpsw3 O363jcf7tvp7kb7i 6x B8olr7d Hchsndcmpfqrddpt78 Ryn8tevieod2t Vfdogh0prrxv3mhotemx0a 1q P9k2gvze Pw
Photo Courtesy: Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

During the 15th and 16th centuries, witch trials took place all over those European nations. Mass hysteria due to fear of witches seemed to be everywhere during that time, and there was never a good reason for these other panics, either. It was a strange and dangerous time.

Boston Witch Trials Happened First

Boston is where the witch hysteria began in the United States; it didn't start in Salem. Four years before the Salem trials, a woman named Ann Glover was the last person in Boston to be hanged for the crime of witchcraft.

Vz Cgatfekklqsh2bao Hyrhy Riiovcl Eivqck5nqb1ertehsv9mro3eqwhtytsc9otvugew4usylqwdbtnix7ro2iwopbkr9srl8nlbqgiofpjip0jv7iipakhvqx4xyfd V9subdpce W
Photo Courtesy: Baker, Joseph E/Wikimedia Commons

People believed that Ann Glover was a witch because she failed to recite a prayer in English, which wasn't her first language. She was hanged. The witch hysteria eventually spread to Salem. The influence of what happened in Boston probably played a role in what happened elsewhere.

Trials Were Very Different

Trials, as you can imagine, were very different in those times. For instance, there were no lawyers present to defend those who were accused. Flimsy evidence, if any at all, was all it took to convict those who were accused. The defendants had only themselves to rely on during the trials.

Xvcroufjilloxghcqjctg0tzxddimhcyz2c 5hhooa9vwjk9cgufhu Mcce7i9bj0heonhhetiiuswr L7rqu671z Enmwvryc02kuvkwsuwqmofgdambgeop1771woacww9ka5icn T9vb0bw
Photo Courtesy: Howard pyle/Getty Images

Some of the accusers simply faked "fits" on the floor to further prove the guilt of the accused. Unfortunately, people took these displays seriously. Reality back then differed greatly from what goes on in courtrooms today.

“Prickers” Were Deployed

"Prickers" administered yet another form of bizarre testing that took place during the Salem witch trials. The prickers were men who were paid only when they located a witch. The test they performed involved pricking people with needles.

I96hitx4t5o7i5iuwr47daa31jgwynaswveyez815nm4er03tjlpyjowl7fr R1ofjxjcphh1lbod4rzzi07mmz1chxz4bdcebp3kusli3ubx58jywb99jc1nnhvhx8hx72rphjzquemc16cqq
Photo Courtesy: Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

If the person didn't bleed, it meant they were a witch. These men were using devices that made it look like the needles were going into flesh when they really weren’t. Lots of bribery took place surrounding these tests, which, like other tests, offered a good way to get rid of a rival — or sometimes save a loved one.

The Real Numbers Tell a Disturbing Story

There are a lot of numbers floating around out there regarding the actual number of deaths that resulted from the Salem witch trials. Some are much higher than others. According to most estimates, 20 people were executed after the trials, and 19 were hanged at Gallows Hill.

Qagcga5msl1pyumeoyxg4o3ay6wmuxsbyflh2edcpf2tqkz0mr5abglubwp1y1ktuj1ji4rp0pl43mqaeqakgnrzdt4uviqnjxherrjzq7gxicxdcp7rkmdwjcqajriycnpleofvpxkonw09aq
Photo Courtesy: Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Giles Corey was the only victim who was pressed to death. Four others died in prison. Hundreds were accused and pardoned. Some were found not guilty, some escaped jail and others were never indicted. Ultimately, the Salem witch trials were a tragedy brought on by mass hysteria that never should've happened.