The way the Puritans viewed humans, religion, power and magic, largely influenced the way they treated society, but it was the past events that took place that led Puritans to be consumed in paranoia and superstition. Puritans had just been kicked out of their home due to change in belief systems, so they fled to America to practice freely. They had just been oppressed from England, all they wanted to do was spread good and doctrine of peace, but when, at the time, bizarre, occurances began taking place, Puritans started questioning their neighbours. It started with the fear of other religions taking over. After just one year of Quaker executions, King Charles II stepped in, foreboding any further executions against Quakerism.(Bremer, 2006) During all of this, villagers were already paranoid enough from the attacks of the Native American Tribes. Although there were similar general beliefs between the Natives and the Puritans, such as a creation myth, one higher power, an evil deity and a souls afterlife, there was also a number of differences, the natives lived by that would be deemed sinful to any pure protestant.
The tribes had more religious freedom and were not afraid to attack the pilgrims, so the puritans lived in paranoia and shame, knowing they could be so easily defeated once again. As the population of New England increased, there were more and more strange occurrences and deadly outbreaks. Due to the lack of science and technology, no one could pinpoint who or what caused the storms or diseases.
It was not before long when the Puritans society seemed more uncontrollable than the smallpox epidemics. People were scared and untrusting, seeking answers that had yet to exist. There had been a similar outbreak 200 years before, but society went about it in a way that sparked influence to the salem witch hunts. “In 1453, and epidemic swept France and killed several children. The public had blamed the disease on black magic. The people of France then took several suspects and tortured them harshly. The accusers tortured the suspects until five of them confessed of having caused the plague. The witches were soon hanged.
“(Grace Z., 2013) Once again, Puritans became blinded by paranoia and distrust and began turning against those they once trusted. They took matters to the extremes and oppressed not only other religions, but questioned their villagers, everyone was a threat to anyone. From the perspective of the Puritans, Roman Catholics were frowned upon, but when conflict arose between good and bad, it seemed that Puritans could look past specific beliefs and come together on the general idea of ridding evil.
Puritans went from spreading good, to inflicting it, upon those who did not need it, but where did they get such a heroic idea from? In the 15th century, other “strange occurrences” were taking place and nobody knew why, so they blamed it on black magic and tortured accused until they confessed. That seemed to work, whether the confessions were true or not, the church saw it was an easy solution that would create influence. Influence as in, seeing these people confess to such accusations with hopes no one else would commit that crime, but as the occurrences continued, so did the influence, and it took a turn for the worse. After the plague outbreaks in the late 1400s, Pope Innocent VIII declared that witches were meeting with the Devil. He asked two friars, Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger, to publish a full report on witchcraft.
They created Malleus Maleficarum (“Hammer of Witches”) (Mastin, 2009) which no longer stated that witches were powerless under god, but were dangerous and to be hunted and killed if encountered. The book gave specific detail on how to determine physically and mentally if one is a witch, then how to put it to trial and have it executed properly. Like most books it also told folklore stories, so that readers would know the severity of evil if they were to ever cross paths. These beliefs and techniques shaped the witch hunts for a hundred years after the books and many other similar books were published and taught all over europe. As it turned out, shortly after the reformation, Puritans broke away from their own beliefs and were influenced by a church they sought impure.
They took matters to the extremes and distanced further away from their traditional methods. There was only one other book written on witch craft that could be seen as a religious test or guide. Unlike any of the books published, the Enlightenment was written to contradict the accusations, claiming that they were in fact most likely false accusations. This led to the continuing belief that people only confessed to be free from torture, the reasons for the accusations were random occurances uncontrolled by humans and that the harm brought to society was more evil than the evil believed to be present.
Unfortunately the Enlightenment had not been introduced to New England by the time the Salem Witch Hunts were taking place, over 200 people were falsely accused for being a witch and twenty of them were executed for it. After that, there we no more with hunts, society took a step back and stopped justifying their acts as their predestination and more as an individuals choice. The witch hunts are a huge part of history, but it was the actions of the Puritans that remind society of its legacy. The Puritans changed the way we see oppression, power, paranoia, individuality and religion. It is known that many americans who come from Puritan ancestors are known to be hard working, dedicated people. The play, The Crucible, by Arthur Miller showed the world just how crazy people get when paranoid of superstition, shame, lack of control and individuality. Finally, after the two Quaker executions in october of 1659, we commemorate October 27th as International Religious Freedom day. Society is constantly repeating history, for better and for worse, but is it mostly worse? Of course in 2018 we see past religion, skin tone, gender or sexuality, but we can not seem to look past the hierarchy of society.
To the Puritans, they took matters to the extremes to honour the love of their greatest authority, God and does that not sound familiar. It seems humans will do just about anything to honour authority over life. It seems humans took a stand to spread good among all of the land, but during the movement, they tarnished their old beliefs, contradicting their original goal.