What, in Your View, Was the Significance of the Puritan Mindset in Impacting on the Witch Hysteria in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692?

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What, in your view, was the significance of the Puritan Mindset in impacting on the witch hysteria in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692?

‘The acts of sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft’1. The Salem Witch Trials are often synonymous with the term paranoia. The Puritan mindset, it can be argued, had a major impact on the witch hysteria in Salem 1692. Religion played a fundamental part in the lifestyle of the Puritans. Therefore, to understand why the fear of witchcraft caused hysteria; we must understand the beliefs of the Puritans and the roots of these beliefs.

The Puritans were an activist movement in the Church of England. The Puritans were extremely pious and strictly adhered to the word of the bible. Puritan beliefs are loosely based on the ‘Doctrines of Grace’ written by James Arminius, a Dutch theologian and a devout protestant. The Doctrines of Grace state: Total Depravity, Unmerited Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of Saints. When the Puritans landed in Massachusetts Bay in the summer of 1630, they had the idea of creating a devout Puritan community, a ‘Citty upon a Hill’2. John Winthrop’s ‘A model of Christian Charity’ speech clearly reflects the mindset of the Puritans. Winthrop believed that ‘the eies of all people are uppon us’3 therefore they should be a model Puritan society that everybody would want to imitate. One of the Puritans most prominent beliefs was in the doctrine of predestination. The doctrine states that God establishes all events beforehand. It is determined by God whether one shall go to heaven or hell before one is born. Puritans would then look for signs in their life that would indicate where they were headed. Therefore when an unexplainable event happened e.g. bad weather, the blame usually fell on the practice of witchcraft. However, there are other theories that suggest that the witchcraft craze was not caused by the Puritan mindset, but as a way of maintaining social conformity. Many, especially Robert Calef, a Baptist cloth merchant, insisted that the ministers involved with the trial had encouraged the witch mania as a way to keep people from drifting away from the Church so that they could maintain their power. Calef’s book ‘More wonders from the invisible world’ mocks Cotton Mather, a minister involved with the witch trial. Calef is supported by Charles W. Upham, a US representative from Massachusetts, who said Mather fueled the witch hysteria so as to ‘increase his own influence over an infatuated people’ by convincing them that he could ‘hold Satan himself in chains by his prayers and piety’4. However, historians have denied these accusations. Samuel Eliot Morison, an American historian from Massachusetts, said there is proof that even Mather and the other ministers remained calm throughout the trials and in fact disagreed with the excessiveness of the hysteria. This therefore shows that the Puritan mindset was the main factor for the witchcraft frenzy.

A Puritans view on life was that it should be plain. Plainness in religious worship and lifestyle was highly valued. T.B. Macaulay, a British historian, wrote that in Puritan times ‘it was a sin to hang garlands on a Maypole, to drink to a friend’s health, to fly a hawk’5 among other things. For Puritans, family was important, as it was the basis of a functioning society. They valued the conventional set up of a family that included a husband, who held the authority, and a wife who looked after the house and children. Samuel Sewall, a Massachusetts judge involved in the Salem witch trials, quoted English Puritan William Gouge in his book saying ‘a familie is a little Church, and a little common-wealth…or rather it is as a schoole wherein the first principles and grounds of government and subjection are learned: whereby men are fitted to greater matters in Church or common-wealth’6. Anyone that did otherwise was disappointing God....
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