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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

Salem witch trials The notion of witchcraft was first officially recognized in America in 1692 in the town of Salem, Massachusetts, when governor Sir William Phipps became aware of charges against several servants of African heritage. The situation rapidly escalated when the Mather family, fanatical Puritans, became involved.
      Increase Mather, president of Harvard College, and his son Cotton prosecuted huge numbers of accused witches, and the gallows were busy. The Mathers, according to historian Lewis Spence,  


      displayed an extraordinary amount of ingenuity and an equally great lack of anything like sound judgement.

      Local children were encouraged to relate tales of wild orgies and evil deeds, and their stories were eagerly accepted as true.
      (This is very much the manner in which American children today are being mercilessly interrogated, sometimes over several months, and subjected to suggestions and leading questions about Satanic practices and sexual abuse, until they produce the stories that their inquisitors require of them. Adults who have been named in these procedures have been imprisoned and their lives ruined by the same methods in use three hundred years ago. Apparently we have not learned much in this respect in those three centuries. Things are not quite as bad today, however. In old Salem, anyone who even doubted the validity of witchcraft or of the guilt of those accused was also hanged. Today they are only looked upon as eccentrics.)
      In 1692, even pet dogs and cats were put on trial and executed for witchcraft. But when the Mathers eventually accused the wife of Governor Phipps of being a witch, Phipps began to have doubts about the wisdom of allowing things to get any worse, and he put an end to it.
      The Salem witch trials stand as one of the most disgraceful episodes in the history of America, yet there is still today a firm belief in the basic claims and procedures that continue to condemn innocent victims.



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