I spent almost two years immersed in the Salem Witch Trials for my novel Suffer a Witch, in which the Salem Witches are immortal and live in modern day Boston. Cora (a.k.a. Tink) has been a key adviser to this project. Through her help, articles, and guidance, I've come to a key realization.
Everyone in Salem was a witch, and no one was.
You maybe shocked to learn that those who lived in New England in 1690 practiced much of what we think of as Wicca every single day.
I'll give you a moment to catch your breath.
Ready? Here are a few reasons everyone was a witch in Salem.
1. Celebration of pagan holidays: They were wealthy, literate farmers who'd traveled across a sea to wage a war against the native populations of New England. The Pagan Holidays are ancient seasonal holidays celebrated by most farming communities. I doubt anyone would have thought of these holidays as anything more than the natural celebration of the seasons. Midsummer was celebrated even under Puritan rule in England.
2. Herbs were used for health: They grew herbs for their essential health. They dried sage sticks which they used for smudging. Most households had an herb garden for health and good taste.
3. The Puritans were sexual. While sex was most often kept within a marriage and they had sex for fun and pleasure resulting in a lot of children. (John Proctor, one of the men hanged, had eighteen children by three wives.) In fact, one of the theories as to why the community went after the charismatic Reverend George Burroughs was that he loved the women of Salem Village and they loved him back. (Sex and witchcraft always go hand in hand.)
4. The devil was real and out there. While we tend to think of the "Indian Wars" as happening in the Western United States, the First Nations tribes fought tooth and nail against their invaders. Salem Village, where the trials took place, was on the bleeding frontier of the war with the Native Americans. There were frequent raids in town. People lived in horror of their women being raped and killed by bands of native warriors. Natives would kidnapped children and sell them into slavery. The Puritans returned the favor whenever they had a chance.
Thus, the devil was real, palpable, and lived in every dark wood and behind every corner. Whether due to religious fervor or traumatic process, the Puritans believed that the devil was a real creature who was lurking around every corner ready to lure them to his side.
Why was witchcraft the charge?
Like everything, it depends on who you believe. If you read the documents -- written and preserved by the perpetrators -- you'd believe that the fourteen women and five men were actually doing witchcraft. The event itself is considered to be a product of mass hysteria.
Carol Karlsen, in her book The Devil in the Shape of a Woman, provides evidence that the majority of the women hanged as witches were hanged for their land, and sometimes for their money. This makes the Salem Witch Trials a spectacular land grab.
In this way, no one was a witch in Salem. Not a single soul. The story that the slave Tituba was practicing spells in the forest is and always was pure fiction.
What does this mean?
There's no question that the Puritan's were extreme in their desire to strip Christianity, and much of life, down to it's bare, "pure" essentials. There's no question that the Salem Witch Trials were one of the most repugnant events in history.
The fact remains that Puritans followed a Pagan life because a Pagan life is very simply life.