Skip to comments.Did Climate Change Cause Witch Hysteria?
Posted on 04/19/2012 8:42:17 PM PDT by nickcarraway
The Salem witch tragedy of 1692 took less than two years to play out. Yet 300 years later, explanations for how and why it happened are still coming.
One theory recently gaining exposure thanks to bloggers comes from a 2004 college thesis that places the blame on something we think of as a strictly modern phenomenon: climate change.
Proposed in a Harvard thesis, the paper by economist Emily Oster has earned attention due to the modern swirl of controversy surrounding the possibility that human interaction has altered world temperatures.
Currently an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, Oster linked periodic outbreaks of violence against people accused of witchcraft with dramatic temperature drops.
"The most active period of the witchcraft trials (mainly in Europe) coincides with a period of lower-than-average temperature known to climatologists as the 'little ice age,'" Oster wrote. "The colder temperatures increased the frequency of crop failure, and colder seas prevented cod and other fish from migrating as far north, eliminating this vital food source for some northern areas of Europe."
When crops failed, "people would have searched for a scapegoat in the face of deadly changes in weather patterns," she wrote. Thus, desperate people traced their troubles to unpopular neighbors and outcasts allied to the devil.
Oster noted that the persecutions "spread even across the Atlantic Ocean to Salem, Massachusetts."
Moreover, she added, "The coldest segments of this 'little ice age' period were in the 1590s and between 1680 and 1730."
Assuming Salem's temperatures were not very different from those in Europe, this latter period includes the year of the witch trials.
Salem State University history professor Tad Baker is intrigued by Oster's views.
"It makes a lot of sense," he said.
He believes there are clues in diaries and sermons pointing to the fact that cold weather and poor harvests likely coincided with the witch trials.
Further, he plans to seek out more scientific measurements, which are made by examining things like tree rings.
Baker is writing a book on the witchcraft era under the appropriately meteorological working title "A Storm of Witchcraft."
A clue to the weather, Baker said, are documents showing a key player in the Salem drama: "Rev. (Samuel) Parris is arguing with his parish over the wood supply." Without adequate fuel, a Colonial home, lacking insulation and central heat, could be pretty miserable.
"The higher the misery quotient, the more likely you are to be seeing witches," Baker said.
He cautions, however, that the cause of the uproar is probably too complex to be traced to a single source.
Danvers archivist Dick Trask, an expert on the era, was not surprised to hear the climate-change theory. Nor was he convinced. He's heard all of the explanations and says, "These theories tell us more about the present than they do about the past."
While acknowledging that all this happened in what was likely a time of climate cooling, Trask notes that people are often using their own experiences to explain what was happening three centuries ago. For example, he points to the 1970s notion that ergot was the culprit.
A fungus on rye plants, ergot would have created hallucinations for the unknowing farmers who processed and ate the grain. That perhaps explains the "specters" or visions that accusers claimed to see.
It is no coincidence that the 1970s was an era of experimentation with drugs, including hallucinogens, Trask said. In the 19th century, a time of religious experimentation, came the suggestion that it was a Puritan power grab by religious figures who felt their authority slipping away.
In the 1960s, socialists framed the upheaval as an effort by greedy landowners to steal the property of the victims.
More recently came the link to post-traumatic stress syndrome, which points to the fact that many of those involved had been exposed to violent American Indian attacks and had seen family members slaughtered.
Oster's research is being cited now by conservative writers, including the "Powerline" blog, to rebut the impression that climate change is a recent phenomenon.
Perhaps what's most remarkable is the fact that the quest to discover the reason for the witch trials has occupied so many for so many years. References to Salem as "hag-ridden" can be found in documents beginning almost immediately after the trial was completed, Baker said.
And they have never stopped.
"We all love a mystery," Baker said. Worse was done in Europe, with thousands of victims killed over the centuries. But perhaps in America, the expectation was for something better.
"I honestly do think Salem is in America's psyche," Baker said. "It's unfinished business."
Then Oster proves the point that Climate Change is NOT brought about by people, but is actually something that happens naturally on a living planet.
So I guess that “Global Warming” produced the Moonbats and not the other way around.
Yes! It’s about time someone noticed the connection between climage change and witch hysteria.
Climate change caused the crucifixian of Christ, you know.
In order to save themselves from severe punishment, they concocted the hysteria and they sold it to the community, who by the way also hated some of the accused women because they were becoming the new important people, the girls sold it to the Courts, who possibly also needed notoriety.
The pastor played it up to the hilt to protect his own daughter. He knew the truth.
That was in MASS? Sounds like the beginning of the Democratic party. GET CAUGHT DOING BAD, BLAME OTHERS. MASS. is still a mess.
The Salem witch thing was so minor it should be nothing more than a footnote. Go back another hundred years in England for the witch burnings, a much wider scale thing.
“Global warming causes earthquakes, typhoons, water spouts, tsunamis, nuclear power plant meltdowns, tornados, cooler weather.”
500 years later and not much has changed. Most of the Democrats party strategy in little more that modern witch hunts.
In fact, most of the leadership of the Democrat Party are characters right out of the Vincent Price movie - Conqueror Worm.
The way Democrats treat Republican women....
One of my ancestors was burned at the stake. All her descendants know that they wanted all her properties. Her husband fled north into present-day New Hampshire, but they went there and tracked him down, dragged him back to Mass. and burned him up, too, and thus got all their properties.
[Similar to `Share the Wealth` BS from Obummer, but was `Take the Wealth`]
Dunking suspected witches in water caused the ocean level to rise.
I thought it was an unusually cold period - maybe the ponds were frozen and they couldn’t do the dunk test. “What do we do now?”
"You have to be an intellectual to believe such nonsense. No ordinary man could be such a fool" - George Orwell
Thank you very much for clearing up this piece of history. For all of my life I thought the Salem Witch Trials were Bush’s fault.
Pretty clear,concise summing up of the Salem witch trials. I am a decendent if Rebecca Nurse, one of three sisters caught up in the hysteria. Rebecca was hung, the second sister died in prison, if my memory serves, and the third was released at the end only to die a few months later from the effects of her imprisonment. Pretty ugly time in New England.
I don’t recall any burnings in Salem village. Hangings and one pressed to death is all I have ever read about. Where did the burnings occure?
A couple of my ancestors and their neighbors signed a document attesting to the innocence of Rebecca Nurse. The Nurse family placed a memorial stone in the family cemetery at the Nurse residence listing the names of the people who came to her defense.
The sister that lived was Sarah. There is a movie about her story "Three Sovereigns for Sarah" starring Vanessa Redgrave. Find the movie and learn her story, it seems she was hid until this hysteria foolishness was all over. The English Crown gave Sarah three sovereigns, one for each sister and for herself.
Then of course all the Trial information and text of all testimonies are online. Have you visited the Nurse homestead in Danvers yet? Beautiful old home and in very good shape. I had the priviledge of seeing it several years ago.
I suppose you also know that all the films about the Trials are filmed on the Rebecca Nurse homesite. The newest "The Crucible", is a good source to view the place, although that version tells some more lies.
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