None of this began with Salem Village or New England or the Puritans. Greatwitch hunts had convulsed Europe since the fifteenth century. In 250 years ofwitch hunting (beginning in 1479), the British killed some 30,000 witches. Thestunning fact about these pogroms - in both the Old World and New England - isthat both the hunters and the hunted were mostly women. Of course men ran theactual trials and justified them in learned treatises. The most famousdisquisition blames witchcraft on "woman's insatiable lust" - and that was fivecenturies before Hollywood did the story.
Witches gave Salem villagers an enemy to blame for the many troubles theyfaced - frontier war, smallpox epidemic, economic change, religious diversity.And witches were not much of a stretch in a seventeenth-century world filledwith magic. Midwives knew strange potions. Cunning people foretold the future.People read almanacs, wore amulets and protected themselves from witchcraft byboiling pins in the urine of the bewitched (that flung the spell back on thewitch). They flogged possessed animals and expected to see the scars on thewitch.