Inside The 400-Year-Old Mystery Of What Caused The Salem Witch Trials

Published August 20, 2023
Updated November 7, 2023

Boredom And Guilt During Puritan Times

Witch Exam

Wikimedia CommonsAlleged witches underwent brutal “tests” in Salem, including being stripped and examined for any strange blemishes.

The witch trials began in early 1692 after 9-year-old Betty Parris and her 11-year-old cousin Abigail Williams began to exhibit some strange behavior.

They hid under furniture, cried out in pain, and sometimes even barked like dogs. Samuel Parris, the father of Betty Parris, called for a physician to look at the girls. Since the doctor found nothing physically wrong with them, it was then concluded that the girls had been “bewitched.”

But some sources suggest that the girls may have been acting strangely because they were simply frightened by a fortune-telling game.

In Salem at the time, children were restricted from almost all forms of play. They were expected to spend most of their time doing chores and studying the Bible. This lack of stimulation naturally led to boredom.

And this boredom may help to explain why Betty Parris and Abigail Williams became so interested in fortune-telling, which was allegedly introduced to them by a slave named Tituba. As one of their only outlets for activity, they naturally became drawn to these superstitions.

That’s why some believe that their involvement in these forbidden activities — and a combination of guilt and fear they felt from participating in them — may have been the real cause of their strange behavior.

Jaclyn Anglis
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.