While watching the special on the series Salem that I posted in the previous blog I wrote and will re-post below, I became fascinated with information I had long suspected and pondered, mainly that there was a kernel of truth to the Salem Witch Trials.
Salem Season One - The Witchcraft Of Salem
We've all been taught that the people arrested, tried and/or executed in Salem, let alone in Europe during the European Witch Hunts, were completely innocent, that there was and is no such thing as witches. However, from my viewpoint I take issue with this. The prevailing opinion today is just that, an opinion. People of the past firmly accepted the existence of magic, the supernatural and witchcraft. They were as real to the people then as the rising and setting sun. Additionally, the practice of folk magic was incredibly widespread. In a world without the science and medicine that we know today, magic was turned to for cures of common illnesses, afflictions, aches, and pains, be they physical or mental. Almost every single person took part in this aspect of magic. In fact, this "folk magic medicine" was so popular and widespread that it often wasn't viewed as magic at all. It was just "what you did" in such circumstances. Even today people do things that have zero medicinal value because it's been ingrained in them that "this is what you do" for this circumstance. Take putting butter on a burn. It has zero effect on the burn, usually does not stop the pain, or does so only temporarily, and does not help in the healing process. However, it's part of this magical body of lore that has survived the centuries and which people still perform because they have been taught as children that "this is what you do" for this circumstance. If you get burned, put some butter on it. Another classic example is rubbing a potato or apple on a wart and burying it. So people didn't even recognize the healing folk magic they did to be actual magic. For them it was just as real to them as our medicine is real to us today.
In addition to folk medicine there were people who took things farther, using folk magic to effect reality. The most common would have been using magic for protection or to ward off evil. Most people did not have a problem with this form of magic. However, for the super-religious like the Puritans, any form of magic unconnected to folk medicine, would have been taboo. We know that Mary Sibley, a minor character of the Salem Witch Trials but who figures prominently in the series Salem, was practicing this sort of thing, more specifically, magic to detect witchcraft or determine the identities of witches. She did this openly and must not have realized that any form of magic would have raised eyebrows in Puritan society. So we do have proof that folk magic was being practiced in Salem. Mary Sibley would have been a "good" practitioner. However, every coin has an opposite side. If there were good practitioners of magic in Salem then there likely were bad practitioners as well, practitioners of folk magic that were motivated by jealousy, greed, desire for power, desire to steal another woman's man, desire to acquire another person's possessions, the desire to destroy a rival. Such people may have even gone all the way to actually selling their soul and making a pact with the Devil. If you are raised in a Judeo-Christian society and accept that world view and if you are desperate and suffer in poverty, ill health, or have suffered a great loss and have prayed to God with no relief you might be tempted to see what the other side has to offer.
Where there witches in Salem? If your definition of witchcraft is loose, meaning anyone who practices magic, then yes, there most assuredly were because we have record of folk magic being practiced in Salem. If you speak of the traditional concept of witches who sold their soul to Satan in return for powers then there were also likely to be people who believed they did just that and that they were witches. What we can rule out is that they definitely were not Wiccans, nor Pagans. They were practitioners of Christian folk magic with some possibly turning to the Devil out of evil desires or else in a time of need.
This is why I have written that "we", practitioners of folk magic traditions, not Wiccans, not Neopagans, are the real witches of old, though the good practitioners of our ranks would likely not identify as witches or use the witch label. It is we, good and evil practitioners of folk magic, who were targeted in the witch hunts. It is we who were arrested, tried and executed, not the wannabes of modern times.
Salem Season 2 - Witch War Special