December 12, 2022
If you listen to people talking about PTSD, you’ll often hear the word “demon” used. It is almost as if the person has been invaded by something evil and what is good within them is battling it on a daily basis.
an evil spirit or devil, especially one thought to possess a person or act as a tormentor in hell.
a cruel, evil, or destructive person or thing.
reckless mischief; devilry.
a forceful, fierce, or skillful performer of a specified activity. (Oxford)
Since trauma has existed since the beginning of time, while the term PTSD is relatively new, what survivors dealt with afterward, is far from new. Considering what the people survived in the time of witchcraft trials, here, as well as in other parts of the world, it is easier to understand how they would not be able to grasp psychological reasoning, and jumped straight into possession and Satan,
A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience (Pivotal Moments in American History)
Historians have speculated on a web of possible causes for the witchcraft that stated in Salem and spread across the region-religious crisis, ergot poisoning, an encephalitis outbreak, frontier war hysteria–but most agree that there was no single factor. Rather, as Emerson Baker illustrates in this seminal new work, Salem was “a perfect storm”: a unique convergence of conditions and events that produced something extraordinary throughout New England in 1692 and the following years, and which has haunted us ever since.
The theory that may explain what was tormenting the afflicted in Salem’s witch trials
Baker says it’s possible that a few of the accusers were purposefully faking their symptoms. However, he says that his ultimate conclusion after years of studying the events is that they were actually suffering from psychological ailments.
Foremost among them is something called mass conversion disorder, a psychogenic disorder that — ironically — made a suspected return to the Salem area more than 300 years later.
“People are in such mental anguish, for a variety of reasons, that literally their minds convert their anxieties to physical symptoms,” Baker told Boston.com.
“They’re not faking it,” he said. “They don’t know what’s going on. If it happens to people, they’re terrified that it’s even happening.”
From there, the “step from affliction to accusation was a short one,” Baker writes in his book about the trials, A Storm of Witchcraft. While societal scapegoats have evolved over time, he writes that “in 1692 the omnipresent threat was witchcraft.” And those identified in Salem were either marginalized members of the community or enemies of the powerful families leading the witch hunt.
Baker acknowledged that the conversion disorder — a term introduced by Sigmund Freud and otherwise known as mass hysteria — is “still kind of a controversial diagnosis today.”
“It’s hard to make that diagnosis 300 years in the past without the person right in front of you,” he said, adding that it’s possible that a combination of psychological elements played into the girls’ odd behavior.
When you think about what life was like back then, it is easy to think that the Puritans would have little knowledge of what trauma did to them, or what they were doing to others.
PTSD in the Massachusetts Bay Colony
by Gordon Harris
From the founding of the colony, the Puritans were highly selective of who they allowed to live with them. In the first year of its settlement, the Freemen of the Ipswich established “for our own peace and comfort” the exclusive right to determine the privileges of citizenship in the new community, and gave formal notice that “no stranger coming among us” could have place or standing without their permission. Beginning in 1656, laws forbade any captain to land Quakers, and any individual of that sect was to be severely whipped on his or her entrance, and none were allowed to speak with them. Newcomers who were unable to support themselves and their families were “warned out.”
Think about what the survivors were dealing with.
In Salem Village in February 1692, two prepubescent girls Betty Parris (age nine) and her cousin Abigail Williams (age 11) began to have fits, complained of being pricked with pins and accused their neighbors of witchcraft. Some of the afflicted girls had been traumatized after losing one or both parents in King William’s War. The afflicted girls routinely described the Devil as a “dark man.”George Burroughs, the unpopular predecessor to Rev. Parris in Salem Village, had come from Maine, and returned there when the parish refused to pay him. Only five weeks before the accusations began, Indians had burned York Maine, 80 miles north of Salem, killing 48 people and taking 73 captives. When one of the accused confessed that the Devil had tempted her in Maine, Reverend Burroughs was arrested, charged with witchcraft and encouraging the Indians, and was hanged on Gallows Hill.
Think about what Reverend Burroughs went through. The arrest warrant was issued ten years after he left Salem Village and was in Maine. He lost everything, including his first wife, whom he couldn’t afford to bury and had to borrow money. The villagers refused to pay his salary and he had to leave for the sake of his family. The hatred from the people of Salem Village was so powerful, they were out to get him no matter how long it took to do it.
The Witchcraft Trial of Reverend George Burroughs
History of Massachusetts
Burroughs encountered the same problems as his predecessor as well as hostility from Bayley’s friends and supporters, according to the book Salem Witchcraft by Charles W. Upham:
“Immediately upon calling to the village to reside, he encountered the hostility of those persons who, as the special friends of Mr. Bayley, allowed their prejudices to be concentrated upon his innocent successor. The unhappy animosities arising from this source entirely demoralized the Society, and, besides making it otherwise very uncomfortable to a minister, led to a neglect and derangement of all financial affairs. In September, 1681, Mr. Burrough’s wife died, and he had to run in debt for her funeral expenses. Rates were not collected, and his salary was in arrears.”
By now I hope you see that PTSD is not new. People accused others because they did not know what was causing everything they were dealing with. Over the years, I’ve learned that those who claim PTSD is not real, have never survived something, or are under some delusion that they may also have it. I remember one veteran many years ago, attacking me for posting on PTSD and claiming that it was not real. It took him a while before I received an email apologizing and he admitted he had it but fought for years to bury what it was doing to him, instead of trying to recover and heal.
We cannot do anything to educate those who do not want to learn. We cannot do anything more than learn what we can so we can be happier in our own lives and then reach out to others fighting their own demons.
We live in a time when we know there are psychological as well as spiritual aspects to what makes us, us. No human is designed to endure trauma over and over again without paying some kind of price. We also know that the price does not have to take over our lives. It does not have to destroy us after we survived what caused it. We are survivors! Say that to yourself over and over again until you finally realize that and then, be empowered to heal so you can rejoice as one.
Kathie Costos author of Ministers Of The Mystery Series.