On October 12, 1692 the governor of Massachusetts pardoned the “witches” who had been charged in the Salem Witch Trials. He had determined that innocent people had been condemned to death in mistaken court proceedings: forced confessions and the use of non-objective spectral evidence as indicator of guilt.
National Freethought Day commemorates Oct. 12, 1692, celebrating free thought and reason.
In Sacramento, California the holiday has been a tradition since 2002 and is called “California Freethought Day,” spanning an entire weekend. California Freethought Day is held on Oct. 16, and it celebrates the banning of the paranormal in courts, expansion of the separation of church and state, scientific advancement, and freedom of speech. It features workshops, lectures, and a main event on the State Capitol.
The Dark and Strange History of the Salem Witch Trials
The Salem Witch Trials occurred in 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts. More than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft and 20 were killed during the mass hysteria and scapegoating, says historyofmassachusetts.org. The trials began in February 1692 and ended in May 1963 when the remaining accused were released from jail.
Young girls in Salem started behaving strangely after being in the company of Tituba, a slave girl from the Caribbean. The young girls suffered fevers, screaming fits, and writhing. The doctor, unable to find physical causes for the disease, proposed the girls “bewitched.” Modern theories suggest the girls had been suffering from a fungus called ergot found in rye that causes similar symptoms.
Two of the “bewitched” girls named Sarah Good, Sarah Osburn, and Tituba as the women who had bewitched them. Tituba confessed to being approached by Satan, Good, and Osburn to do the devil’s bidding through witchcraft, sparking months of trials and hundreds of witchcraft accusations.
John Proctor had been opposed to the idea of witchcraft before the trials; however, as the trials continued, colonists suspected the validity of the court proceedings, most notably after the pious Rebecca Nurse was executed and the farmer Giles Corey was cruelly tortured to death for a plea. In September 1692 spectral evidence was deemed inadmissible in court.
U.S History.org details the five types of evidence that had been admitted in the Salem Witch Trials:
“First, the accused might be asked to pass a test, like reciting the Lord's Prayer. This seems simple enough. But the young girls who attended the trial were known to scream and writhe on the floor in the middle of the test. It is easy to understand why some could not pass.
Second, physical evidence was considered. Any birthmarks, warts, moles, or other blemishes were seen as possible portals through which Satan could enter a body.
Witness testimony was a third consideration. Anyone who could attribute their misfortune to the sorcery of an accused person might help get a conviction.
Fourth was spectral evidence. Puritans believed that Satan could not take the form of any unwilling person. Therefore, if anyone saw a ghost or spirit in the form of the accused, the person in question must be a witch.
Last was the confession. Confession seems foolhardy to a defendant who is certain of his or her innocence. In many cases, it was the only way out. A confessor would tearfully throw himself or herself on the mercy of the town and court and promise repentance. None of the confessors were executed. Part of repentance might of course include helping to convict others.” (http://www.ushistory.org/us/3g.asp)
The cause of the Salem Witch Trials is still unknown.
How this holiday Unites People
National Freethought Day promotes free thought. To celebrate:
research a current political issue and gain a balanced and well-researched understanding of the debate to form your own free-thinking reasoned opinion
publicly support your opinions and beliefs by thoughtfully speaking to friends and family members, promoting understanding
spread awareness about free thought on social media