During break the other day, I heard some of my classmates talking about the release of Hocus Pocus 2. This got me thinking about how the Salem witch trials are displayed nowadays as entertainment, and they take away from the seriousness of their victims’ plights.
The Salem witch trials are usually associated with spooky stories or Halloween. However, in 17th-century Salem, Massachusetts, there was nothing supernatural occurring. The trials occurred from February 1692 to May 1693, after many girls in the town started experiencing fits of screaming and seizures. A local doctor had diagnosed them with “bewitchment.” Likely looking for someone to blame, the girls’ families pressured the girls into accusing people of “cursing” them. Two of those girls, nine-year-old Betty Parris and eleven-year-old Abigail Williams, named three women: Tituba, an enslaved woman of color (enslaved by the Parrises), Sarah Goode, a homeless beggar, and Sarah Osborne, an elderly woman. All three of these women lacked a male figure to speak up for them, which at the time was very necessary in order to be taken seriously. These three women were put on trial by the town and investigated. Both Sarah Goode and Sarah Osborne claimed to be innocent, but Tituba confessed to practicing witchcraft. Considering that Tituba was a woman of color and enslaved by the family accusing her, it is almost certain that she was coerced into confessing or thought it was her best option. Later sources claimed that she told the magistrate that she was beaten by her enslaver and forced to confess. Tituba’s confession sent Salem and the greater New England area into mass hysteria, leading more people to accuse each other of doing witchcraft. 78 percent of the resulting accused were women, and the men that were accused were men that were associated with a “bewitched” woman in some way. In total, these trials allowed one hundred and fifty wrongful imprisonments to occur, nineteen of which resulted in wrongful executions.
Salem was a Puritan town, and women in a Puritan society were supposed to be submissive, humble, obedient, and modest. When these women became ill or started to act outside of the expected behavior for a woman, they became targets for others’ hate. It was as if these executions were warning signs to other women to comply with gender norms. There was also a religious aspect to this condemnation. Puritans believed that bewitchment was caused by the Devil, and therefore rested assured that God disapproved of these “bewitched” individuals. A vicious cycle, Puritan society would not accept these individuals and targeted them because of it. Considering all of this, why are we making funny movies about these women? The first Hocus Pocus, which follows a similar story, came out in 1993. What was considered politically correct then is very different from now. The TV show, Friends, came out in 1994 and has not aged well because of its homophobic and transphobic themes. Friends would certainly not reboot with the same themes today. Hocus Pocus sequeled with the same misogynistic and patriarchal ideology behind it. The Hocus Pocus franchise is not the only thing making fun out of the trials; there are many other tourist attractions themed around the trials. Salem, Massachusetts, itself has become a Halloween tourist destination, and part of Salem’s historical and social significance is being lost in this interpretation. Overall, as a society, we should be more thoughtful about how we display this tragic event.