Halloween is approaching (even though you might have already celebrated it last weekend, you spooky kids). With the spirits of the dead ready to rise from the graves and haunt us, we at Azarius are totally in the mood for Halloween. This would be a good opportunity to share a super weird theory with you about witch trials, bad acid-trips and the patriarchy. We don't know if we can think of any scarier combination. So here it goes.
The events happened in 1692, in Salem, Massachusetts, after this small town had just been founded by American settlers. Existence was tough, and the people – who were Protestants who had ran away from persecution by the Catholics – took their religiousness to quite an extreme level in order to deal with the lack of resources, the extreme weather, the food shortage and other factors that were tormenting them.
In 1692, strange things started happening. A group of three teenage girls from the west side of the village came down with a mysterious illness. Symptoms included bad stomach cramps, twitching, the feeling of being choked, the feeling of being pricked by needles and last but not least: visual hallucinations. There seemed to be no medical explanation for these symptoms. This sparked some serious paranoia among the residents of the village. Whether these girls were being a bit too sensational about it or not, they claimed that they were bewitched.
It didn't take long before the first 'witch' (an older, homeless woman) was accused and imprisoned, with many more “off-beat” women and even some men to follow. Mainly unmarried women, childless women and just not very avid church-goers were accused of witchcraft. “Witches” were imprisoned, and nineteen of them were killed. The witch trials stopped quite abruptly when “bewitched” people started to target richer, more upper-class women.
And now something completely different. On April 19, 1943, three days after first finding out about the pleasant, psychedelic effects of LSD, our favourite scientist Albert Hofmann decided to take a full dose and wrote history with his magical bike ride home, followed by what could be described as the first (intentional) LSD trip in history. He discovered LSD by synthesizing ergot; a fungus that typically grows on rye, and develops best in a damp climate. Ergot in its unsynthesized form can cause a trippy effect, but generally not a nice one. Ingesting a high amount of ergot induces a really, really bad trip with a lot of nasty physical side effects.
Now back to Salem. There are clues that in 1692, there was a particularly damp period. It's known that the people from Salem grew rye, and that rye bread was consumed a lot. The western part of the town was swampy and therefore more damp than the eastern area. And guess what? Most people who thought they were bewitched lived in the west of town. So one and one is two: the residents of Salem were probably suffering from ergot poisoning. In other words: they were probably just having a really bad trip.
Obviously, we will never know for sure. But it's still an interesting theory and a sad, scary and infuriating story. And even though the girls in Salem might not actually have been bewitched, it doesn't mean that there weren't any people doing witchcraft around that time. For ages, there has been a really rich, witchcraft tradition, with ancient knowledge about the use of plants and (sometimes psychedelic) herbs. You can read all about herbs from the witches' garden in our encyclopaedia.
Are you not so much into ergot poisoning, but definitely into tripping on natural substances?
Want to make your own witches' brew for Halloween?
Author: Sterre Marrée