"It's just a bunch of hocus pocus".....a line from one of my favorite Halloween movies, Hocus Pocus, which was set in Salem, MA.
We recently visited Salem, specifically, the historic district. I have always been fascinated with the Salem Witch Trials and the Salem area. I envisioned Salem filled with all sorts of historic Puritan overtones relating to the witch trials, with volunteers or paid city employees walking the streets in costumes reenacting the 17th Century way of life. I realized quickly that I live in a fantasy world because that's not what I found. I found quite a bit of modern day shops selling current witch-type items....voodoo dolls, potions, magic charms, incense, etc. There were also psychic shops and tarot card readers o'plenty. I was totally NOT interested in this bunch of hocus pocus.
I wanted information that would substantiate or contradict everything I've ever read and heard about the Salem Witch Trials. I was looking for something a little more solid than religious hysteria. While I couldn't find anything concrete to contradict the craziness of the witch trials, I was able to speak to someone who offered a little more plausible explanation for the witch trial period (which was actually only 4 months in the Salem area). She said that most locals believe the witch hysteria occurred over land disputes. If John B. had some land that William S. wanted to get his hands on, then Willie boy would accuse John (or someone in John's family) of witchcraft. John (or said family member) is executed and the land becomes available for the taking. Sounds pretty reasonable to me. After all, these guys were in a new country trying to find their footing and trying to escape the long arm of the country they left behind.
They worked under the premise that "he who has the most, wins". This makes sense to me. Other plausible reasons for the unexplained illnesses include food allergies.
Again, these people are in a new country and if you eat something poisonous or something you are allergic to because you don't know it's poisonous or that you have an allergy, it would make you sick or kill you.
This period of US History is so surreal. We are so far removed from this time period that it is hard to imagine that this type of religious and political hysteria took place. But it's all there, in black and white or living color.
I've provided a few links for your inquiring mind. Salem Witch Trials; Salem: The World Behind the Hysteria; Wikipedia Salem Witch Trials.