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What Is the Connection between Witchcraft and Hysteria?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2016
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Witchcraft and hysteria are connected because people convicted of being witches are believed to have been suffering from mass hysteria. Mass hysteria occurs when an individual shows symptoms of an illness and then the people around him or her begin to show similar symptoms out of belief that they have caught the cause of the first person’s symptoms. An often cited case of witchcraft and hysteria are the Salem witch trials, where hundreds of innocent men and women were accused of being witches and, in some cases, tortured and killed. Belief in witchcraft goes back hundreds of years and spans countries across the world, though the specifics and acceptance of it vary.

Stress, certain medical conditions, and fear are some potential causes of hysteria. Its occurrence makes a person overwhelmed by emotion to the point that he or she sometimes cannot speak or walk. At one point in time, hysteria was believed to be a health problem caused by a woman’s uterus and cured by pregnancy. Modern doctors have mostly given up the term hysteria in favor of more specific diagnoses. In fact, some doctors of old documented hundreds or sometimes thousands of hysteria symptoms, so essentially any unexplained medical condition could be attributed to it.

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Mass hysteria is a bit different from hysteria experienced by one person. This kind of hysteria can affect hundreds of people because of one person or incident. For example, an individual might experience a real seizure from an undiagnosed health condition, but the people in the same room or town as that individual only know that he or she had odd symptoms. When those people believe the original condition is contagious,or that the source of the problem has afflicted them as well, mass hysteria occurs. Witchcraft and hysteria are connected because of historical examples where mass hysteria was triggered by suspected witchcraft.

The Salem witch trials were the result of unexplained physical ailments in an environment without adequate scientific understanding, which ultimately led to mass hysteria. Not only did the citizens of Salem not understand modern science, but they lived in a society where all misfortunes were blamed on supernatural causes. The people who were first accused of being witches during this event were accused of harming young girls. These girls behaved in an odd manner, but the true cause of their ailments was not discovered. Witchcraft and hysteria are connected because this combination of events, combined with an uneasy wartime atmosphere and a heavily religious society, resulted in many people being accused of witchcraft.

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