Ergot Theory to Salem Witch Trials

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Ergot Theory to Salem Witch Trials by Mind Map: Ergot Theory to Salem Witch Trials

1. Linnda Caporael

1.1. Caporael, Linnda. 1976. “Ergotism: The Satan Loosed in Salem?”. Science. 192, no. 4234: 21-26.

1.1.1. Introduces Ergotism theory as reason for Salem Witch Trials. Linnda Caporael presented a new theory to the causes of the Salem Witch Trials in 1976 as a graduate student at The University of California, Santa Barbara. Her theory concluded that the Salem hysteria was a result of the fungal disease, ergotism. Ergotism is a disease that results from eating rye bread that has been contaminated by the fungus, ergot. When Caporael developed this fresh perspective, she was living on the tail end of the enormous drug culture in America. The sixties created a counterculture of drug experimentation, especially with hallucinogens, and LSD became popular until it was officially banned from the States in 1968 . As a result of living during this time, Caporael was able to see the connections between the drug, LSD, ergotism, and the symptoms of the victims in Salem. Ergot has “ten percent the activity of LSD-25, making it an exceptionally potent psychotropic” . There are two types of ergotism, convulsive and gangrenous. One of the first to offer a biological perspective, Caporael believed that the evidence the court records provided, that convulsive ergotism caused the witchcraft hysteria. She concluded this based on the similarities of the symptoms in both Salem and from ergot, the climate conditions of Salem, and the localization of Salem. Caporael’s bold theory instantly became a forerunner in the debate of the Salem trials and created different camps of people who agree with her, disagree, disagree and suggest own theory, and remain indifferent.

2. Nicholas P. Spanos & Jack Gottlieb.

2.1. Spanos, Nicholas, and Jack Gottlieb. 1976. “Ergotism and the Salem Village Witch Trials”. Science. 194, no. 4272: 1390-1394.

2.1.1. Disagrees with theory Nicholas Spanos and Jack Gottlieb directly refuted Caporael on December 24, 1976; only months after her publication. They argued that “the records of the events of 1692 do not support the hypothesis that ergot poisoning was involved”(1390). In their article, they tried to show how Caporael’s argument wasn’t well grounded. Using the research of George Barger, the psychologists explained that the victims of an ergot outbreak typically live in a community that lacks vitamin A, which is found in fish and dairy products. Considering Salem was heavy in both, they didn’t see how her argument would be valid. They also attacked Caporael on the age of the victims. Also, according to Barger, young children were more susceptible to convulsive ergotism than adults were. Records show that only 3 of the 11 girls who were affected in Salem were under 15, there aren’t any documents showing a high rate of children being affected. Spanos and Gottlieb also challengeg Caporael on the grounds of the symptoms shown. Symptoms of convulsive ergotism include, vomiting, diarrhea, change in the skin color, itching, tingling, and convulsions, among many others (1391). However, they couldn’t find any evidence of these given symptoms in the case of Salem. Finally, they refuted Caporael’s statement that “the Salem witchcraft episode was an event localized in both time and space”(25). They state that the accusations happened in many places besides Salem. They concluded that based on the evidence given, it doesn’t support Caporael’s theory that ergotism caused the craze.

3. Mary Matossian

3.1. Matossian, M K. 1982. “Ergot and the Salem Witchcraft Affair”. American Scientist. 70, no. 4: 355.

3.1.1. Agrees with Caporael and rejects Spanos/Gottlieb argument. Following Spanos and Gottlieb’s rebuttal of Caporael’s theory, historian, Mary Matossian defended Caporael in 1982. After reviewing the debate, she wrote in her article about Spanos and Gottlieb’s rebuttal, “I have concluded, after examining the Salem court transcript, the ecological situation, and recent literature on ergotism, that this objection is not as valid as originally perceived”. Matossian first rejected Spanos and Gottlieb’s rebuttal on the basis that if the girls were just pretending with their symptoms, that couldn’t have explain the symptoms of the animals that suffered. She also argued about the age issue, saying that “children and teenagers are more vulnerable to ergotism than adults because they ingest more food per unit of body weight; consequently, they may ingest more poison per unit of body weight”(355). Matossian defended Caporael and agreed that the symptoms shown reflected cases of ergotism. The symptoms that weren’t shown, such as headache, nausea, diarrhea, chills, and a ravenous appetite may not have been shown in the court records, because they weren’t typically associated with bewitchment. Matossian also challengeed Spanos and Gottlieb’s argument about the age of the victims. Even though they stated that the amount of children affected was lower than in a typical ergot outbreak, Matossian mentioned the epidemic in Ethiopia; stating that the ages in the Ethiopian outbreak were not much different than that of Salem. Matossian concluded that despite a limitation of records, the evidence remaining suggested that the Salem affairs were caused by ergotism and that the trials may have been caused by an disguised health problem.

4. Nicholas P. Spanos

4.1. Spanos, Nicholas. 1983. “Ergotism and the Salem Witch Panic: A Critical Analysis and an Alternative Conceptualization”. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. 19, no. 4: 358-369.

4.1.1. Refutes Matossian; defends origina rebuttall A year after Matossian’s defense of Caporael’s theory, Nicholas Spanos decided to challenge the theory yet again. This time, proving Mattossian’s defense as invalid. In regard to Matossian’s defense, he called the new information in her article “irrelevant to the ergot hypothesis, incorrect, or presented in a highly misleading manner”(358). Spanos claims that there isn’t a single piece of evidence that supports Caporael’s claim, and the Salem trials are much better explained through a political or economical way. In his article, he argued each one of Matossian’s three points. For her point about crop failures and food shortages, he argues that she includes no citations, no diary entries, no sermons, and no evidence of this whatsoever. She claims that the food shortage was a result of a colder winter, yet her only piece of evidence is a diary entry saying that winter was “very cold”. He also calls her out on her statement that convulsive symptoms began in December. According to him there are no such records. On her argument about the Ethiopian outbreak, Spanos argues that it was actually a case of gangrenous ergotism, and the symptoms for the two are different. Spanos also defends his earlier position about the symptoms and says that Matassian doesn’t have evidence for convulsive ergotism in Salem.

5. JW Bennett & Ronald Bentley

5.1. 1999

5.1.1. Agrees with Spanos/Gottlieb Finds it noteworthy that the debate would occur at a time when LSD was in the media and used for recreational use.

6. Alan Woolf

6.1. 2000

6.1.1. Agrees with Spanos/Gottlieb Discusses various arguments for what caused Salem. Concludes that based on evidence, it's unlikely that ergotism explains Salem. Lists arguments for/against ergotism as cause for Salem.

7. Gordon Rutler

7.1. 2003

7.1.1. Agrees with Caporael? Explains what ergot is, discusses the symptoms, talks about ergot theory in Salem.