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Bad Rye and the Salem Witches

Article #199 • Written by Alan Bellows

▼ Scroll to Continue ▼

In the late 1600s, the Puritan settlement of Salem in Massachusetts toppled into chaos when accusations of witchcraft began to appear. Two young girls, aged nine and eleven, were said to have fallen victim to fits "beyond the power of Epileptic Fits or natural disease," including screams, strange contortions, and throwing objects. The village doctor, unable to explain the symptoms, suggested that witchcraft may be afoot in Salem. Others in the settlement began to exhibit similar inexplicable behavior, and shortly the accusations began to fly.

The infamous trials that followed left nineteen people hanged to death, and scores of others imprisoned under suspicion of supernatural wrongdoing. Today, few would suggest that those punished were actually guilty of witchcraft, but the true cause of the errant behavior in Salem's citizens is still a mystery. One theory-- perhaps the most intriguing yet offered-- suggests that the community's rye crop may have been partially to blame. Moreover, such maladjusted rye may have played a role in many of history's mysterious events.

Salem, like many other communities in the past and present, harvested rye as part of their grain crops, and it was a staple in their diet. But it turns out that rye grass is susceptible to a particular fungus called Claviceps purpurea which infects the edible portions of the plant. During the ergot stage of this fungus' development, a cocktail of interesting alkaloids are present which will cause problems with circulation and neurotransmission when ingested by humans. A woman named Linnda Caporael was the first to suggest that Ergot of Rye may have contributed to the madness in the Salem trials.

Ergot poisoning, or ergotism, can cause a distressing array of side effects. The initial symptoms are usually gastrointestinal in nature, including nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Shortly thereafter the sufferer may experience a gamut of symptoms caused by ergot's influence on the central nervous system. These usually start with relatively benign sensations such as headaches, "pins and needles," and burning/itching sensations on the skin; but the the experience can escalate into spasms, convulsions, unconsciousness, hallucinations, and psychosis. In severe cases, the body tissues experience physical side effects such as loss of peripheral sensation, swelling, blisters, dry gangrene, and sometimes death.

Wheat infected with ergot
Wheat infected with ergot

This menagerie of nastiness is caused by two characteristics in the Ergot of Rye: Clavine alkaloids, which cause convulsive symptoms; and ergotamine-ergocristine alkaloids which restrict blood vessels and starve the limbs and brain of oxygen.

Ergot poisoning has been problematic throughout history. In the Middle Ages the disease was known as "St. Anthony's fire," and it was responsible for countless limbs lost to gangrene and many deaths. Entire villages were sometimes known the suffer such symptoms, and it is now believed that these outbreaks were caused when a village bakery used ergot-contaminated grain. Monks of the order of St. Anthony the Great became skilled at treating the condition with balms that stimulated circulation, and they became skilled amputators. The cause of the disease was not isolated until the late seventeenth century, and it did not become widely known until the 1800s. Before that time, epidemics of ergotism were often seen as a punishment from God.

Today historians are speculating that some other bizarre events of the past may be due to ergot poisoning. For instance, an affliction known as "dancing mania" which struck Europe from the 14th to the 17th century may have been caused by the troublesome fungus. This phenomenon caused groups of people to dance through the streets of cities-- often speaking nonsense and/or foaming at the mouth-- until they finally collapsed from exhaustion. Sufferers often described wild visions, and continued to writhe after falling to the ground. Some also suggest that Kykeon, a popular hallucinogenic drink from ancient Greece, may have been made from ergot-infected barley.

Given the conditions, the idea that the Salem witch trials may have been fuelled by ergot poisoning is quite plausible. The season had been warm and the growing area was swampy, a combination which creates an ideal environment for Ergot of Rye to develop. Also supporting this hypothesis is the fact that symptoms characteristic of ergot poisoning occurred in Connecticut in the same year. The ergot poisoning in Salem could not have been severe, however, otherwise more dramatic side effects would have occurred. Salem was a community stricken with inequality, fear of the native Indians, bitter disputes over land, and sexual repression; It is likely that Ergot of Rye was merely a catalyst in an already volatile situation, and mass hysteria took care of the rest.

Of course there are alternate theories regarding the cause of the Salem Witch Trials. Some have suggested that Salem residents may have suffered from a form of encephalitis spread by birds, or possibly Huntington's disease. Both are possible, though there is insufficient evidence to make any confident conclusions.

In addition to its colorful, trouble-making past, Ergot of Rye has had some influence in medicine in modern times. Because it causes strong uterine contractions in women, it has been used historically to induce abortions. Also, Dr. Albert Hofmann-- the "father" of LSD-- discovered the infamous mind-altering drug while experimenting with ergot. Although ergot itself contains no LSD, the two substances have much in common.

Article written by Alan Bellows, published on 27 June 2006. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.

Article design and artwork by Alan Bellows.
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83 Comments
OmniNegro
Posted 27 June 2006 at 10:05 pm

Drugs in the bread...

I like the idea, but I would prefer to pick and choose what is going to make me insane.

Salem was not anything unusual in those days.

Everyone is still looking for a way to judge others as "unworthy" or evil.

I wonder if humans will ever change.

First post?


k310
Posted 27 June 2006 at 10:10 pm

so, one theorised that they were tripping?


klone
Posted 28 June 2006 at 12:38 am

OmniNegro, great post!

thats all.


Crispy
Posted 28 June 2006 at 01:09 am

Claviceps purpurea ergo ergotism.

I eat hallucigenic fungi, therefore I go crazy...

(Apologies for the stunningly awful Latin. ;-))


another viewpoint
Posted 28 June 2006 at 05:05 am

...come on down to the bakery boys...there's gonna be a POTTY tonight ! (New Englandeese for party)

Well Alan, you've done it again. Who would have thought that the entire "witching" affair would have been unraveled by an innocent little bread seed.

But now you've left us hanging...you said, "Some have suggested that Salem residents may have suffered from a form of encephalitis spread by birds, or possibly Huntington's disease." Okay...so how might these afflictions have caused the erratic behavior?

And then, what precautions are taken today to insure that the food chain is not affected by "bad rye"?

Great article again...and as some of us readers and followers would say...Damn Interesting! Thanx.


WolfManDragon
Posted 28 June 2006 at 07:08 am

Back in high school, while we were studying the witch trials, I remember the teacher telling us that one of the girls confessed latter in life that she had made up the her story because she was angry at Goody??

It’s been too many years ago to remember all the details.


Jakubs02
Posted 28 June 2006 at 07:46 am

I also remember that one of the girls confessed to making it all up. So, maybe they did suffer from the Ergot of Rye, but used the situation to harass and hurt people they did not like.


kc0dxh
Posted 28 June 2006 at 08:12 am

what precautions are taken today to insure that the food chain is not affected by "bad rye"?

firment it to make ale


dday
Posted 28 June 2006 at 08:36 am

more evidence of "we have no idea what it happening" = "must be god/religion related" ...woohoo.
aka ... God=Magic
Hope all those religious zealots out there can read and comprehend this.
(Yes, I know.... I am damned, I don't believe.)

Personally I would like a little buzz in my bagel.
Care for a "Doper Donut?", mmmm.


dday
Posted 28 June 2006 at 08:46 am

Oh wait... I'm sorry... "but God put the ergotism in there".
My bad, sorry for the ranting.


schuylercat
Posted 28 June 2006 at 09:04 am

Nice one, Alan. This was a really well-done article - DI, and just…well, neat.

I need to add something, though: your statement: "...an affliction known as "dancing mania" which struck Europe from the 14th to the 17th century may have been caused by the troublesome fungus."

I must assert: This happened again in the 1970's, when a disturbing mass lunacy - and I would daresay disease - called "Disco" happened. It was caused by The Bee Gees, KC and the Sunshine Band, Gloria Gaynor and (oh...my...God...) Donna Summer, to name but a few. This cultural devastation was almost as terrifying as the worst plagues the world has even known, and especially insidious were the side effects, such as the hairstyles, bell bottom jeans, and the rise of “Shaggyism”, or calling everyone “man”, as in the following example:

PERSON 1 – “Hey, man, I’m leaving, like, already gone, man. Be back, like, soon, man.”
PERSON 2 – “Where are you going?”
PERSON 1 – “Out, man! I said it, dig? Like, I’m going out, man!”
PERSON 2 – “ Well OK, just don’t be late. And stop calling me “man” – I’m your mother for cripes’ sake.”

While Disco was not caused by toxins, there are similarities to the theory of ergotism and Salem’s unrest – the cultural torpor of the time, Richard Nixon, mass media’s emergence from the murky depths were all contributors to a society ripe for mass insanity, and all it took was go##amn Barry Gibb and John Travolta hashing through “Saturday Night Fever” to set off the entire reeking chain of idiocy.

In the end, no one was ever punished for causing Disco, which I feel was a profound miscarriage of justice. Fortunately, attrition has it’s say in all things: the evil miscreants who caused it are slowing dying of natural causes, never to pollute this Earth again with their horrible musical/dancing diseases. And good riddance.

Now I’m off to find something by Linnda Caporael to throw myself deeper into this rabbit hole…


fatbear
Posted 28 June 2006 at 09:47 am

Around the same time Linnda Caporael was doing her research regarding Salem, Gloria Skurzynski was looking at Ergot from a novelist's point of view and voila, It Happened in Hamlin was the result; a fascinating look at 14th century ratcatching and delusional children. It's out-of-print now, but worth the trip to a library.

As for Disco, it wasn't Ergot; after the '60's the power-structure-that-be (a la today's Cheney, etc.) needed a way to defuse populism. and so Disco. It's a long way from "4 Dead in Ohio" to "Voulez-vous Couche avec Moi?" and that distance was traveled for a reason.


circumstance
Posted 28 June 2006 at 11:02 am

It's an interesting idea, but as far as I remember, the afflictions in Salem only happened to a group of adolescent girls. If it were something in the food supply, wouldn't everyone have symptoms? Or are the effects of ergot poisoning more pronounced in the young?


Mark
Posted 28 June 2006 at 11:23 am

Did you know that 75% of women accused of witchcraft in "the olden days" in Britain were acquitted? And the rest were hanged, not burnt at the stake.

Apologies, I can't be any more accurate than "the olden days" but it was basically when they were burning all the witches. (Except of course they weren't, but you get the idea.)


Brian Carnell
Posted 28 June 2006 at 12:01 pm

This wasn't very damn interesting. Yes, some sort of problem like this is a possible hypothesis, but you've presented essentially zero evidence in support of it. It's like saying someone could have killed OJ's wife and framed him for it, but it's hardly the most plausible theory. After all, bizarre witchcraft accusations are fairly common throughout history, including in the contemporary developing world. Such accusations seem to be driven by illiteracy, ignorance and religious fervor rather than food poisoning.

In this specific case, these girls had a habit of accusing people with whom their parents had axes to grind. Moreover, girls in Purtian New England were fairly marginalized but the witchcraft accusations put them at the center of that community for several years. These girls believed in Satan as a literal figure, and making accusations about people work for Satan gave them, briefly, a far higher status than they would have achieved in that society. Bald speculation about bad rye is just grasping at straws.

As for the other posters who mention the girl who recanted, this was Ann Putnam who did recant but gave herself an out by saying that Satan had deceived her into making the false accusations.


Brian Carnell
Posted 28 June 2006 at 12:05 pm

"But now you've left us hanging…you said, "Some have suggested that Salem residents may have suffered from a form of encephalitis spread by birds, or possibly Huntington's disease." Okay…so how might these afflictions have caused the erratic behavior?"

Good point. Huntington's disease? WTF. While Huntington's can afflict people that young, what are the odds of so many young girls not only having Huntington's but expressing the symptoms so early in life?

Again, these are grasping at straws because the reality that these girls fabricated these accusations for complex personal and social reasons is so disturbing.

Sometimes, though, people do just make shit up. There was a case I read about recently where two young girls accused a homeless man of molesting them and later admitted that they just made up the accusation as a kind of game amongst themselves. I suppose its more comforting to think they were victims of ergot poisoning or Huntington's disease than face the fact that sometimes people, even children, simply make false accusations.


skwigul
Posted 28 June 2006 at 12:26 pm

"Before that time, epidemics of ergotism were often seen as a punishment from God."

Ergotism? Ha, those ignorant old-timers! Everyone knows God's punishment tool of choice is Extreme Weather (tm).


Drakvil
Posted 28 June 2006 at 12:42 pm

I saw a show on TLC or the Discovery channel a few years back that detailed this... they said they found an almost exact matching pattern of heavy rainfall (causing swampy conditions) and high temperatures in the seasons that preceeded large numbers of reports in Europe, Britain and (I believe... it's been a while) America of both witchcraft and werewolves. The show also presented the ergot infestation as the most likely cause.

I think what is being done these days to prevent ergot from getting into rye bread is that we drain swamps to create farmland that is more useable. No swampy, hot conditions no ergot fungus. That and I'm sure the farmers are much better at recognizing the fungus if it appears, and realize it isn't safe to sell. And the people buying the stuff have tests for the presence of it.


rinn4
Posted 28 June 2006 at 01:14 pm

I don't think they're debating that the girls were crazy liars with selfish motives. I think they're trying to say that the bad rye caused the initial crazy behaviors which then stimulated the cries of "witch".

possibly?


Brian Carnell
Posted 28 June 2006 at 02:06 pm

" I think they're trying to say that the bad rye caused the initial crazy behaviors which then stimulated the cries of "witch"."

But with no evidence.

I mean re-read this carefully,

"Also supporting this hypothesis is the fact that symptoms characteristic of ergot poisoning occurred in Connecticut in the same year. The ergot poisoning in Salem could not have been severe, however, otherwise more dramatic side effects would have occurred."

1. The poisoning in Connecticut is simply not relevant at all IMO. It'd be like me arguing it was caused by malaria and there was a case of malaria reported in Rhode Island. Actual evidence would be cases in Mass.

2. There isn't any actual evidence, and that is used as positive evidence -- ah ha, how sneaky, the poisoning is, there weren't any actual symptoms!

3. Notice how the second sentence eliminates any conjecture and goes from "was there ergot poisoning" to "the ergot poisoning could not have been severe..."

There's just nothing there that makes this rise above pure speculation. It takes something fairly straightforward and then tries to add several layers of complexity on top of it with essentially no evidence.


RyeGuy
Posted 28 June 2006 at 03:03 pm

brian... grab a dictionary and look up "idea", "plausible", "speculate", and "hypothesis". these are the words allan used, and not one of them implies concrete proof. to the contrary, those words indicate uncertainty. it's a _theory_.

if you lack reading comprehension skills, that's your problem.


AGG
Posted 28 June 2006 at 03:27 pm

WolfManDragon said: "Back in high school, while we were studying the witch trials, I remember the teacher telling us that one of the girls confessed latter in life that she had made up the her story because she was angry at Goody??


It’s been too many years ago to remember all the details."

That was in the play The Crucible, which was a fiction based off of the trials. Also, the title "Goody" was used for any married Christian woman. The lady you're referring to is Goody Proctor.


to-be-betrayed
Posted 28 June 2006 at 05:19 pm

Mark said: "Did you know that 75% of women accused of witchcraft in "the olden days" in Britain were acquitted? And the rest were hanged, not burnt at the stake.

Apologies, I can't be any more accurate than "the olden days" but it was basically when they were burning all the witches. (Except of course they weren't, but you get the idea.)"

yeah, but a lot of the time they were aquitted after such torture tests like the test of the glowing iron, where they had to hold a white hot iron bar in their hand for three to five slow steps, then their hand was bound in bandage untreated and sealed with wax. if in two weeks their hand was healing, they werent a witch and were just left with a useless hand. if it was infected they were a witch, and if the seal was broken they were forced through it again.

and there were many other "tests" that were just as brutal, and even if they passed many tests they were dead. the time of the "witch" so to speak lead to the murder of many women and even men [demon, devil, witch, warlock, etc *rolls eyes*]

and who still believes religion is a good idea? show me one atheist that killed someone because of their beleifs.


Brian Carnell
Posted 28 June 2006 at 06:16 pm

"and who still believes religion is a good idea? show me one atheist that killed someone because of their beleifs."

Stalin. Mao. Do the two biggest mass murderers (by total #s killed) in human history suffice?


Brian Carnell
Posted 28 June 2006 at 06:27 pm

RyeGye says,

"brian… grab a dictionary and look up "idea", "plausible", "speculate", and "hypothesis". these are the words allan used, and not one of them implies concrete proof. to the contrary, those words indicate uncertainty. it's a _theory_."

No, it is not a theory. It is an extremely speculative hypothesis.

Could bad rye have played some role? Sure, in the same way that maybe someone else wrote Shakespeare's plays. It is certainly possible, but barrring any actual *evidence*, it is just a silly hypothesis that has no more explanatory power than any other speculative hypothesis, such as the possibility that the girl's suffered from Huntington's.

Hey, I know, maybe all three girls had temporal lobe epilepsy which caused them to have visions that lead them to believe their neighbors were witches. Like the rye explanation, certainly possible, but again we could sit around all day coming up with evidence-free hypotheses that fit the events of the Salem witch trial, none of which have any additional predictive value. This is a fun game to play on a lazy Sunday but diminishes rather than enhances our understanding of what those girls did and why that society allowed them to do it.

Another possibility that has been seriously forwarded by a handful of nutcases is that there really were vast satanic cults in the United States and, before, Europe, and that of course some people who were innocent got blamed along with those who were part of the satanic cults but really the witches and satanists were real. We know there were heretical sects, so hey, why not vast networks of satanists?

Again, possible, but like the rye/Huntington's/temporal lobe epilepsy/whatever hypotheses, mostly grasping for straws and not really adding anything new.


Asshe
Posted 28 June 2006 at 08:26 pm

Brian, this place is used by Damn Intersting readers as an arena where they can throw ideas around and joke along the way. I found this Damn Intersting because I'd never heard a theory like this one about the Salem witch trials before.

Very long comments + disparaging words and negativity about one of the site's authors = Why are you here? Why bother reading and commenting on something you find to be "silly"?


ballaerina
Posted 28 June 2006 at 08:35 pm

Brian Carnell said: ""and who still believes religion is a good idea? show me one atheist that killed someone because of their beleifs."


Stalin. Mao. Do the two biggest mass murderers (by total #s killed) in human history suffice?"

Ok, but what about the religious mass murderers? I'm pretty sure there are more than two throughout history. I'm not trying to go down on religion, but your argument is sort of unconvincing.


white_matter
Posted 28 June 2006 at 09:04 pm

schuylercat said: "I need to add something, though: your statement: "…an affliction known as "dancing mania" which struck Europe from the 14th to the 17th century may have been caused by the troublesome fungus."


I must assert: This happened again in the 1970's, when a disturbing mass lunacy - and I would daresay disease - called "Disco" happened. It was caused by The Bee Gees, KC and the Sunshine Band, Gloria Gaynor and (oh…my…God…) Donna Summer, to name but a few …"

I'd like to think that comething much more sinister was going on about disco. I think that satan himself had a hand in it. In Hell, Barry Gib is at the gate and does regular shows.

ballaerina said: "Ok, but what about the religious mass murderers? I'm pretty sure there are more than two throughout history. I'm not trying to go down on religion, but your argument is sort of unconvincing."

Note: I have noticed that there is a very fine line between the nature of religous beliefs and political beliefs. I guess the difference is that religous beliefs are based on things much less tangible than political ones. All things considered, I'd think they would fall under the same catagory. Religion is not something that transfers over very well from person to person but politics can be argued logically (to a point).

I guess what I'm saying is if you were to ask the question your asking, Brian, you should also ask how many people have died because of another persons political veiws.

I guess every human that has ever died in warfare in the history of the world would fall under that catagory.


anna k
Posted 28 June 2006 at 09:15 pm

Brian Carnell said: ""and who still believes religion is a good idea? show me one atheist that killed someone because of their beleifs."


Stalin. Mao. Do the two biggest mass murderers (by total #s killed) in human history suffice?"

Damn. And here I was thinking, "Whoa! Good point!" and then I read one post further. Another beautiful theory murdered by a gang of ugly facts.


RyeGuy
Posted 28 June 2006 at 09:54 pm

Brian Carnell said: "Could bad rye have played some role? Sure, in the same way that maybe someone else wrote Shakespeare's plays. It is certainly possible, but barrring any actual *evidence*, it is just a silly hypothesis that has no more explanatory power than any other speculative hypothesis, such as the possibility that the girl's suffered from Huntington's."

well, let's look at the facts, shall we?

we know that:

1) ergot of rye causes symtoms like those recorded in salem (in cases of mild exposure)
2) weather conditions were perfect for ergot of rye to develop
3) the villagers ate rye as a staple in their diets
4) there was a suspected outbreak in connecticut in the same year (only about 120 miles away)

conclusive? hardly. enough for a reasonable intellectual theory? clearly. by your evidence-damning reasoning, one could argue that the witch trials never happened, since the only real evidence is anecdotal (diaries, etc).

judging from your remarks, i am guessing that you enjoy using salem as an example of religion gone haywire. i am an athiest, so an example of religion's negative effect is interesting to me... but i can see past by athiestic prejudices to appreciate that this idea has some merit. get over yourself.


OmniNegro
Posted 29 June 2006 at 12:07 am

klone said: "OmniNegro, great post!

thats all."

Thanks for the compliment.

And now for something completely different.


gorgeousplanet
Posted 29 June 2006 at 12:26 am

Brian Carnell with five posts! Wow.... hope you read Asshe's comment, summed it up perfectly, thank you....
I wish there was some way for me to not be compelled to look at everyone's comments.... it makes me feel like I do when I watch Fox News.


lledra
Posted 29 June 2006 at 04:12 am

Well I for one found this to be a very interesting artical. I remember learning about the Salem Witch Trials in high school and had found it interesting. We did watch The Crucible, and then covered all that had happened.

to-be-betrayed says: yeah, but a lot of the time they were aquitted after such torture tests like the test of the glowing iron, where they had to hold a white hot iron bar in their hand for three to five slow steps, then their hand was bound in bandage untreated and sealed with wax. if in two weeks their hand was healing, they werent a witch and were just left with a useless hand. if it was infected they were a witch, and if the seal was broken they were forced through it again.

But it is new to me that England did such things. I didn't know about that. Thankyou for the info. It's also very interesting.


Anthony Kendall
Posted 29 June 2006 at 06:07 am

The comment threads are for all users of Damn Interesting to share their thoughts and ideas about each article and other comments. There is no length limit, and there is no limit to the number of times that people can post. The only thing we ask is that people keep their responses to a modicum of civility.

And, there is a way to skip past comments of people you don't want to read: the scroll bar. If you want to prevent certain people from posting, ridicule irrational and inflammatory posts. Or, even better, respond to their arguments with better arguments.


schuylercat
Posted 29 June 2006 at 07:03 am

Woo hoo! Getting spicy in here!!!

I guess this was a DI article after all, yes?

And hey, White_Matter - you got me wondering. Could Barry Gibb have been possessed by Satan? I always wondered. Rest his soul, all that, but above comments about Stalin and Mao makes me want to add Barry Gibb to that list - the incalculable damage he's done. Pure evil.


WolfManDragon
Posted 29 June 2006 at 10:11 am

Brian Carnell said: As for the other posters who mention the girl who recanted, this was Ann Putnam who did recant but gave herself an out by saying that Satan had deceived her into making the false accusations."

Thank you Brian, I could not remember all of the history of this event.


WolfManDragon
Posted 29 June 2006 at 10:22 am

My favorite witch test was: tie the 'witch' to a heavy weight and toss the said witch into the river. If the accused drowned, then they were innocent, if they floated they were guilty and hanged.

Clear as mud.


Vivendi
Posted 29 June 2006 at 02:05 pm

WolfManDragon said: "My favorite witch test was: tie the 'witch' to a heavy weight and toss the said witch into the river. If the accused drowned, then they were innocent, if they floated they were guilty and hanged.


Clear as mud."

Hehe, I saw this used in Stargate SG-1 a long time ago and so read some about it. It's my personal favourite also. Whoever designed this test was pure genius.


reid
Posted 29 June 2006 at 06:01 pm

to-be-betrayed
Posted 29 June 2006 at 09:47 pm

Brian Carnell said: "Stalin. Mao. Do the two biggest mass murderers (by total #s killed) in human history suffice?"

last i checked quite a lot of political laws are based around the most popular religion at the time. and i said "beleifs" anyway, not whether or not they were communist, etc. killing because of beleifs = suicide bombing, the crusades, etc.

lledra said: "Well I for one found this to be a very interesting artical. I remember learning about the Salem Witch Trials in high school and had found it interesting. We did watch The Crucible, and then covered all that had happened.

to-be-betrayed says: yeah, but a lot of the time they were aquitted after such torture tests like the test of the glowing iron, where they had to hold a white hot iron bar in their hand for three to five slow steps, then their hand was bound in bandage untreated and sealed with wax. if in two weeks their hand was healing, they werent a witch and were just left with a useless hand. if it was infected they were a witch, and if the seal was broken they were forced through it again.

But it is new to me that England did such things. I didn't know about that. Thankyou for the info. It's also very interesting."

your quite welcome, and if you look in the right places a number of other tortures of equal gruesomeness can be found. its always nice to know that you've said something that has piqued anothers intrest though. thank you.

Vivendi said: "Hehe, I saw this used in Stargate SG-1 a long time ago and so read some about it. It's my personal favourite also. Whoever designed this test was pure genius."

i agree. but dont worry. they died "honest christian deaths" so its all good *eye roll* as the quote goes " a person is smart. people are dumb, panic stricken, irrational creatures"


rhea_sun
Posted 04 July 2006 at 12:43 am

short of time travel, i suspect there will never be a definitive and final understanding of this witch trial... in my opinion


dreamin
Posted 04 July 2006 at 01:55 am

The symptoms sound a lot like the symptoms occurring when going off anti-depressant drugs, especially those like Paxil, which have a short half-life.


JustAnotherName
Posted 05 July 2006 at 07:00 am

Someone probably already posted this but yes, it was the Rye Bread; I saw a PBS special on it. Someone investigated it. This is always an issue in the Cattle/Horse industry; even dogs and cats. Not too long ago dogs were dieing due to infected grains that grew mold. Sorry, don't know the brand or exactly when it happened but it does occurr from time to time and the Cattle/Horse grains sometimes get infected and the industry plunges into panic. We don't hear much about that though but they have very, very high screening standards of feed. As a matter of fact, your dog is probably more likely to get a bad batch of kibble than cows or horses.


CHE
Posted 06 July 2006 at 12:30 pm

I recall watching a documentary on this type of ergot poisoning ,it was about a situation that occured in France,circa 1950s, i think.Almost an entire village was affected, and instead of conjecture hundreds of years later,there was filmed evidence of the effects on the population, people in hospital wards convulsing ect.the grain used in the local bakery was examined and was found to be contaminated with the fungus,I think this was where the idea came from, regarding Salem and the hysteria that gripped their community.


Jake Brake
Posted 14 July 2006 at 02:23 pm

There is also some speculation that ergot poisoning was a contributor to the unrest around the French Revolution, especially the paranoia about "spies in the forests," etc.


white_matter
Posted 29 January 2007 at 06:36 am

Who the heck is this Guy anyway? He thinks he cAn just say DEViation is nothing but SIN? Wait...what am I talking about? stupid RYe bread.

Logged in drunk again...better eat my pasta. FAR BE IT FROM ME TO BRING harm on MY CURRENT FRAGILE STATE.

This is the 3rd time I've shown my being when I should have learned from the 2nd time. What am I saying? I feel like I'm at a serious position, just a different hemisphere...where the sun rises, I guess.

What am I doing, giving away my position? Before I did that last bit I should have counted to the last digit. 1,2 ....8,9. HA HA in your face sobritity.

Not co-herent. Don't mind me. Continue normal whathave-you.


KiriBlack
Posted 09 March 2007 at 01:21 pm

Wow, excellent article, Alan! I thought I'd read everything ever written about theories about the witch trials, but never this! Certainly seems plausible enough.

If I remember correctly RE: disposing of unwanted "witches"... Witches were indeed burned at the stake--but largely in Europe. In the U.S. they were hanged, not burned (that is, if they weren't tortured to death first).

As an admitted and open Pagan, it surprises me still the predjudice that some people carry to this day. I even had a co-worker once look at me quite levelly and seriously and tell me with no small disdain, "You know, they used to burn people like you at the stake."

*snort* Sure, kid; be right there. Just let me go get my marshmallows, 'kay?

Just a funny aside: While chuckling over the article and some of its humorous following comments, my husband asked me what I was reading about.
"Bad wheat," I replied.
He must have misunderstood, because he walked off sighing rather wistfully, "Yeah...there's nothing so sad as bad weed." (?!?)
Determining that he was not only serious (but also right), I decided not to correct him.

Thanks again, Alan. DI! :)


Rinson Drei
Posted 09 March 2007 at 01:24 pm

Perhaps we should ban strongly held beliefs. Or not.


dinkydexy
Posted 09 March 2007 at 02:04 pm

In the middle of the 19th Century in the town of Lourdes, France, there lived a baker with a daughter called Bernadette.


labouton
Posted 09 March 2007 at 05:20 pm

Check out other uses of rye for witches:

http://www.whatreallyhappened.com/WITCHES/witches.html


sulkykid
Posted 09 March 2007 at 08:45 pm

labouton said: "Check out other uses of rye for witches:


http://www.whatreallyhappened.com/WITCHES/witches.html"

Well, that sounds like a lot of hooey! May be true, but I would like some more authoritative documentation before I buy in.

As for the Salem hypothesis presented here in DI, it sounds like speculation with little evidence other than "it could have happened that way". The few facts presented have to be stretched a bit to fit as well.


Tink
Posted 10 March 2007 at 12:26 am

dreamin said: "The symptoms sound a lot like the symptoms occurring when going off anti-depressant drugs, especially those like Paxil, which have a short half-life."

Wow, the first thing I thought of after reading your comment was St. Johns Wort. People used many herbs as remadies in those days...wonder that season and climite would effect the St.J.W.?
In other words, say they had used this plant, and it all died because of the weather. Suddenly you have a horde of young women and girls tripping because of A: Withdrawl. B: A mixture of ergoted rye and another natural phamaceutical.

This is in no way discounting the poision theory,just a side thought. (In my job I have to be alert at all times for drug interactions.:)


ifeelya
Posted 10 March 2007 at 06:18 am

Hee - Anybody who thinks Disco wasn't caused by toxins is either very, very young or else wasn't hanging at the most happening clubs where all the Colombian Marching Powder was being handed out. I mean, think about it - who could listen to that stuff straight?

Anyway - the deal with ergot. OK, possible. But ergot is nowhere near the most powerful Or the most common mycotoxin out there. Aflatoxin is far more powerful, and it's so highly carcinogenic that it's FDA controlled because it infests corn, peanuts, etc. T-2 toxin, another fungal toxin, is listed as a bioweapon by the Dept. of Defense. Damp grain or damp living conditions such as leaks or (hello! thatched roofs) in damp weather could do this. Miscarriages all over the place, livestock go off their feed, humans come down with "mystery" ailments characterized by bizarre and fleeting neurological symptoms, endocrine disruption puts the ladies in a permanent state of PMS (scary!), people and animals start jerking and spazzing out, getting all those SSRI withdrawals zap-buzzes. Salem? Easy. Or, considering the location, Lyme Disease. It can look almost identical.

We make antibiotics out of the weaker types of mycotoxins, because (hello again!) mycotoxins KILL other life forms. That's what they're there for. There are something like 10,000 lawsuits pending in the U.S. right now because of indoor fungus, and that's not even counting Katrina - the same kind of stuff growing at Walter Reed Hospital. Approximately 25% of the population has no immune defense against it. These are highly potent neurotoxins - and you bet they can make people act crazy, see stuff that isn't there, etc. As in (helooooagain!)... 'shrooms. Makes them break out in rashes, their voices go all strange, hair falls out, and so on. We got into trouble when we started building with gypsum drywall (which contains spores) and running water pipes through buildings. Then in the 70's, we started sealing them up to be more energy efficient. End result is a lot of aging, leaking buildings, which are basically first-rate mold farms. Makes you think about the sudden rise over the last 20 or 30 years in certain illnesses like Multiple Sclerosis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Autism, doesn't it? And interestingly enough, MS and CFS hit women on a 3-to-1 or 4-to-1 ratio. Females' endocrine and immune systems are very different from males, so it makes perfect sense. Plus, mycotoxins are lipophilic - they like body fat, and the ladies have it. A whole life form we know very little about. An entire kingdom. Makes up something like 30% of the earth's biomass, digests every kind of dead organic matter known to exist, and yet we hardly ever question it unless it's growing on a shower curtain? Weird, huh?

But I still like mushrooms on my pizza...


dylanfan
Posted 10 March 2007 at 11:28 am

At least we aren't arguing about evolution here...

Interesting article, I think I have heard this theory before. But it did kind of leave me wanting more info. Mass hysteria is fascinating to me, especially the whole religious aspect to it.


Tink
Posted 10 March 2007 at 05:49 pm

ifeelya said: "Hee - Anybody who thinks Disco wasn't caused by toxins is either very, very young or else wasn't hanging at the most happening clubs where all the Colombian Marching Powder was being handed out. I mean, think about it - who could listen to that stuff straight?...

...But I still like mushrooms on my pizza…"

Toot-Toot! Toot-Toot! Aaahhhhh I love to boogie, I love the night life... Yeah baby! LOL, adore your reasoning here! {insert glittering strobe ball}


sierra_club_sux
Posted 11 March 2007 at 01:32 am

...Could have been the rye... ...or it could have been the spells they were casting... or the potions they were brewing... ...it was years ago and we weren't there. One thing is for certain, it sucked to be a witch in Salem...


KiriBlack
Posted 11 March 2007 at 06:39 am

RE: Comment #52 by Tink:

Tink said: "Wow, the first thing I thought of after reading your comment was St. Johns Wort. People used many herbs as remadies in those days…wonder that season and climite would effect the St.J.W.?
In other words, say they had used this plant, and it all died because of the weather. Suddenly you have a horde of young women and girls tripping because of A: Withdrawl. B: A mixture of ergoted rye and another natural phamaceutical.

This is in no way discounting the poision theory,just a side thought. (In my job I have to be alert at all times for drug interactions.:)"

Tink, I think that that is an absolutely BRILLIANT theory on your part! Ha! I wish I'd thought of that myself, and I'm ridiculously embarrassed that I didn't; I literally smacked myself in the forehead when I read that. D'oh!--Because it makes perfect sense, really.

I come from a long line of "natural" healers (homeopathic, herbal, etc.), and with those compounds as well, you also very much need to be aware of how things interact with each other. I think the idea of the failure/shortage/disease of a decent crop of St. John's Wort could very likely (either by itself or with symptoms exascerbated by the ergot troubles) have been a culprit in the behaviors of those young women. Agh!--Can you imagine?...Trying to use the St. JW to treat their general anxiety/depression, etc...only to find that your beloved, usually reliable herbal fixer-upper is either less than potent or diseased as well?! Out of the frying pan and into the fire! Bwah! And who knows what other plants and herbs could be affected in that same way? Anyway, the idea certainly has merit; it would be fascinating to be able to somehow do more research on that very specific theory!

And RE:

dreamin said: "The symptoms sound a lot like the symptoms occurring when going off anti-depressant drugs, especially those like Paxil, which have a short half-life."

OMG, you are so right about that! Years ago, I was given Paxil to treat my depression which had become very severe after my youngest daughter was born. I was on it for less than nine months, and in that time, it caused me to gain an unhealthy amount of weight. Needless to say, this unpleasant side effect caused my doctor and I to agree on the fact that I should taper off of it.

It was the single most unpleasant thing I have ever had the misfortune to experience in my life; the kind of thing you wouldn't wish on anyone: Aside from the most horrifying, vivid nightmares imaginable, I experienced hallucinations, paranoia, debilitating pain and fatigue, the random "pins & needles" effect, and weird muscle spasms and vocalizations that bordered on an almost Tourette's-like effect.

Truly, it was the most terrifying three weeks of my life. UGH. Long live Prozac. ;)

Yes, I honestly believe that the St. John's Wort/withdrawls theorys are good ones. Very plausible, indeed...Great thinking, kids!--Made my brain work. :)


ifeelya
Posted 11 March 2007 at 07:35 am

Tink said: "Toot-Toot! Toot-Toot! Aaahhhhh I love to boogie, I love the night life… Yeah baby! LOL, adore your reasoning here! {insert glittering strobe ball}"

ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH!

"Well, You can tell by the way I use my wok, I'm a Chinese cook..."

That's funny about the paxil. Couldn't handle prozac, so they gave me paxil, but forgot to tell me about the withdrawal effects. Years later, I thought it had quit working, so I quit taking it for good. Nasty, nasty side-effects...except much worse and it didn't stop. Found out, the place where I worked was contaminated with mold. A lot of people got sick. Spent the last several years learning the subject. That's why I knew about ergot and the mycotoxins. There have been issues with St. John's Wort being attacked by fungal spores carried in certain types of beetles that also feed on St. John's Wort. Another possible theory. The only definite I can put my finger on for certain is the close similarity of chronic neurotoxic effects on humans and the things that happened in Salem. Shake yo' booo-tay...Gah!


Tink
Posted 11 March 2007 at 02:14 pm

ifeelya said: "ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH!


"Well, You can tell by the way I use my wok, I'm a Chinese cook…"

. Shake yo' booo-tay…Gah!"

LOL, have now tuned in to the disco channel @ yahoo! launchcast plus.Just to get it outta my system. OMG! And I'm out of tinfoil for my little hat. You all are evil, pure evil! ROTF


iq_two
Posted 11 March 2007 at 10:03 pm

I think this is a damn interesting article. I've wondered about what caused the girl's hysteria and I've never heard of this theory before. What could have happened is that the cause of their original "madness" was the bad rye, and then they blamed it on the so-called witches, either because they didn't like them or because they really thought it was their fault.

Before reading this my assumption was that the girls were just playing around pretending to be crazy and they blamed it on the "witches" so they wouldn;t get in trouble. It's interesting to know that there could be medical reasons for it.


iq_two
Posted 11 March 2007 at 10:03 pm

I think this is a damn interesting article. I've wondered about what caused the girl's hysteria and I've never heard of this theory before. What could have happened is that the cause of their original "madness" was the bad rye, and then they blamed it on the so-called witches, either because they didn't like them or because they really thought it was their fault.

Before reading this my assumption was that the girls were just playing around pretending to be crazy and they blamed it on the "witches" so they wouldn;t get in trouble. It's interesting to know that there could be medical reasons for it.


ukskyman
Posted 12 March 2007 at 04:01 am

"The infamous trials that followed left nineteen people hanged to death"

What about the people who were just 'hanged' but not to death ?

:-)


Hoekstes
Posted 12 March 2007 at 07:10 am

So what you are saying is that my wife might not be a witch at all - she's only got Ergot of Rye? Which reminds me hops, malt, barley I need a beer...


ifeelya
Posted 12 March 2007 at 11:13 am

ukskyman said: ""The infamous trials that followed left nineteen people hanged to death"


What about the people who were just 'hanged' but not to death ?

:-)"

Ummm...I think they call those "gaspers".


afteryou
Posted 12 March 2007 at 12:12 pm

An account of the trials can be found here.

http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/salem/salem.htm


Dave Group
Posted 12 March 2007 at 01:20 pm

CHE said: "I recall watching a documentary on this type of ergot poisoning ,it was about a situation that occured in France,circa 1950s, i think.Almost an entire village was affected, and instead of conjecture hundreds of years later,there was filmed evidence of the effects on the population, people in hospital wards convulsing ect.the grain used in the local bakery was examined and was found to be contaminated with the fungus,I think this was where the idea came from, regarding Salem and the hysteria that gripped their community."

Good point, Che. John G. Fuller's book THE DAY OF ST. ANTHONY'S FIRE gives a full account of this incident. BTW, has anyone made a distinction between cases like the Salem witch trials and incidents like the satanism scare of the 1980's? I doubt that the accusers of the McMartin preschool staff all ate rye bread.


Joel Gibson
Posted 13 March 2007 at 06:15 am

etc. killing because of beleifs = suicide bombing, the crusades, etc.


I hate when the crusades are portrayed as killing because of beliefs. Maybe Islamic beliefs since they were attacking and occupying Christian lands in the first place and subjecting Christians and Jews occupying those lands to the hideous and humiliating Muslim Dhimmitude.


Wolfie
Posted 13 March 2007 at 07:52 am

Joel Gibson said: "I hate when the crusades are portrayed as killing because of beliefs. Maybe Islamic beliefs since they were attacking and occupying Christian lands in the first place and subjecting Christians and Jews occupying those lands to the hideous and humiliating Muslim Dhimmitude."

In actual fact the crusaders did a lot of persecuting of christians and jews themselves. All of the crusades included indiscriminate attacks on jewish communities both at home in the European states and in the middle east, this has led to some historians to call this period the first holocaust. As for christians the entire sixth crusade was diverted to attack the orthodox christian capital of Constantinople and led to the sacking of the city.

But it isnt just religion that leads to murder and brutality, it is difference. The fear, jealousy and or egos associated with difference between people leads the small minded to brutality. Unfortunately, we have a habit of electing these small minded bigots into powerful positions.

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." - Unknown (attributed to Edmund Burke)


Joel Gibson
Posted 14 March 2007 at 06:05 am

Wolfie, all I was getting at is the irrational contrition and culpability of modern christians when it comes to the crusades, when properly researched, the crusades were caused by islamic expansionism. 'Kingdom of Heaven' might be the worst example of these ridiculous ideas that early islamic societies were based on open minded acceptance of other religions and peaceful expansion, when the reality of it was bloody brutality, and the consideration that all religions other than islam were abominations.


robo
Posted 26 March 2007 at 08:49 am

This article ties in nicely with the mind controlling fluke article. Kind of makes you wonder how much free will we all really do have and how much of our actions are controlled by nature.


MiladyM
Posted 08 August 2007 at 06:51 am

Guess they had a bad case of "RYE SYNDROME" --------(Snickering like Snaggle Puss)


Alx_xlA
Posted 28 September 2007 at 09:29 pm

Maybe they were practicing autoergoticism (Sorry. Had to get that out of my system.).


KRonik
Posted 16 October 2007 at 06:52 pm

another viewpoint said: "…come on down to the bakery boys…there's gonna be a POTTY tonight ! (New Englandeese for party)

Well Alan, you've done it again. Who would have thought that the entire "witching" affair would have been unraveled by an innocent little bread seed.

But now you've left us hanging…you said, "Some have suggested that Salem residents may have suffered from a form of encephalitis spread by birds, or possibly Huntington's disease." Okay…so how might these afflictions have caused the erratic behavior?

And then, what precautions are taken today to insure that the food chain is not affected by "bad rye"?

Great article again…and as some of us readers and followers would say…Damn Interesting! Thanx."

Abviously this guy has no idea WHAT THE FUCK he is talking about. Ok, well first off the wheat got infected with some sort of lsd, called ERGOT dumbass, and then people were eating the bread and going insane (its called tripping out!) if u ever did Acid / lsd maybe u would no what the fuck u were talking about. If u ever did acid then u know what happens when u take a hit of it, lol.. so yeah people were eating this shit and they claimed it to bed witch craft.. thats just retarded, because witch cracy is really totally fake! it was the infection of ergot on the wheat and people ate the shit! inocent people lost there fuckin lives over poeple who were trippping out on this shit man! lol peace


Alx_xlA
Posted 21 October 2007 at 11:15 am

KRonik said: "...infected with some sort of lsd, called ERGOT dumbass..."

Actually, ergot is what LSD is extracted from.


navroan
Posted 16 December 2007 at 02:51 am

Whether or not the ergot was the cause, the lies spread by the girl was definitely a contributing factor, not much different than a woman accusing someone of rape. Whether or not it actually happened, the reputation is ruined forever and enough coincidential evidence could still result in conviction.


Yardvark
Posted 18 December 2007 at 12:45 pm

Brian Carnell said: ""and who still believes religion is a good idea? show me one atheist that killed someone because of their beleifs."

Stalin. Mao. Do the two biggest mass murderers (by total #s killed) in human history suffice?"

Ka-ching!


BenKinsey
Posted 18 September 2008 at 07:20 am

schuylercat said: "Nice one, Alan. This was a really well-done article - DI, and just…well, neat.

I need to add something, though: your statement: "…an affliction known as "dancing mania" which struck Europe from the 14th to the 17th century may have been caused by the troublesome fungus."

I must assert: This happened again in the 1970's, when a disturbing mass lunacy - and I would daresay disease - called "Disco" happened. It was caused by The Bee Gees, KC and the Sunshine Band, Gloria Gaynor and (oh…my…God…) Donna Summer, to name but a few. This cultural devastation was almost as terrifying as the worst plagues the world has even known, and especially insidious were the side effects, such as the hairstyles, bell bottom jeans, and the rise of “Shaggyism”, or calling everyone “man”, as in the following example:

PERSON 1 – “Hey, man, I’m leaving, like, already gone, man. Be back, like, soon, man.”
PERSON 2 – “Where are you going?”
PERSON 1 – “Out, man! I said it, dig? Like, I’m going out, man!”
PERSON 2 – “ Well OK, just don’t be late. And stop calling me “man” – I’m your mother for cripes’ sake.”

While Disco was not caused by toxins, there are similarities to the theory of ergotism and Salem’s unrest – the cultural torpor of the time, Richard Nixon, mass media’s emergence from the murky depths were all contributors to a society ripe for mass insanity, and all it took was go##amn Barry Gibb and John Travolta hashing through “Saturday Night Fever” to set off the entire reeking chain of idiocy.

In the end, no one was ever punished for causing Disco, which I feel was a profound miscarriage of justice. Fortunately, attrition has it’s say in all things: the evil miscreants who caused it are slowing dying of natural causes, never to pollute this Earth again with their horrible musical/dancing diseases. And good riddance.

Now I’m off to find something by Linnda Caporael to throw myself deeper into this rabbit hole…"

This was super cut up! Thanks I got a kick out of it.


toobaaapi
Posted 12 August 2012 at 03:54 am

you are blaming mass hysterical murders of salem witches on ergot bread after hundreds of years, what do you think of the mass murders of colored people after 9/11, including those who were non muslims only because they looked like muslims ??????????? the police never interneved and the local media was quiet, what do you think of that ???????????? the only reason one can say that this situation was not as bad as the salem witches case is because the court and jury were not involved, they were not even given a chance to be tried and were murdered on streets just like that !!!!!!!!!!!!!! you are right when you said ergot bread was just a catalyst, people will keep doing things like these ergot or no ergot...............


olli_QK
Posted 24 October 2012 at 04:30 pm

toobaaapi said: "you are blaming mass hysterical murders of salem witches on ergot bread after hundreds of years, what do you think of the mass murders of colored people after 9/11, including those who were non muslims only because they looked like muslims ??????????? the police never interneved and the local media was quiet, what do you think of that ???????????? the only reason one can say that this situation was not as bad as the salem witches case is because the court and jury were not involved, they were not even given a chance to be tried and were murdered on streets just like that !!!!!!!!!!!!!! you are right when you said ergot bread was just a catalyst, people will keep doing things like these ergot or no ergot……………"

yes, and i had a teacher once that hated anyone who's hair was dyed unnaturally (that included me) but, like your comment, that is not at all related to this topic.
the ergot theory is that of an outbreak in a specific area. the (above stated) effects of 9/11 are a result of society's reaction to an extremely tragic and widely publicized event.
and the way you out it makes it seem as though you interpreted it as though the murderers were infected; it was the witches. just making that clear.


job
Posted 23 January 2014 at 12:48 am

dinkydexy said: "In the middle of the 19th Century in the town of Lourdes, France, there lived a baker with a daughter called Bernadette."

Bernadette Soubris was the daugther of a miller...


diana
Posted 19 March 2014 at 11:28 am

good research !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Jaders
Posted 28 October 2014 at 02:43 pm

That rotten rye stuff was actually an ingredient in acid (LSD). So that's why they were thinking they saw witches and the Devil. They never did. They were trippin'! Plus, Abby was a liar, as well as the other girls. It was all just a bunch of un-called-for drama. I'm glad I didn't live in that time era.


Anabelle
Posted 05 March 2015 at 07:19 am

This is cool!!!


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