What really caused the frenzy in Salem? First of all, the idea of witches and devils was not strange to the Puritans of early America. For them, life was hard and they did not doubt that unseen forces played a major role in their troubles.
“Puritans firmly believed that they were on a special mission from God,” says historian Tom Heinzen of William Paterson University. “This meant to them that they were a special target of Satan.”
So “when a baby suddenly died, or when milk soured, or cows and horses became ill,” the Puritans believed that witchcraft was at work, says Norton. And to them, she says, witchcraft was the work of the devil.
The settlers also faced a very real danger from Native Americans, who were pushing back against the colonists. Attacks from New England Indian tribes had wiped out families, even entire towns. Some of the people fleeing the attacks had taken refuge in Salem—including several of the bewitched girls. When they described the devil in their visions, he often looked like an Indian.
Norton believes that the people of Salem connected the war in the “visible world”—against the Indians—with the war in the “invisible world,” against Satan. To them, it was a fight against evil for their very survival.