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The play is set in Salem, Massachusetts, ; the government is a theocracy—rule by God through religious officials. Within the community, there are simmering disputes over land. Matters of boundaries and deeds are a source of constant, bitter disagreements.

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The village doctor, being religious and, so the theory goes, unaware of ergotism as a disease, attributed the strange symptoms to a known evil: witchcraft. According to some people, the real evil might have been on the supper table. Surprisingly, a lot of them can.

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The rest of the townsfolk fell victim to suggestibility, and thus the trials commenced, with accusations of witchcraft being targeted at the outcasts of society by those who were afflicted. Since medical knowledge was sparse, the presence of darker shoots on rye was probably thought to be the product of overexposure to the sun, so it was most likely eaten despite being poisonous.

These symptoms were the same as those shown by the accused in Salem: mostly young girls whose immune systems had not fully developed, leaving them susceptible to diseases such as ergotism.

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The town quickly decided that they were going to search for, and execute, all the witches of Salem. Unfortunately, we will probably never know exactly what happened in Salem during the witch trials.

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With the exception of a few events which are typically attributed to groupthink and the power of suggestionthe behavior exhibited in fits the bill of rye-induced ergotism. Once contracted from rye bread, ergotism also called St. Severe hallucinations can also be a symptom, as lysergic acid is the substance from which the drug LSD is synthesized. up here to get more Demystified stories delivered right to your inbox!

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Be on the lookout for your Britannica newsletter to get trusted stories delivered right to your inbox. In Dr. Linnda Caporael of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found evidence that supported the latter hypothesis. Later, other historians agreed: ergotism was not only an interesting theory but also had some footing. Or was another devil at work? Caporael proposed that perhaps the brief and intense illnesses suffered by so many of the townspeople were not bewitchment but rather ergotisma disease commonly contracted by rye.

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Load More. Why is ergotism called St. Like our britannica stories? Could all of the crazy happenings in Salem really be explained by some rotted rye? Home Spotlight.

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There is, however, still much debate over whether or not this theory should be accepted. Ergot sclerotia are purple-black growths that contain lysergic acid and ergotamine.

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According to this theory, the abrupt end of the witch trials in May happened, quite simply, because Salem ran out of ergot-contaminated grain. Soon after, other townspeople began showing similar symptoms.

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He claimed that the girls had fallen victim to the evils of witchcraft, and the girls went along with it. In the small Puritan village of SalemMassachusetts, was plagued by a sudden and brief cloud of witchcraft accusations.

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All sides of the argument agree, however, that there was probably nothing supernatural at work. address. By the end of the trials in May19 people had been hanged, one had been crushed by stones, and four had died in prison—all accused of being witches. Ergotism forms in rye after a severe winter and a damp spring—conditions that Caporael and other historians claim were present in and therefore affected the rye harvested for consumption in After the rye plant contracts ergot, the fungus grows and replaces shoots on the grain with sclerotia.

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After young girls Betty Parris and Abigail Williams exhibited severe convulsions and other strange symptoms, village doctor William Griggs diagnosed them as having been bewitched.