"Both the claims of satanic ritual abuse and abductions by space aliens have similarities to the Salem witchcraft trials. Almost certainly the definitive work on devil worship in Salem Village (the town of Salem was almost completely unaffected) in Massachusetts in 1692 is Starkey's The Devil in Massachusetts (1949).
The sufferers generally were adolescent girls. Starkey points out the dullness of their lives, their relatively low status, the fact that their lives were "on hold" until they married, the general public interest in witchcraft, the willingness of the clergy (the psychotherapists of that era) to believe their claims, their "contagious" influences on one another's claims of victimization, their increased status that resulted from these claims, and the validation of their claims from community support that led to the deaths of many of those whom they accused.
Many women, and a few men, were hanged and one man was pressed to death as a result of accusations of witchcraft made against them by adolescent girls. This evidence brought against the convicted witches was spectral evidence. The accusers "saw" events, such as witches flying to satanic rituals in the Reverend Parris's orchard, "saw" evil spirits at the witchcraft trials, and "felt" the strength of these spirits as they choked their victims while in the act of accusing the witches persecuting them.
As Starkey notes (1949, p. 251), Salem Village was "so odd a site for God to choose as the battleground between heaven and hell." The infestation of witches began in the Reverend Parris's own kitchen, where Tabitha, a Black slave, informed a group of adolescent girls on the art of magic.
Among the visitors to Tabitha's kitchen was Ann Putnam. Her mother, a semi-invalid, had persons she regarded as enemies in Salem. Ann was very close to her mother. Ann first, then other young women, accused persons (almost all women) residing in Salem village of witchcraft. The idea of witchcraft was in the air; four children in Boston had been bewitched six years earlier and it took the work of four ministers, including the redoubtable Cotton Mather, and the hanging of the witch, to restore the children to normalcy. Mather's book on the topic had wide circulation and the Reverend Parris is known to have had a copy (Starkey, 1949, pp. 21-22). The symptoms experienced by the young women of Salem Village were the same as those earlier experienced by the children in Boston. Starkey also notes other means by which these young women could develop parallel sets of symptoms to earlier cases and to one another.
Some of the accused managed to escape, but of those tried, all were convicted and all put to death except (as the accusations spread) those who were willing to turn "state's evidence" and testify against others. Notably pious persons, such as Rebecca Nourse, died by hanging.
The young women afflicted by witches were sought out as witch-finders by other communities, but began to suffer defeats. They identified Robert Calef as a witch; he began suit against them for defamation of character, and they fell silent (Starkey, 1949, p. 195). At Ipswich they met an old woman and had the convulsions that identified her as a witch, but the people of Ipswich ignored them. The same kind of spiritual messages that had identified witches told Mary Herrick that the wife of John Hale, a very prominent minister, was invading her dreams (Starkey, pp. 223-225). Other witch finders accused the wife of Governor Phips of being a witch (Starkey, pp. 232-233), and even Cotton Mather, Massachusetts' leading theologian, was accused (Starkey, p.265).
Respected citizens began to question the witchcraft proceedings. Judge Richard Pike wrote Judge Jonathan Corwin (one of the panel of judges hearing the witchcraft cases) arguing that trial procedures were questionable. Thomas Brattle, a wealthy Boston merchant, circulated an open letter stating that it was disgraceful that magistrates based their judgments on common gossip, irresponsible "confessions" and the pretensions of the afflicted girls. Neighbors who earlier feared to speak, lest they, too, be accused, petitioned for the release of persons accused of witchcraft (Starkey, 1949, pp.216-220). Dutch theologians in the former New Amsterdam, by then renamed New York, were questioned by Joseph Dudley, a former deputy governor of Massachusetts. They denied that spectral evidence (on which all convictions rested) could be trusted (Starkey, 1949, pp.238-240).
Governor Phips had equivocated, but the spread of accusations (including those against his wife), expressions of doubt by leading citizens, and the Dutch theologians' denial of the validity of spectral evidence, led him to change the rules. Spectral evidence was not allowed and 49 of the 52 persons scheduled for trial were not tried. Three were tried and convicted. Judge Stoughton signed their death warrants as well as those of five previously convicted witches but Governor Phips reprieved them all. Some remained in prison for some time, since they had to pay their room-and-board before release, but eventually all who survived imprisonment were released. Despite the wholesale jail delivery of witches, the previously afflicted young women no longer manifested their seizures or other symptoms. They no longer had a responsive audience.
Some of the judges, such as Samuel Sewall, admitted error, which others such as Stoughton and Hathorne (grandfather of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote of these events in "Goodman Brown") did not. Reparations were made to surviving witches and children of those killed. Starkey notes:
Massachusetts had come out of its delusion not without honor. There had been misery, injustice, bloodshed, but at the worst nothing on such a scale as had in the recent past been suffered in witch-hunts in England, on the Continent, and in Sweden. In comparison with historical precedents, the panic in Massachusetts had been distinguished less by its violence than by the pertinacity with which sanity had struggled for domination from the first and by which it had finally prevailed (Starkey, p.29 1).
The similarity between claims of recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse, satanic ritual abuse, and abductions by space aliens are clear. The same sequence of events occurs. The person claiming that such events have transpired (1) is unhappy and feels that "something is wrong," (2) with the aid of a therapist, begins to recall the details of the abuse or kidnapping, (3) further therapy, along with interaction with fellow sufferers, evokes ever more memories which are, in turn, (4) validated by the therapist, the support group of fellow sufferers (In other words - a circle jerk.), and the general community.
The events in Salem Village followed a similar pattern. The girls led relatively low-status and boring lives until they became involved in allegations of witchcraft."