SALEM, Mass. (UPI) — A spell of cold weather may have sparked the infamous Salem witch trials in 1692, as witches were thought capable of controlling weather, U.S. researchers say.
Witch hunts have coincided with cold periods throughout history, possibly because people sought out scapegoats to blame for crop failures and general economic hardship during such times, LiveScience.com reported.
The most active period of witchcraft trials in Europe coincided with a 400-year span of lower-than-average temperature scientists have dubbed the “little Ice Age,” University of Chicago economics Professor Emily Oster said.
The history of the period shows religious leaders and scholars alike clearly believed witches capable of controlling the weather and therefore affecting food production, she said.
The Salem witch trials in the United States occurred during an extreme cold spell that lasted from 1680 to 1730.
Salem State University historian Tad Baker said clues in diaries and sermons of the time suggest unusually harsh New England winters could have created an environment for accusations of witchcraft.
The winter of 1691-1692 saw a shortage of wood supply, Baker said, and a winter fuel shortage would have made for fairly miserable colonial homes.
“The higher the misery quotient, the more likely you are to be seeing witches,” Baker said.