The Facts Will Speak for Themselves
The Azande and Salem societies have many differences and some similarities, but with a few changes with the Salem society things could have been a lot harder to escalate to the point they did. Both communities believed in witches; to the Azande witches are common occurrence and are discomfort to lives but their magic can be easily rectified. In Salem, to be a witch was a conscious choice and a threat to the community and their holy pact with their god. I feel its safe to say that the hysteria of Salem Village could have been minimized had their legal processes required more solid evidence.
Their legal process was not their only factor in what failed to stop the hysteria, but it was a large factor in what made it so easy to accuse and convict people of witch craft. The society of the Azande is not nearly as concerned with who the witch is but more in stopping the curses. In their society, being a witch is a congenital issue, like any genetic disorder. Either you are or you are not a witch; you can’t cure it – only suppress it into a state of submission. This process is quite similar to taking medication for HIV to make sure it doesn’t become full blown AIDS. It’s something of an inconvenience, but it is not something that completely hinders you from being a fully functional member of society and does not say that you are a bad person.
In Salem, to be a witch you must choose to be one and thus were going against the society to do so. The social structure was based on following the ways of their god, and in becoming a witch you turned your back on their societal ways and their religious practices to assist the polar opposition of their god. This choice of where you stood religiously also determined where you would stand socially. A “those who are not with us are against us” mentality was ready and only needed a gentle push from someone to move the concern into full hysteria. But there were some positive things that both societies did in handling the situation of witch accusations.
The Azande and Salem communities dealt with witches in a similar fashion; doing court proceedings with “evidence” from the spiritual and physical planes. The court proceedings were overseen by a head representative of the society who delivers fair punishments based on the evidence provided to them. Those in these positions were placed in this power by the social requirements. Azande had a birth determined status; in Salem it was a decision by the social group. Unfortunately, the Salem village community initially decided to allow the church to have a large influence over their proceedings. This decision escalated the concern of identifying witches into a religious manhunt of individuals who were not active enough in the society/church or did not meet the standards of the church representatives.
Initially, one of the problems Salem’s overseers made was allowing spectral evidence. This evidence was quite easily tampered with and also was based on only the afflicted’s accounts. “In the course of an extended dispute with a neighbor, she pronounced a curse upon her adversary…the spell was successful until the victim moved to another town.” (Weisman 139) This accusing party was expected to tell the truth in the court of law.
But had the specter appeared as someone else there was no check-and-balance system for validating or invalidating information from the other realm. In a case where one person was on trial and another was actually the tormentor, the accuser could identify the person on trial out of denial that the true tormentor would or could do that to them. For example, had “Fine Upstanding Citizen A” been doing the tormenting, a good citizen would believe it a “trick” or believe it impossible because of how “good” he was so the accuser would blame another for the apparition’s appearance being such. Lack of collaborating or disproving evidence made these trials very hard for those overseeing to approach in a fair manner.
Unlike the Azande, the Salem community had no concrete evidence that could not be tampered with from the other plane of existence. The Azande societal laws called for not only another person to be present to witness the consultation, but also many times there were multiple people consulting the poison oracle at once. “The operator does not moisten the poison till the rest of the party arrive.” (Evans-Pritchard 135) This put a control on the poison and how it was concocted so should all the birds live or die at a consultation; they can safely say that the poison was improperly formed. “…The failure of the oracle was attributed its failure to (1) the wrong variety of poison having been gathered, (2) breach of a taboo, (3) witchcraft, (4) anger of the owners of the forest where the creeper grows, (5) age of the poison, (6) anger of the ghosts, (7) sorcery, (8) use,” (Evans-Pritchard 155) making it explainable for errors and how they might have come about.
The other good thing about the Azande approach to consulting the other plane was their requirement of three major forms of validating proof. They were all of a physical form that could be used to argue for or against the accusations of a witch. The fact there was multiple options for dialogue with the other plane also played a role as an alternate source if an unlikely answer were to come forward. Giving a form of check and balance system. These forms of evidence were also physical so they could be provided to a court if there was any question of the validity. This allows the Azande to commune, as well as verify, what they are told for the courts to ensure that the other plane gets proper representation in the house of law.
This practice of approaching the spiritual plane for information beyond just the afflicted’s account gives a chance for a more balanced reference as well as a better chance of odds. With only one source being approached it is a 1:2 chance of a specific outcome. With two sources it makes it a 1:4 chance and with three it’s a 1:8 to get a specific outcome. A 12.5% chance to for sure get the same outcome versus a 50% sounds far more pleasant if your life is on the line.
A faith based society with no outlet for venting negativity or dealing with bad situations was a volatile situation waiting to explode. Increasing tensions, difficulty in communications, unsure status in the society both on earth and in the eyes of god, it was an unstable situation. The verification process of the Azande could have helped protect the citizens from mass hysteria; due to the religious extreme’s of Salem village, those who operated any form of protection or consultation of the other planes was a witch and there for a threat to their perfect society. And thus there was no saving them from themselves.