Reader's View: National Freethought Day is Oct. 12

It reminds us how important it is to let the facts and logical reasoning be our guide in important matters.

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In the year 1692, young girls in Salem Village (present day Danvers, Massachusetts) started behaving strangely. They suffered fevers, screaming fits and were writhing about. We now suspect that the fungus ergot (found on rye and wheat) was the cause of this outbreak. But the Salem doctor was unable to find any physical cause at the time and pronounced that the girls had been bewitched.

A special court was set up. Two unpopular local women were put on trial. Evidence included testimony that the sick girls had seen a specter or ghost of one of these women just before their ailments set in. Since it was thought that the devil could not create such apparitions without the complicity of the people involved, this spectral evidence counted against the accused witches.

But Gov. William Phips was a reasonable man and worried about the reliability of such spectral evidence. On Oct.12, 1692, he paused the witch trials. He wrote a letter to the British rulers William and Mary, seeking their guidance. We have no record of their response, but the special court was dissolved 17 days later. Prisoners were released and survivors were eventually compensated. Reason had prevailed over superstition.

That’s why several nonprofit groups celebrate National Freethought Day on Oct. 12 each year. It reminds us how important it is to let the facts and logical reasoning be our guide in important matters. Why not take some time this year to think about whether our own political and other beliefs would hold up to these standards?

Jim Lyttle



Chair of Lake Superior Freethinkers

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