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Salem Witchcraft and Mental Asylums

Updated on November 23, 2010
willard aslyum patient, Mr. Dmytro
willard aslyum patient, Mr. Dmytro

During the prehistoric times, a mental illness was assumed to a stem from a magical being that interfered with the mind.  Individual tribes and groups of SHAMANS had their own spells and rituals that they used to attempt to cure such mental illnesses. Often at times, such rituals took the form of a excorcism, in which the Shaman would to attempt to coax the evil spirit that was causing the disorder from the body.  In some of the prehistoric societies, a primitive form of surgery was to exercise the malignant spirits.  This surgery, which was called a Trepanantion, a practice of drilling a hole through part of the skull without damaging the brain.  It was believed back then to allow the spirits to be trapped inside the skull to be released.  Skulls with trepanning holes dated back more than ten thousands have been found in Neolithic Europe and South America.

During the Salem Witchcraft crisis of 1692, the most familiar example of how the mental illness was perceived and dealt was during the Colonial era.  Many young women were involved in the wild frenzy of accusations of witchcraft, punctuated by visions, to spells, and physical maladies and the belief of Satan was actively working to control individuals in and around the Salem Village.  Most these women who were named as witches were not even mentally ill in the modern sense of the term.  They were simply the victims in the ongoing battle of between God and Satan for the soul of mankind.  An influential Puritan clergyman, Cotton Mather, had expressed his belief through other leads as himself about young women with their age and dependent conditions. Especially susceptible to the hallucinations and physical assualts by this battle.  Mather believed prayer was needed as well as punishment for those bewitched by Satan himself, were seen as curses for the physical and mental ailments of the women involved in the witchcraft hysteria.

By the 18th Century, the hysterical outbursts with the witchcraft and Satanic possession subsided.  It was then that people who were classed as Upper class who then had showed signs of mental illness problems were usually cared for within the family and labeled as "stranged" or "eccentric".  However, for the Lower class, if they had shown signs of mental illness problems, and were unable to care for themselves or their families, they were "warned Out" by their communities or even placed in poorhouses.  Institutions for the mentally ill were developed in the late colonial or early national period through the United States.  They had treated their patients as inmates, poor, and in cages, with a combination of primitive medical care  to such as bleeding and purging. Such treatment back then was horrific back in these days and much of these inmates barely lived. If they had survived, the beatings were brutal, cruel and  unusual torture. The fouls of smells through would make one vomit on yourself , let alone the fluids flowing through of blood that was emerged through the ayslums at that time. The tortures that were emerged back then were worse than watching a horror movie of "SAW" itself, let alone to know it was believed to be real back in the Colonial days. It was real as was the witchcraft crisis, and the prehistoric times of the mental illnesses. Cruel, horrific, and real. And yet, people back then had no grounds for human life back then as some of us society do today. Does our society even still care about our mental illness today? What does happen when we leave our loved ones at the asylums and what does go on behind closed doors? In today's world, we find that some institutions, are careless in providing the right medical care for the mental illness to those who need special care and are found in the worst conditions today. Do we know what goes on behind closed doors when we drop our loved ones off? Seriously?  Some Records back in Time show of no records of anything to lost souls of asylum patients that were lost in the asylums itself.

Such as the case of Willard Asylum in Willard,NY. Patients there were treated horribly back when it first opened in 1869, and had continued. Lost souls were discovered as such as the case of Mr. Dmytro. Dmytro was not of the USA. Born in a poor family of the Ukraine in 1916, his father had died when he was 2. Under a Nazi occupation during World War II, Dmytre and countless others were forced into SLAVE LABOR back in these days.  At the end of WWII, Dmytre had tried to make his way home, only to be captured by the Soviet forces and then had been to an internment camp in Hungary.  He managed to escape, and made his way to Vienna, where he took refuge in an American displaced persons' camp.  There, he had met a Polish woman, Sophia, whom he later married and they emigrated to America in 1949.  Settling in Syracuse, NY, they found good jobs and a good Ukranian community.  Dmytre had wanted to show gratitude to his community.  He had built a model of the Ukranian church in his home village and delivered it to President Truman.  The church had been displaced in the government office in Washington DC for several years.  Years after, Sophia, being pregnant, had miscarried and died, making Dmytre's life begin to crumble away.

While griefing away the loss of his wife and unborn child, Dmytre came to believe that he was to marry Margaret Truman. Which was President Truman's Daughter. Dmytre had visited Washington DC in 1952.  Attempting to visit Margaret at the White House, The US Secret Service had detained him and sent him to St. Elizabeth's hospital in Washington. He was returned to Syracuse,NY and later committed to Syracuse Psychopatic Hospital before he was sent to Willard Asylym in 1953.  For several years, Dmytre lanquished at Willard.  The staff had trouble understanding his thick Ukranian accent and he had been given electro shock treatments.  A total of twenty of them through his 24years here at Willard Asylum.  The treatments however, did not improve his condition, just only to make him more disturbed as others at Willard.  In the early 1960's he began to attend occupatonal therapy sessions and it became apparent that he had a passion and talent in expressing himself in painting.

Through the staff, Dmytro for years painted a painting each day, a chronicle of his life.  His art work was displayed locally and at an exhibit of patient art in Washington DC. Though few of his paintings have been found today.  Dymtro remained at Willard until 1977 when he was discharged to a county home.  At this facility and a nursing home to which he later was moved to, he continued his paintings decorating the walls and murals.  Mr. Dymtro, ID #32643, as his last inmate number, had passed away in 2000 at the age of 84 and buried in Norwich , NY. A sad story of how asylum patients back in the era of the 1900's back then.


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    • 4elements profile image


      7 years ago

      very imformative. i enjoyed the read


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