There is a fungus which grows on cereals, particularly Rye and more particularly in damp and warm weather conditions.
It feeds on the host grain, turning it black and spur-shaped.
Chemically related to LSD, it can produce similar effects in the body once ingested - hallucinations, convulsions and a sense that the skin is being pricked all over (this is due to reduced blood flow).
The parasitic fungus is called Ergot.

Those suffering from bewitchement, in the infamous Salem Witch Trials and in England in previous years, exhibited all these symptoms and research strongly suggests that they were in fact victims of Ergot Poisoning.

At that time, even those doctors who were sceptical of Witchcraft, were left with no alternative other than to assume the writhing hallucinating victims were possessed.
There is, however a body of evidence to suggest otherwise:

  • Adults, children and animals (mainly dogs and cows) in Salem were affected by the symptoms.
  • This is consistent with the cause being in the food source.
  • The inhabitants of Salem ate Rye, which is the most likely host for Ergot.
  • The Rye crop in the year before the outbreak of Witchcraft was grown in exactly the right conditions to encourage Ergot, and the crop, which the effected inhabitants ate, was grown in Marshland.
  • The people of Salem carried out a test - soaking a piece of bread in a suspected witch's urine and feeding it to a dog. The dog became possessed - seemingly due to the Witches bodily fluids - but it would have been more likely due to the contaminated bread.

So, the protestations of innocence of those who were persecuted, and ultimately executed for Witchcraft, are likely to have been quite true. Their "victims" were not possessed at all, just tripping.