While confession of sins was an established part of European Catholicism, the Puritans and Protestant sects in New England did not include this as part of their religious practices. Thus it is curious that confession as part of the process of uncovering and prosecuting witchcraft held such paramount social and legal importance, taking on an almost religious fervor.
If an accused person did not confess to the practice of witchcraft and allegiance with the Devil, he/she was much more likely to see the end of a rope. Those who did admit to the black arts and Satanic conversion were jailed, but not in immediate danger of hanging. Secret witchery was clearly more threatening to the town and its inhabitants.
But community pressures leading to the act of confession in Salem were fraught with subjectivity, fear, and anger. Charges were fabricated, elaborated and relentlessly seconded by “witnesses” and became outright false testimony in the trials. Hearing these claims so often and in so many guises often convinced the accused that they were actually guilty. If they did not give in to this self-deceit they may have capitulated just to end the torrent of verbal persecution.
Confession did lead to excommunication in many cases (an overlapping of religious and legal consequences), and given that “spectral evidence” was such a dubious grounds for conviction it is doubly ironic that confession should also play such an important part in the determination of guilt.