/Hocus Pocus! Salem’s Witch Trials

Hocus Pocus! Salem’s Witch Trials

Come little children
I’ll take thee away, into a land
of Enchantment

Come little children
the time’s come to play
here in my garden
of Shadows

— Edgar Allen Poe or John Debney // sung in the movie Hocus Pocus

Historically, many of the women killed for the crime of Being A Witch!!1!OH NOES!! were spinsters, widowed, and/or childless… in other words, their lack of proper male protection (in the form of a husband or son) made them vulnerable to accusation.  A great number were healers or midwives, and thus targeted by those in the burgeoning medical profession who saw them as powerful competition.  In a college religion course I took entitled Witches, Saints, and Heretics (at a Catholic university, no less), we learned that in the premodern era the distinctions between formal belief, magic, and holiness were nebulous, and the line between the categories of “witch” and “saint” (particularly of the female kind) was tenuously thin (that is, everyone assumes you’re crazy, but whether you’re influenced from above or below is more a matter of political/social standing than one might think).

Oh, the things you learn from a liberal arts education.

Anyways, all this is to say that I was very excited to visit Salem, MA, the site of the infamous 1692 witchcraft trials.  The town had a number of Halloween shops, witch-themed museums, and New Age / Wiccan boutiques.  We saw innumerable people roaming the streets in long robes, others in witch hats, and still more in black and orange.  It was all very festive, if a bit kitschy.

Ship in Salem, MA

Salem, MA

Statue in Salem, MA

Taking a Break in Salem, MA

Downtown Salem, MA

We took an evening walking tour that was meant to be vaguely spooky and paranormal (or something), but the guide also did a fantastic job of regaling us with seemingly-accurate historical tales.  It was cleverly dubbed the Hocus Pocus Tour to appeal to all the twenty-something folks who watched the Disney movie of the same name dozens of times as children, so of course I was sold.  Kali, on the other hand, needed a bit more encouragement (as he somehow endured a childhood deprived of the magic of Hocus Pocus), so we watched the film the night before to get into the proper mindset.

We went to old cemeteries and learned how graveyards were dug up or built over or purposely kept under the church and/or chapel to protect the souls of the dead.  We learned of murders and poorly-hatched assassination scandals and political intrigue.  We saw the site of the old prison — shut down after the inmates sued due to inhumane conditions — which has been remade into condos and a restaurant (and where we captured a ghost on film!  ok, not really, but it sort of looks like it).  But mostly we learned about the witch trials and those who were accused and hanged.  Our guide made every effort to humanize the victims and explain the social and economic conditions that surrounded the hysteria. While entertaining, she also conveyed the solemnity of what happened, which provided food for thought when juxtaposed against the flippant tourist-attraction-y attitude with which it’s treated today.

Hocus Pocus Walking Tour in Salem, MA

Ghost! Hocus Pocus Walking Tour in Salem, MA

Graveyard in Salem, MA

Graveyard in Salem, MA