June 18th, 2008



This is my quote for the day, from Victor Anderson — White magic is poetry, black magic is anything that actually works.

Cyd Charisse has died. She was 86, which seems oddly impossible.

Yesterday, though it was no doubt terribly irresponsible of me, what with having this mountain of work, and being not quite unpacked, etc., I had to get out of the house. The day before, Monday, was the first day since we arrived in Rhode Island that I'd not gone outside, and I will not return to those old habits. At least not until the goddamn snow starts. Anyway, about one pm, we took I-95 out of the city, past Boston, and north to Salem and Marblehead. It wasn't a long visit (I was thinking of you, kambriel), and mostly I was trying to find a new and very particular athame, and the witchcraft shop in Tiverton (RI) wasn't open.

The lion's share of what I saw of both Salem and Marblehead was beautiful. Had I known how gorgeous the area is when we were looking for a place, I might have settled there, north of Boston, instead of in Providence. Anyway, though I had been repeatedly warned, I was unprepared for the experience of Salem. On the one hand, as I said, beautiful place. And we walked up Liberty Street from Derby to the Salem Witch Trials Memorial Park, which wasn't founded (by the way) until 1990. It sits at one edge of "The Burying Point," where graves date back to 1637. The sense of time here still plays havoc with my mind. Which is odd, given how comfortable I am with Deep Time, with geological time. In the South, history only goes back so far — that is, the history of the Europeans who came to this continent long after the coming of the Asians who became the Native Americans. It's unusual to see gravestones or buildings dating back past the middle part of the 19th Century.

So, yeah, all that time. And coming unexpectedly upon the Memorial, I was taken off guard. By it, and by my emotional reaction to it. A small park whose stone walls are lined with stone benches, each one engraved with the name and date and means of execution of one of the many who perished in the Salem hysteria between 1692 and 1693. Some 150 were arrested, and twenty-nine were convicted of "the capital felony of witchcraft." Of those (according to Wikipedia), "Nineteen of the accused, fourteen women and five men, were hanged. One man who refused to enter a plea was crushed to death under heavy stones in an attempt to force him to do so. At least five more of the accused died in prison." The man who was crushed to death, Giles Corey, he has a bench, as do Rebecca Nurse and Susannah Martin. I was familiar with the latter two names, as the former figures in Arthur Miller's The Crucible and the latter was written of by John Greenleaf Whittier (and is the subject of a folk song I've always loved). Coming upon familiar names, it was somehow even more disquieting.

We walked in the old graveyard a bit. There was a fantastically twisted old oak (a Swamp White Oak, Quercus bicolor, I believe). I found two silk roses, blown off some plot or another — one red, one white — and carried them back to Susannah Martin's bench, where I left them.

We walked from Liberty, past the Peabody Essex Museum (founded 1799 as the East India Marine Society), to the array of shops along Essex Street (closed to motor traffic). Here's where the weirdness began. Salem's relationship to the witch trials is somewhat schizoid (and I say this as an outsider who has visited once). Visit the Memorial, and there's a distinct sense of solemnity regarding those murdered men and women. Stroll along Essex Street, among the tourists, and one encounters a different attitude, that the trials are to be treated as a bit of grotesque hilarity, a cultural oddity good for a few chills and laughs. Trolley-shaped buses (open air) drive loads of tourists to and fro, and people gawk and point while tour guides relate horror stories. I lost count of the cheesy museums devoted to witchcraft, with their leering, snaggle-toothed crones, their waxwork terrors to give upstanding Xtian folks a good-natured fright. The mountains of kitsch and tschotkes being sold, the T-shirts with witty slogans, and so forth.

And maybe I'll seem humourless, and maybe I'll seem to suffer from my own brand of hysteria, but...even given that most of the people accused of witchcraft in Salem Village probably were Xtains and certainly not witches, and that it would still be more than 260 years before Gerald Gardner invented modern Wicca...how does this differ, in its fundamental nature, from an amusement park at Dachau or Buchenwald? This is how it struck me. I don't know that it could have struck me any other way. And I'm not one of those Wiccans who's offended by Halloween and the Wicked Witch of the West and Harry Potter (I rather love all three, in fact). I am not humourless. But those leering faces, the carnival atmosphere, the exploitation, it got to me. And Spooky says it wasn't even a bad tourist day.

Anyway, we found the shop we'd come to find — The Broom Closet on Central Street. They didn't have the athame I was looking for, though we did get a couple of books and a new chalice. One of the books, Sea Magic by Sandra Kynes (Llewellyn Worldwide, 2008), impressed me simply because it's author uses footnotes and cites her sources, and good scholarship is all too rare in Pagan publishing. In fact, it's mostly nonexistent. I also picked up a copy of The Witches Almanac. The day was hot, and my feet hurt, and we headed back to Providence about four pm or so.

There's not much else to yesterday. Last night, leftover chili for dinner, and more unpacking. But we're almost done. I learned that sovay will likely be visiting us this weekend, which is cool. I baked an apple pie (it's good to have a kitchen again, one that doesn't make you want to scream). I worked on the review I'm writing for Publisher's Weekly. We went to bed rather early, just a little after one ayem. As for Monday, it was all spent putting together Sirenia Digest #31, which I hope to send out to subscribers on June 26th. Oh, there are photos from yesterday (behind the cut). But wait! Only a couple of days remain on the "cephaloflap" and "doodleflap" auctions. You snooze, you loose. You loose big cardboard monster doodles from my Great Northward Transmigration, in this instance. Anyway, photos from yesterday:

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