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Salem

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:





The Burying Point (also next three photos).









The Memorial (also next four photos).











The apple pie.

All photographs Copyright © 2008 by Kathryn A. Pollnac

Comments

( 48 comments — Have your say! )
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mb2u
Jun. 18th, 2008 03:58 pm (UTC)
mmmmm....pie....
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greygirlbeast
Jun. 18th, 2008 04:10 pm (UTC)
How to sort through all of this to approach anything authentic?

Well, for starters, that which I create is authentic. Authentic to my needs and perceptions. Accepting that Gardner, with the aid of Crowley and others, fabricated much of "Wicca," that Margaret Murray was full of crap, etc., it frees one a bit from the mostly futile search for "authenticity." I have ceased to search for historical authenticity, and am concerned primarily with meaning and resonance.

That said, the graves and the experience of touching them speak for themselves. They remain. Their witness speaks volumes about authenticity.

Yes.

Edited at 2008-06-18 04:12 pm (UTC)
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jmoyer
Jun. 18th, 2008 04:04 pm (UTC)
I found Salem to be an interesting place when I visited in 2004. I only spent an afternoon and much of the time was away from the downtown. There was an incredible book shop there with mountains of books, books that made walls. My interest in literature was smaller then so I only appreciated it shape and size and not the content itself.

There were several people, likely teenagers, who were running around claiming loudly that they were invisible. The noise they made seemed to defeat their purpose. I didn't notice many tourists though that's probably because it was a cool night.
firebirdgrrl
Jun. 18th, 2008 04:09 pm (UTC)
I always seem to have gone to Salem in the spring or mid-week in the fall--I didn't run into the piles of tourists at those times, there was kitsch and the questionableness therein, but mostly it was quiet. I took flowers to the memorial a lot.

The tourist stuff I vacillated on--sometimes I could deal and sometimes it was otherwise.

If you get to Salem again, I really like Nu Aeon on the Pickering Wharf for occult shopping and Harrison's Comics is really lovely. In A Pig's Eye and Rockafellas also have very good food. Most of all I liked sitting by the ship and looking out at the water since it was quiet and I could be by myself...that was where I'd go if Boston drove me nuts.

I hope you are enjoying New England overall!

(and if you like Victor Anderson and Feri, Thorn Coyle, an excellent practicioner and writer on that tradition is on LJ as Yezida. You might like her.)
greygirlbeast
Jun. 18th, 2008 04:43 pm (UTC)

I really like Nu Aeon on the Pickering Wharf for occult shopping

Next time, I shall have to find it!

(and if you like Victor Anderson and Feri, Thorn Coyle, an excellent practicioner and writer on that tradition is on LJ as Yezida. You might like her.)

Actually, I'm not attracted to Feri at all. I just liked that quote. But thanks.
mardott
Jun. 18th, 2008 04:27 pm (UTC)
I've never been to Salem, but I understand what you mean. I always rail against the popular "ugly old crone" version of witches. I think we have Christianity to blame for that, especially the Catholic church - in their attempt to "convert" whole societies to Catholicism, they invented this creature to scare people away from their ancient beliefs.

Your right about the witch hysteria being similar to the holocaust. It's not an opportunity for tourism and amusement. It's solemn. A chance to examine our past and determine whether our future will be better.

The one good thing the commercial exploitation can do, is make the average person more comfortable with the idea of witches. They won't have the perfectly correct idea, of course, but they'll have a harmless one. One that hopefully, will prevent another round of hysteria and murders.

The people whose interest is piqued by the commercial version, can always find good reference material and "real" witches who can show them what it's actually about.
greygirlbeast
Jun. 18th, 2008 09:24 pm (UTC)

I've never been to Salem, but I understand what you mean. I always rail against the popular "ugly old crone" version of witches. I think we have Christianity to blame for that, especially the Catholic church - in their attempt to "convert" whole societies to Catholicism, they invented this creature to scare people away from their ancient beliefs.

Well, I think maybe it's a little more complicated than that, but, truly, the Church has never "helped" (I'm going for grotesque understatement there).

The one good thing the commercial exploitation can do, is make the average person more comfortable with the idea of witches. They won't have the perfectly correct idea, of course, but they'll have a harmless one. One that hopefully, will prevent another round of hysteria and murders.

I don't think I can entirely agree with this, though, on the other hand, certainly one can look at everything from Willow on Buffy to the Harry Potter books as opening non-Pagans to witchcraft...though perhaps only as fantasy.

The people whose interest is piqued by the commercial version, can always find good reference material and "real" witches who can show them what it's actually about.

You are an optimist...
mardott
Jun. 18th, 2008 04:29 pm (UTC)
"You're right" not "your right."

Sigh. I type faster than I think.
dyfferent
Jun. 18th, 2008 04:30 pm (UTC)
The kitschy side of Salem sounds a bit like Burley in Hampshire, which is because of its association with Sybil Leek absolutely cramful of witchy kitsch, it's the theme of the entire village.
busfart
Jun. 18th, 2008 04:41 pm (UTC)
My Awakening
I made the Hajj from DPRK to Salem when I was in an emotional crisis regarding some of the unfounded innovations that were introduced by Wiccan scholars around November, 1963. I circled the Ka'aba and threw rocks at Jesus, and my soul was filled by the presence of Mother Goddess. Mother Goddess offered to give me a blowjob but I hesitated and she vanished.

I feel that I achieved a certain degree of endarkenment after visiting Salem, such that I realized that it would not be in my best interests to sacrifice a virgin wearing a laurel wreath in the center of Stonehenge. I now know that the horned god may only be appeased by the sacrament of ganja. I and I will prevail.

May the spirits speak in your ear.

busfart
octoberland
Jun. 18th, 2008 05:07 pm (UTC)
Aw, I wish I had known you were coming, it would have been nice to meet up for a short bit. Did you know that Nathaniel Hawthorne's wife lived in that house next to the cemetery for awhile? Having been born and raised here I could probably talk your ear off about the history. For example most of what happened did not take place in what is now Salem and the highest number of executions to occur in Salem actually happened in the Old Salem Jail (roughly 200 people).

I don't want to talk your ear off but quickly...I have a love/hate relationship with this place. It has a rich history outside of the Witch trial stuff and I love it for that. But it draws a lot of vultures looking for a quick monetary fix.

All that being said it is the unofficial Halloween capital of the world and Halloween is my favorite holiday (religious aspects aside for the moment). I love that I can celebrate it for a whole month as opposed to just one day or weekend. And for better or worse the Halloween/Witch trade is what gives a lot of people jobs here and brings revenue to the city.

Anyway, just some of my thoughts. I'm glad that overall you enjoyed your trip. There are a lot of wonderfully oddball places to visit in New England as you may already know. If you haven't already seen it I suggest the book Curious New England: the unconventional traveler's guide to eccentric destinations by Joseph A. Citro and Diane E. Foulds.
greygirlbeast
Jun. 18th, 2008 09:26 pm (UTC)

Did you know that Nathaniel Hawthorne's wife lived in that house next to the cemetery for awhile?

Nope. Didn't know that, but now I do.

And for better or worse the Halloween/Witch trade is what gives a lot of people jobs here and brings revenue to the city.

I'm afraid that's just not good enough for me. Revenue/jobs is no excuse for some of the things I saw yesterday.

There are a lot of wonderfully oddball places to visit in New England as you may already know. If you haven't already seen it I suggest the book Curious New England: the unconventional traveler's guide to eccentric destinations by Joseph A. Citro and Diane E. Foulds.

I shall look for it. Thanks!
reverendcrofoot
Jun. 18th, 2008 08:06 pm (UTC)
The weight of years have dulled people to the deaths that happen so long ago, and in two hundred years I would be surprised if there isn't the same thing going on in Dachau or Auschwitz. Nazi's complete with horns and wondering through gas chambers made up like haunted museums.

Besides there is a certain ghoulishness in a town celebrating a crime that happened there, no matter the time and a particular sort of person who would choose to visit a town, that as far as I know is famous only for this one thing. (Not you of course, but the tourists)

There is something that the monkey must love about these places of death and there is a lot more then just these few. Because we visit them, get in line, and wait to file past the place where someone else died.
greygirlbeast
Jun. 18th, 2008 09:28 pm (UTC)

There is something that the monkey must love about these places of death and there is a lot more then just these few. Because we visit them, get in line, and wait to file past the place where someone else died.

Though I disagree with some of what you said before this, this part is well stated, and I could go on and on, and would, if I presently had the time.
heron61
Jun. 18th, 2008 08:08 pm (UTC)
how does this differ, in its fundamental nature, from an amusement park at Dachau or Buchenwald?

I've never been to Salem, but my strong guess is that one of the biggest differences between Salem and Dachau is time. The first atrocity was more than 300 years ago, the other, slightly more than 70. I can easily imagine a similar atmosphere around Dachau and Buchenwald in another 150 or so years.
loki1978de
Jun. 18th, 2008 09:15 pm (UTC)
I do have doubt.
There is a jewish memorial in Dachau that is frequented by, what i will call in most respective way, pilgrims from Israel.
Are you familiar with the tradition of the "crying women" who gather when someone died?
If i say "these people can cry on command" it sounds terribly unrespectful, but it very much looks like that in a way.
Certainly no amusent park will be built there.
Buchenwald...even less likely (see below)
(no subject) - greygirlbeast - Jun. 18th, 2008 09:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
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mevennen
Jun. 18th, 2008 08:30 pm (UTC)
We're often compared to Salem although I gather that Glastonbury is much less commercial, and we don't go in for the kitsch.

I greatly enjoyed James Morrow' THE LAST WITCHFINDER, a novel narrated by Newton's Pincipia - this also makes the Dachau comparison in an admittedly very funny scene in which the Prin. possesses a local bookseller and makes him write to the town council suggesting that they have a witch pressing competition every year in the town square.
greygirlbeast
Jun. 18th, 2008 09:31 pm (UTC)

We're often compared to Salem although I gather that Glastonbury is much less commercial, and we don't go in for the kitsch.

I have to confess that I have always romanticized Glastonbury, which I've never visited and know mainly through Arthurian studies in college and from photos of the Tor. I am pleased to hear the kitsch-factor isn't there. That would be a shame.

I greatly enjoyed James Morrow' THE LAST WITCHFINDER, a novel narrated by Newton's Pincipia - this also makes the Dachau comparison in an admittedly very funny scene in which the Prin. possesses a local bookseller and makes him write to the town council suggesting that they have a witch pressing competition every year in the town square.

Too many books!
loki1978de
Jun. 18th, 2008 09:22 pm (UTC)
Dachau is just around my corner. My village is in what you might call the county of Dachau. Still, if asked by friends from the internet, or when on vacation, i never say that i am from Dachau. It just inevitably drives each conversation to WW2. And especially in the shadow of Dachau, you tend to get annoyed by that and prevent it. I say i am from Munich.
Your analogy is very touching to me, as i know the memorial site.
Truth be told, Dachau is not the least bit built towards being a big tourist site. There are tours, but there would still be space to boost it commercially. I am glad it is not.
A word about memorial brings me to Buchenwald, the only other Camp, where i have been.
The most touching place on the whole site, is a metal plate ( perhaps 1 meter x 1 meter) that is on the floor, in the areal, where the barracks stood.
I recommend kneeling down and touching it. It is warm. Always slightly warmer than the air temperature. I am not easily emotionally touched, but this has a thundering effect to your heart
robyn_ma
Jun. 18th, 2008 09:53 pm (UTC)
Back when I was young and stupid and thought I was going to write a novel about Ann Putnam, I went to Danvers to visit her unmarked grave. Then we went to Salem. There was considerably less meretricious commercialization of tragedy in Danvers.
greygirlbeast
Jun. 18th, 2008 10:35 pm (UTC)
There was considerably less meretricious commercialization of tragedy in Danvers.

Then again, what's left, it's condos now, I think.

I've never visited Danvers...

Edited at 2008-06-18 10:35 pm (UTC)
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jtglover
Jun. 18th, 2008 10:30 pm (UTC)
I almost wound up working in Salem and living in Marblehead, and instead wound up doing both in Richmond. While Richmond has certain charms, and while I made what seemed like the best choice at the time, the environs up in your (new) neck of the woods are by far the more congenial. Marblehead is simply a beautiful place, and I get endless mileage there out of being a John Glover there.

As to the commercialization of atrocity, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I'm appalled. I saw the same thing in Rome, for instance, where "Roman soldiers" stand outside the Colosseum and for a few lire (euros these days, I suppose) will pose in a picture as they pretend to gut, behead, or otherwise inflict harm upon you. It's funny and all, but that's because we're 1600 or so years away from the time when creatures of all kinds died there for sport.

On the other hand, humans do what they do, in the same way that bears, aphids, or crayfish do what they do. Cruelty, mockery, callous disregard -- they're all a part of nature.
greygirlbeast
Jun. 18th, 2008 10:33 pm (UTC)
On the other hand, humans do what they do, in the same way that bears, aphids, or crayfish do what they do. Cruelty, mockery, callous disregard -- they're all a part of nature.

Then...humans are "only" the apes the descended from, and all this business about good and evil and freewill is just a bunch of pretty stories for the kiddos?

That's almost a rhetorical question...almost...

Edited at 2008-06-18 10:33 pm (UTC)
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( 48 comments — Have your say! )