Does No One Read the Description?

I was in my first month as managing editor of the (long-gone) Colorado Outdoor Journal when an article came in about fishing in Utah. Hello? “Colorado” is in the title.

When I was freelancing for commercial magazines, I was told always to read at least a couple of issues before submitting an article query, advice that I passed along to my students. The same would hold with academic journals — you would think — since they are often so narrowly defined.

On May 16th, an article came in through The Pomegranate’s online submission process (which requires filling in various fields in the Online Journal System) titled “The Holy Qur’an: The Origin of Human Discourse in Ethics.”

Less than a week later, one of the co-authors, who appeared to be teaching in the Islamic Education Department at Shiraz University of Medical Sciences in Iran, is writing to me wanting know my editorial decision on the piece.

So (a) she/they is unclear what “peer-reviewed journal” means and (b) she/they missed all the language on the main page about “Pagan,” “polytheist,” “reconstructionist,” etc.

Maybe “Pomegranate” just sounded Middle Eastern?

I sent a PDF of the last issue with my response, just to make the point that their piece outside our remit. Very far.

Salem Still Follows Us

My April 25th post said, “The Southwest Follows Us to Salem & Salem Follows Us Home.”

That has not stopped. Yesterday I stepped into the Goodwill store in Pueblo, Colorado to buy some of their 99¢ wineglasses for daily use. (Wineglasses break.) This shot glass caught my eye instead.

Trade routes!

Turning Dead Puritans into the Mighty Dead: Redefining Salem

Inscription: John Proctor. Hanged. August 10, 1692. At the 1692-1992 memorial site in Salem — which is not the execution site and not the victims’ burial place.

The last time that I walked through the Salem witch trials memorial adjacent to the Charter Street cemetery, I saw that someone had left a rolled-up paper at John Proctor’s memorial bench.1)No one ever seems to sit on the benches, perhaps because they usually hold offerings of one sort or another. Was it a petition? An announcement of an upcoming workshop on Tarot reading? Maybe Proctor, a prosperous farmer before he and his wife were accused, would have been interested in a farm-auction flier.

Obviously, I did not pull out the paper and read it. Doing that might have been good journalism but poor manners.  Even though the memorial is not a cemetery, I feel that cemetery etiquette applies. But if it was a missive addressed to Proctor, that could mean that someone now considers him to be among the Mighty Dead.

There lies the paradox. I cannot explain it rationally, and neither could Stacy Schiff in her fine new book The Witches, where she writes,

In a turn of events that would have mystified [accused witch] Ann Foster, it is easy to buy a broomstick in Salem, home to a large Wiccan community. Hotels are booking now for next Halloween.

We have been talking for decades — since Margaret Murray’s time — about reclaiming the word witch from its satanic and evil-doing associations.2)I am fully aware that some people, however, want to keep them. We could do that without dragging in John and Elizabeth  Proctor, Sarah Cloyce, Ann Foster, and the other 150 or so people who were charged in 1692, of whom 19 were executed.

But we have dragged them in. We are (apparently) treating them as honored ancestors, the Mighty Dead, sometimes defined as “those practitioners of our religion who are on the Other Side now, but who still take great interest in the activities of Witches on this side of the Veil.”

Wiccan writer Christopher Penczack equates the Mighty Dead with the Secret Chiefs or Hidden Company that various occult groups invoke. Yet at least in their 17th-century lives, those Puritan colonists would have been horrified to think of themselves as “practitioners of our religion,” wouldn’t they?

Still someone is tending the memorial stones, there are Samhain processions to the execution site, people leave offerings at the execution site, and so on.

We like to say, “What is remembered, lives,” but are we really remembering the Rev. Samuel Parris, Tituba, Judge Hathorne, Rebeca Nurse, and all of them as they were?

Or are we just performing civil religion with robes and incense, “[expressing] the implicit religious values of a nation, as expressed through public rituals, symbols (such as the national flag), and ceremonies on sacred days and at sacred places (such as monuments, battlefields, or national cemeteries)”?3)“Civil Religion,” Wikipedia. Is leaving flowers and pretty stones and coins and costume jewelry at the Salem witch-trial memorial merely expressing our admiration for the First Amendment?

Somehow I think that it is more than that. Parallel and occultly linked to the transformation of maritime Salem and manufacturing Salem into “Witch City” has been the transformation of the accused Christians of 1692 into “witches”  whose deaths — eventually — produced  a Witch-friendly little city today. It’s not conventionally rational, but it is what it is. And we are thanking them for that transformation.

POSTSCRIPT: I do not plan any more posts about Salem right now. Although no documents or artifacts from the witch trials are on public exhibit in Salem itself, thanks to the policies of the Peabody Essex Museum, which has many of them, there is a digital archive online at the University of Virginia.

Notes   [ + ]

1. No one ever seems to sit on the benches, perhaps because they usually hold offerings of one sort or another.
2. I am fully aware that some people, however, want to keep them.
3. “Civil Religion,” Wikipedia.

Aye, My Hearties, the Six of Coins!

Pickering Wharf today. At left is the reconstructed Salem privateer schooner Fame. The original Fame  operated during the War of 1812 against British shipping, while the newer version offers summer day cruises in Salem Sound.

The history of Salem, Mass., is more about the sea than the witches — at least through the 18th and early 19th centuries, the peak of the Age of Sail.

Kids climb an old anchor at the National Park Service’s Salem Maritime National Historic Site.

In the beginning, all the coastal communities were fishing ports, but while some like Gloucester stayed that way, Salem went mercantile, first in the coastal and West Indies trade and then — for the big money — the Spice Trade. Pepper from Sumatra, cinnamon from India, tea from China, plus other Asian goods, were all in demand. Per capita, Salem was the richest town in Revolutionary War-era America, based on importing and re-shipping West Indian and East Asian goods.

A miniature portrait of Capt. Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1776–1808.

There was risk, of course. For example, Capt. Nathaniel Hawthorne (the author’s father), a sea captain on the verge of big success, died of yellow fever in South America at age 32.

Model of original Friendship. Note cannon on deck.

The ships themselves were typically three-masted “East Indiamen” — like the Friendship of Salem, a working reconstructed ship based on a 1797 original. It is currently undergoing repairs, so I was not able to visit it last month.

The ocean was not necessarily a friendly place. There were European pirates still, plus privateers in wartime (pirates with a government license), and in the Far East there were local pirates as well.1)Salem ship captains also turned privateer in the 1850s against the French and during the Revolution and War of 1812 against British merchant ships. So the merchant ships carried cannon and other weapons for self-defense and the crews were trained in their use.

But by the time that Nathaniel Hawthorne the writer was working at the federal custom house in Salem in the 1840s, the trade was falling off.2)Consequently, he had plenty of time to plot “The Scarlet Letter.” But I wonder if the declining shipping trade in Salem contributed to Hawthorne’s nostalgic outlook. One reason was competition with Boston and New York.

The other was environmental. Salem’s merchants built so many private wharves (Pickering Wharf, Turner Wharf, Derby Wharf, etc.) for their ships and goods that they affected water movement, leading to increased silting-up of the harbor. Consequently, the newer, larger clipper ships of the 1840s–1850s could not easily use it.3)Salem could still accept shipments of leather, coal, and other raw materials needed for its new era as a manufacturing town.

While I drank a beer at Jaho Coffee on Derby Street, M. revisited the Spice Trade, making some purchases at Salem Spice on Wharf Street. Somewhere, the old sea captains nodded in approval.

Wharf Street: nautical New England with psychic readings.

But today’s Pickering Wharf neighborhood looks more like Diagon Alley. Yes, there is a fishing-tackle shop and nautical-theme gifts on sale, but there are also multiple occult shops. (Gypsy Ravish’s Nu Aeon is the only that I have visited.)

It turns into another time-slip: After spending the morning ashore, the second mate of the privateer Annabelle returns to the ship.

Summoning the sailors on deck, he sits on a hatch cover.

“Feast your eyes on my new Tarot deck,” he says. “Let’s have a quick reading for the voyage ahead!

“Ah now, look at that!” he exclaims, tapping a card with tar-stained fingernail. “Aye, my hearties, the Six of Coins! We’ll be coming back rich men!”

Notes   [ + ]

1. Salem ship captains also turned privateer in the 1850s against the French and during the Revolution and War of 1812 against British merchant ships.
2. Consequently, he had plenty of time to plot “The Scarlet Letter.” But I wonder if the declining shipping trade in Salem contributed to Hawthorne’s nostalgic outlook.
3. Salem could still accept shipments of leather, coal, and other raw materials needed for its new era as a manufacturing town.

Pagan Idols of the Mesolithic

The Shigir figure

Across northern Europe from the Ural Mountains to Ireland, the people erected wooden figures, of them quite large, as the ice age known as the Younger Dryas waned and the people could move into new, now-forested, lands. And they kept on during so until more recent times.

At Twilight Beasts, Rena Maguire writes,

There are stories from the deep past we won’t ever hear with our ears, but that’s not to say we cannot hear them. Archaeology tells those stories, the ones that I think matter.  The past I’m talking of is the one wrapped in skins and furs against the spiteful cold of the Younger Dryas. It has wise eyes and a hopeful heart; it knows what sustenance may still grow in snow and biting cold, and knows where the animals go to drink deep in parched summers. That past is carried in each and all of us, we are here because our ancestors survived the ice and cold with wisdom, courage and plain stubbornness. There’s times, however, something is found in bog, field or lake which beckons us to gather round in a circle, sit down, put the phone on silent, and listen to the past intently.

The Shigir wooden idol is one such object. It is an enigmatic wooden figure which, I admit, I could spend days just looking at, and ‘listening’ to, for it must have such a story to tell of the people who made it. It was found in a peat bog (all the best things are, imo) 100km north of Yekaterinburg, Russia, at the end of the 19th century. It stands head and shoulders (literally) above other objects of the past as it would have measured around 5 m  when complete, a tower of song, stories and memory set down some 11000 years ago. It is made of larch wood, and decorated with deep zig-zag lines on the torso, with 8 intriguing smaller faces carved as part of the design of the body. All the faces are unique and expressively stern.

More idols and a bibliography at the link. I love a good bibliography.  Read the whole thing!

Witchy Cultural Tourists Do Exist

In J. W. Ocker’s book A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts, Jay Finney, chief marketing officer of the big Peabody Essex Museum, tells Ocker that “cultural tourists” who visit the museum are a different crowd than those who come to Salem for witchy stuff.

And he sees no point in marketing to the latter.

But he just did, because M and I are in both categories.

Here you see two refrigerator magnets from the Salem Witch Museum, my Black Phillip pin (really from Nerd Scouts but very Salem-ish), a receipt for two museum admissions, and, good measure, a National Park Service brochure about the maritime history of Salem. (Not shown: Salem Witch Museum t-shirt.) So you see, Mr. Finney, we can be “cultural tourists” and part of “that [t-shirt buying] demographic” At The Same Time.

I need to write a blog post about the maritime stuff.

Salem, Arkham, and H. P. Lovecraft

Essex Street mall, with construction workers from the Peabody Essex Museum expansion walking to the job site.

What Bourbon Street is to New Orleans’ French Quarter, Essex Street is to Salem, Mass. When it’s party time (October), this is where the party happens. Otherwise, it is the chief tourist-commercial street, whether you want the Peabody Essex Museum, Christian Day’s witch shop, or The Witch House, which was actually the upscale home of one of the 1692 trial judges.

Witch Tees, a large-ish T-shirt shop, is on the pedestrian mall too. I went in and asked if they had any Miskatonic University shirts or hats. “No,” she said, “Just Harvard.” The straight and unaffected way she spoke made me wonder if she took “Miskatonic University” to be a real school somewhere in New England, instead of a fictional school right there in Salem — or rather in Arkham, Mass., if you accept the idea that H. P. Lovecraft’s Arkham is based on Salem.

One hundred fifty years after the famous witchcraft trials, Nathaniel Hawthorne turned to them for inspiration — and because they haunted his imagination — and put Salem back on track to being the “Witch City” that it is today.

Another century on, H. P. Lovecraft, who is usually identified with his hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, also connected with Hawthorne and Salem. While Lovecraft is usually placed in a lineage with Edgar Allan Poe, Dan Harms, university librarian, scholar of esotericism, and author of The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia, has this to say:

Even though Hawthorne died over a quarter century before Lovecraft’s birth, Lovecraft found considerable inspiration and commonality with the Salem author. At the age of seven, Lovecraft read Hawthorne’s A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales, both introductions to Classical mythology, that would lead Lovecraft to a fascination with Greek and Rome and their gods that may have been one of the inspirations for his own uncaring “gods.” The two men also shared a love of New England history and geography that drove their creativity. For example, Hawthorne met his wife Sophia Peabody at her father’s house on Salem’s Charter Street; the building stood next to the Burying Ground, which served as the inspiration for Lovecraft’s “The Unnamable.” The witch trials were of special fascination to both men, with the plots for both Hawthorne’s The House of Seven Gables and Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” finding their roots in Salem. Lovecraft lacked Hawthorne’s ancestral connection to the witch trials, however, and although the most famous of both authors’ works are steeped in weird influences seeping down from the past, Lovecraft’s stories partake of cosmic dimensions that Hawthorne leaves untouched.

Arkham, then, is a fictional city used by both Lovecraft and other writers who worked with the Chthulhu Mythos. It includes a “Hangman’s Haill” (compare Gallows Hill in Salem) and one street is named Saltonstall Street, which is the name of a prominent Massachusetts family that included one witch-trial judge. (Map of Arkham) (Map of “Lovecraft Country.”)

Arkham’s most notable characteristics are its gambrel roofs and the dark legends that have surrounded the city for centuries. The disappearance of children (presumably murdered in ritual sacrifices) at May Eve and other “bad doings” are accepted as a part of life for the poorer citizens of the city.

Lovecraft, however, showed less interest in witchcraft than in ancestral curses, ancient god-like creatures, and — as a result of too much contact with those two —insanity.

Donna Seeger of the Salem State University history department comments,

The fictional Arkham does indeed have a lot of Salem features, but Lovecraft’s Miskatonic U. is a lot more ivy-covered than our concrete Salem State: most experts assert that is modeled after Bradford College, a now-defunct college up in Haverhill, or perhaps even Brown University, located in Lovecraft’s hometown of Providence, Rhode Island. . . . The Arkham/Salem connection seems so well-established that I’ve always been curious that Lovecraft has not been assimilated more comprehensively into the relentless Witch City campaign, but that seems to be changing now.

In our reality, the Salem State U. bookstore sells only its branded apparel (Go Vikings!). So if I want that cap or shirt to show my allegiance to Miskatonic’s ivy-covered halls, I will have to shop online at one of the competing “Miskatonic University” stores (Go Squids!), perhaps this one or this one or that one.

European Pagans Convene in Rome

A report on the European Congress of Ethnic Religions, which recently met in Rome.

A great four-day event, with the participation of delegations from fifteen European countries and a representation from the US, culminated in an intense and luminous common ritual on the sacred hill of the Palatine on the 2771st anniversary of Rome foundation, the “Dies Natali”. So it was the sixteenth Congress of the ECER – European Congress of Ethnic Religions, organized by the Movimento Tradizionale Romano on the theme “The pagan rituals and their sources” (19 – 22 April 2018), concluded in Rome with great success, thanks to the synergy of prestigious doctrinal and scientific contributions and an impeccable organization.

In fact, the ECER, that brings together the main representative associations of European ethnic religions, had asked MTR to hold the prestigious event in the Italian capital: the MTR accepted and decided to celebrate the Congress on the occasion of the Natal [Birthday] of Rome.

The Pagan-focused archeological tours sound fascinating too.

In the early morning, in fact, most of the participants met in Via di S. Gregorio for a visit to the Palatine Hill and the Imperial Forums. It was not, however, a mere archaeological walk, but a true spiritual itinerary on the Sacred Hill of our Tradition. . . .

Accompanied by the archaeologists Marina Simeone and Sandra Mazza, the participants were able to immerse themselves completely in the environment and at the same time feed themselves from the most sacred sources of our Roman Tradition. The in-depth illustrations and the direct vision of the still impressive architectural evidences, such as the huts of Romulus, the temple of Apollo, the house of Augustus, the palaces of Domitian, were the setting for the presentation. In particular, the amazement has caught everyone in learning that the Christian birth was born under their feet, in the fourth century, in the church of St. Anastasia, on the expropriated trunk of the feast of the Invincible Sun (Sol Invictus) and on the forgotten roots of the Lupercal – our only , true, Cave of the Nativity.

Hawthorne’s Witches and a Secret History of Salem

She might be Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Muse.

A century and a half after the Salem witch trials, they still lived in the mind of a young Salem writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804–1864). From his fiancee’s window, if he had a good arm, he could have thrown an ink bottle at the headstone of his ancestor John Hathorne, a leading judge in the trials, in the adjacent Charter Street cemetery.

Visit the official Hawthorne in Salem website.

Some contemporary literary critics characterize his writing as “dark romanticism,” along with Edgar Allan Poe’s. Others place some of his work in the Gothic-fiction genre, comparing him to Matthew “Monk” Lewis, one of the creators of Gothic horror.

Is this not one of the most Goth sentences ever written? “Years, many years, rolled on; the world seemed new again, so much older was it grown since the night when those pale girls had clasped their hands across the bosom of the corpse.”

Poe (1809–1849), Hawthorne’s contemporary, did not much care for the story in which it appears, “The White Old Maid,” a  (sort of) ghost story published in 1835.

In an 1847 critical essay, he praised Hawthorne’s writing (“purest style . .. . the most touching pathos, the more radiant imagination”) even when it was not always popular but suggested that he needed to “escape from the mysticism of his Goodman Browns and Old White Maids into the hearty, genial . . . Indian-summer sunshine.”1)Edgar Allan Poe, “Tale Writing—Nathaniel Hawthorne,” in The Complete Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne (New York: Doubleday, 1959), 9–10. Originally published in Godey’s Magazine and Lady’s Book, November 1847.

Hawthorne was both impressed and horrified by his Puritan ancestors. He admired their courage and enterprise as settlers, but was repelled by their dogmatism, suppression of individuality, and most of all by their mass execution of accused witches in 1692 (as well as sporadic earlier trials).

Henry James (1843–1916) wrote that Hawthorne had a “feeling for the latent romance of New England” and praised his handling of “the ingrained sense of sin, of evil, and of responsibility” in a world marked by pressing moral anxiety [and] the restless individual conscience.” Hawthorne sought out and delineated “the laws secretly broken, the impulsive secretly felt, the hidden passions, the double lives, the dark corners, the closed rooms, the skeletons in the cupboard and at the feast,” creating “a mystery and a glamour where there were otherwise none very ready to [his] hand.”2)Henry James, “Nathaniel Hawthorne,” in The Complete Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne (New York: Doubleday, 1959), 2.

In other words, he is fascinated by the psychic and psychological history of New England, and how events like the witch trials create a kind of inter-generational curse or psychic poisoning — this is part of the back story in his novel The House of the Seven Gables, of which one critic wrote,

But as the Pynchon story [the Pynchons are the house’s owners in the novel—CSC] is an historical chronicle stretched over two centuries, the treatment of witchcraft changes with the changing times. Hawthorne shows scrupulous fidelity to both historic fact and oral tradition in recording the transformation from the Puritan to the contemporary version of folk belief. Just as the Puritan faith was relaxed and liberalized in the Unitarian and Transcendental periods, so too folk faith in witchcraft transformed itself to accord with the new spirit of the age.3)Daniel G. Hoffman, “Paradise Regained at Maule’s Well,” in The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Seymour L. Gross, Norton Critical Edition (New York: W. W. Norton, 1967), 476.

You can almost think of his writing as a “secret history” of Salem and the surrounding towns.

His witchy-est story, “Young Goodman Brown” (1835), takes place in a witchcraft-haunted fictional New England much like the setting of the 2015 film The VVitch., although it is, with heavy-handed allegory, a story about a Christian man’s loss of faith. Sarah Cloyce, an actual Salem village woman who was accused of witchcraft but never tried (played by Vanessa Redgrave in the 1985 production Three Sovereigns for Sarah), becomes in Hawthorne’s story a priestess of Satanism, even though Brown knows her as the one who taught him his Christian catechism, for he discovers that most of the “best people” are secret devil-worshipers. (Shades of Michelle Remembers!)

Now we stand only slightly farther apart in time, say 150–180 years, from Hawthorne’s writing. At a time when the Salem witch trials were seen as an embarrassment and the actual execution site forgotten, Hawthorne did keep the “witch city” meme alive.

But who else passed it along after Hawthorne’s death? There are two obvious candidates, and others not so obvious. I will be returning to the most obvious soon.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Edgar Allan Poe, “Tale Writing—Nathaniel Hawthorne,” in The Complete Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne (New York: Doubleday, 1959), 9–10. Originally published in Godey’s Magazine and Lady’s Book, November 1847.
2. Henry James, “Nathaniel Hawthorne,” in The Complete Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne (New York: Doubleday, 1959), 2.
3. Daniel G. Hoffman, “Paradise Regained at Maule’s Well,” in The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Seymour L. Gross, Norton Critical Edition (New York: W. W. Norton, 1967), 476.