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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Henry James, “Nathaniel Hawthorne,” in The Complete Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne (New York: Doubleday, 1959), 2.
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.
This is interesting: Sikh men in the US military had gotten permission to wear beards as part of their religion. (Normally, beards are not allowed except, for instance, for special operations personnel in the Afghan back country who want to blend in, or something like that.)
Proctor’s Ledge from the Walgreens parking lot, filtered by Dreamscope.
Once there was a dirt road, the “Boston road,” that ran beside a pond on the way out of Salem. (Now it is called Boston Street.) Then there came a railroad, and a shoe factory, and today a Walgreens drugstore with the actual witch execution site in back, next to the drive-up prescription window.
Why did no one know that?
When the last person who remembered the executions of 1692 was gone — and with no one interested in building a memorial to a shameful episode — memory of the site was lost. People knew that they took place “over there” (gesturing to the southwest), and the most notable geographic feature over there became known as Gallows Hill. As Emerson Baker, a history professor at Salem State University puts it,
The executions on Gallows Hill were the climax of one of the most famous events in American history, but the hangings themselves are poorly documented. The precise location and events of the executions have been, until this point, generally lost to history. Tradition has simply placed it broadly on Gallows Hill, which covers many acres of land. In the 17th century Gallows Hill was common land located just outside the boundary of the city of Salem, then defined by a protective palisade (a fortified wall)
With the site identified, Baker said, descendants of the accused witches contacted him from all around the country, offering contributions toward a memorial. But Salem’s mayor, Kimberly Driscoll, stepped forward and said that building the memorial was the city’s responsibility. Here is the city’s news release. (They did accept donations but funded it mostly through a state Community Preservation Act grant.)
The Proctor’s Ledge rock outcropping is in the wedge-shaped parcel between Proctor, Pope, and Boston streets. There are houses on Proctor and Pope, and much of the site is in residents’ back yards. The pink line is the crest of the ledge, roughly, and the blue dot the memorial site. North is at the top.
The memorial on Pope Street. Very simple, with kind of a “Park & Rec” low-maintenance touch. “Hey, George, do we will have some of those granite blocks left over from the XYZ project?”
As for me, I liked the view from the Walgreens better, and I left a little tribute (an antique British shilling) there under a stone.1)If archaeologists ever find it, they might attribute it to a Victorian-era visitor. The contrast between the stark rock outcropping where “witches” died and the tidy Walgreens drive-up lane is just another Salem thing. You cannot easily make them mesh, any more than you can mesh those nineteen people and today’s Pagan Witches. (Well, I can think of one way, and I will try to deal with it later.)
The name “Gallows Hill” is wrong too. For one thing, as Marilynn Roach points out, the sheriff’s and constables’ expense records and requests for reimbursement survive, in minute details. And nowhere is there something like “X shillings for dressed timber and labour for building of ye gallows.”
There are no oaks on Proctor’s Ledge today (mostly locust), but in 1692 apparently there was a big oak tree with sturdy, spreading branches. No cost, just bring a ladder. Hence the sapling oak in the memorial??
Archaeologists crawled all over Proctor’s Ledge and used ground-penetrating radar, but they found nothing: no bones, no remnants of any structure. There had been a report of bodies dumped in crevices in the rocks, but if so, their families or somebody recovered them.
No one was hanged on Gallows Hill, but it makes a good high spot for a municipal water tank. The park is called Gallows Hill Park, of course.
I left our Salem apartment last Thursday to walk to the site, but what people used to think was the site is not the site. In fact, the true location, which was of course known at the time and remembered through at least the mid-18th century, when the last persons who witnessed the executions of 1692 would have been passing away, was then forgotten.
Somehow, Gallows Hill, because of its prominence, became fixed in people’s minds and was promoted throughout the 19th century as the site. The city acquired it and some nearby land in 1936.
I waked through typical New England streetscapes of (mostly) white-painted frame houses mixed with some commercial areas. The “No Tour Buses” sign was a clue that I was near someplace important — but was I?
Turning onto Proctor Street from Highland Avenue. One of the victims was a farmer named John Proctor, but his family kept on going and later owned land in the area. And are those artificial flowers a memorial or just someone’s decorative touch on Proctor Street?
I walked right past Gallows Hill Park (do the tour buses go there?) because it was not the place and continued on Proctor Street.
We live in southern Colorado – within the province of New Mexico, if you follow a pre-1821 map.1)Not that the Spanish ever settled this far north, although Gov. Juan Bautisa de Anza’s epic 1776 pursuit of Comanche raiders ended in a battle not far away. So we often feel that Santa Fe, more than Denver, is our cultural capital.
Cannon (1946-1978) was an enrolled member of the Kiowa tribe, born in Oklahoma. He studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, then joined the Army, fought in Vietnam, returned to the US and painted up a storm until dying in a car crash in Santa Fe.
There’s almost another connection — a high-school friend of mine taught at IAIA, but not until a time after Cannon had finished there.
Coming soon, Kakawa in Salem! Photo made a few yards to the right of the one above.
Imagine our surprise to see this storefront on Essex Street next to the museum: Kakawa is coming! Sure, I’d believe it in Aspen, Colo., or Scottsdale, Ariz., but Salem? I would love to know how they picked Salem, but I suspect that their new outlet will do well, being perfect for someone seeking a historical “elixir” after a morning of museuming. A Salem-Santa Fe axis — who knew?
Further east on Essex Street sitsArtemisia Botanicals, the serious herb shop in town (as opposed to the jars of herbs in some of the witch shops that have probably sat there for years and years), offering herbs, teas, oils, jewelry, and, of course, psychic readings.
We picked up a few things — for me it was a package of copal incense sticks. I have copal resin and like to use it for certain things, but there are times when sticks are just convenient. I looked at the label: They were from Fred Soll’s Incense in Tijeras, N.M., which is just east of Albuquerque. According to Mapquest, Tijeras is 358 miles (573 km) from my house, whereas Salem (had I chosen to drive), is about 2078 miles (3325 km).
But at last we are home. Then I see an unfamiliar car in the driveway.
Two nicely dressed men are at the bottom of the stairs, one middle-aged, one twenty-something. The older man holds a small, leather-bound book. When I step out onto the porch, he starts into a spiel about visiting the neighbors2)Never saw you before, buddy. and conducting a survey about how to find happiness.
¡Madre de dios! ¡Los puritanos!
I tell him that I never talk about religion before breakfast, and I am just about to sit down at the table. And that the best way out of the driveway is to pull toward the garage door, then cut your wheels hard as you back up.
Maybe they were just evangelicals, not Calvinists, but we live on an obscure road in the woods, and this was only the second missionary visit in twenty-five years.
Wouldn’t you like to live in an enchanted world, where everything in nature brought messages from gods and spirits?
The New England Puritans did so, but with a smaller cast of characters: their God and their Devil.
But there were lots of messages all the same:
If your cow died, if lightning struck your house, if your nine-year-old niece arched her back and babbled hysterically, complaining of “bites and pinches by ‘invisible agents,'” it meant something.
Either God was testing you or the Devil was trying to topple the pious colony of New England. To quote the Puritan clergyman and prolific author Cotton Mather, “I am a man greatly assaulted by Satan. Is it because I have done so much against that enemy?”
I had read her biography Cleopatra: A Life earlier and was impressed. When I saw that she had tackled the Salem witch trials, I knew that I had a good read ahead of me.
Books on Salem history at the Athenaeum.
I wonder if more books have been written about the 1692 Salem witch trials than any other, starting within weeks of the final executions and continuing up until today. These are some of the Salem-history books at the Salem Athenaeum (a private library) — the top shelf is all witch-trial books, and I can think of some that are missing or were checked out.
If you are going to read just one book though, make it Stacy Schiff’s. It is grounded in research, but it reads like a novel, while performing the historian’s essential task, which is to show you that no one explanation covers what happened that year in today’s Salem, Danvers, and Andover.
Nearly as many theories have been advanced to explain the Salem witch trials as the Kennedy assassination. Our first true crime story has been attributed to generational, sexual, economic, ecclesiastical, and class tensions; regional hostilities imported from England, food poisoning, a hothouse religion in a cold climate; teenage hysteria, fraud, taxes, conspiracy, political instability, trauma induced by Indian attacks, and to witchcraft itself, among the more reasonable theories. . . . .The irresistible locked-room mystery of the matter is what keeps us coming back to it.
Unlike some accounts, Schiff’s continues past the end of the trials themselves, noting how the end of the witchcraft panic, though it diminished the social position of the Puritan church, did not change the theology about the Devil and witchcraft. The Devil was still out there. New England remained “enchanted,” at least in the sociological sense.
The year 1692 disappeared from some official chronicles as well as important individuals’ journals, which makes historians’ job harder. One thing we can say: it damaged but did not break the prestige of the Puritan clergy, who had thought of themselves, in effect, as the rulers of the people — only to see George Burroughs, a former Salem village minister, sent to the hanging tree himself.