The Southwest Follows Us to Salem & Salem Follows Us Home

Yet another addition to the Peabody Essex Museum is under construction.

Before M. and I left on this trip, someone mentioned a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at the big Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. As it happened, the exhibit ended just before we arrived, but that’s all right — we can visit a whole museum devoted to her painting in Santa Fe whenever we are down there.

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.

T. C. Cannon, self-portrait, 1975 (Wikipedia).

And what did the PEM have to replace O’Keefe: an exhibit devoted to the artist T. C. Cannon. 

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.

No trip to Santa Fe is complete without a stop at Kakawa chocolate house, tucked away between some state government offices and the art galleries on Paseo de Peralta, where you can take your chocolate the way that Marie Antoinette drank hers or — my preference — the way that the emperor Moctezuma II  drank his, with chiles.

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?

Artemisia Botanicals

Further east on Essex Street sits Artemisia 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.

The mystery of why the Kakawa chocolate house is coming to Salem has been solved! You can read the rest here.

Notes   [ + ]

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.
2. Never saw you before, buddy.

The Best New Book about the Salem Witch Trials

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?”

The quotes are from Stacy Schiff’s The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem.

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.

The Trip to Salem: Southern Colorado — Chicago

The eastbound Southwest Chief, which originates in Los Angeles, rolls into La Junta, Colorado, at sunset.

A near-miss in Chicago: the sleeping car attendant had lined up everyone’s bags on the platform, which is a dimly lit.

I found my carry-on bag, rolled it into Union Station, down the corridors to Amtrak’s Metropolitan Lounge, and lifted it onto a shelf in the storeroom.

“Why does your bag have a Red Cap tag?” M. asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, “I didn’t ask for that.”

It was not my bag.

I was just explaining the mix-up to the lounge superintendent when she spotted a man checking in at the door with . . . a silver carry-on bag.

He had kindly brought it for me from the train. He thought it was his.

All praise to Hermes for the quick save.

Last Chance for Chiles


Saturday the 14th — the last chance to eat some chile colorado before heading east for New England cooking. (Tres Margaritas, Pueblo.).

But . . . today’s Amtrak breakfast menu featured a quesadilla of sorts, making that the first time that I had been served green chiles on the train.

For the Friends of Black Phillip


Yesterday’s post on movies related to Salem witchcraft mentioned The VVitch and the character of Black Phillip, the billy goat. (His real name is Charlie and he “still gives his director nightmares.”)

There  is a billy goat in my magical menagerie too — not quite the same, but close enough that when I saw this pin and embroidered badge at Nerd Scouts, I had to have them.

Live deliciously!

Our Salem Film Festival

Prompted by J. W. Ocker’s A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts, M. and I held a little Salem film festival. (We skipped The Lords of Salem.)

In order of creation, we watched these three movies:  Three Sovereigns for Sarah (1985), Hocus Pocus (1993), and The VVitch (2015).

(This looks like a bootleg copy, but I wanted this scene. Sorry about the quality.)

Three Sovereigns for Sarah, a three-part PBS documentary, is well-done, using authentic trial testimony in spots. Vanessa Redgrave, playing accused witch Sarah Cloyse, just dominates it — although she has some competition from the young actresses playing the “afflicted” girls. 1)Sarah Cloyce is depicted . . . differently . . . by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I am coming to that.

A historical consultant told Ocker, “We had a lot more power on the production than historians usually have on commercial things.” They were even able to nix Alexander Scourby’s casting as a judge, because Scourby would not shave his beard, which was historically inappropriate. Clean-shaven Patrick McGoohan replaced him.

The church meeting house where the Rev. Samuel Parrish holds forth was built for the movie, and like all 17th-century buildings, included recessed fluorescent lighting. OK, that’s a joke. But compared to the moody available-light shooting in The VVitch, Three Sovereigns for Sarah is lit like a TV soap opera, giving a sort of “witchcraft under the microscope” vibe.

On the plus side, it gives you the feel of what happened. And guess what — no one is hung for being an herbalist or a healer. That is romantic mush that started in the 1960s and 1970s. It may make you feel good, but it is not about what happened in 1692 in America — or elsewhere.

Importantly, the film gives Sarah Cloyce a speech in which she explains how neatly the witchcraft accusations matched property disputes in Salem Village. In other words, adults were feeding suggestions to the “afflicted” girls about whom to denounce. That is usually the way it works in “children’s crusades.”

BEELEEVE THE CHILDREN!

Of Hocus Pocus (1993), Ocker observes,

The witches are played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Nijimy in, if not exactly career-defining roles, roles that will probably outlast anything they’ve ever done. There are entire generations of people who know Hocus Pocus, but have no idea about wind, wings, sex, city, hair, or spray.

Yes, but it’s Disney (kids win, witches lose). That is probably why I had no interest in it in 1993, and besides, I had student papers to grade. And Sex and the City will be Parker’s role that I remember.

If Three Sovereigns for Sarah presents a documentary-style take on the 1692 witchcraft panic, The VVitch gives us the imagined European witchcraft of the 16th–17th centuries transplanted to New England, where tiny cleared islands of Christianity struggle to survive up against dark walls of savage forests, In that, it echoes some of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s spookier fiction, in which he dips from the same well.

But it’s a horror movie, so the central character witch is herself a teenager, not a mature woman. Of course you have your pact with the devil, the Witches’ Sabbat, spectral flight, possession, and Black Phillip, the goat who is more than a goat. In lighting, costuming, and general atmosphere, it is the best of the three. Unlike the other two, it was not filmed partly in or near Salem but near Kiosk, Ontario, in order to get the best cinematic forests.

Also, it gives me a segue into talking about Nathaniel Hawthorne and witchcraft, coming up.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Sarah Cloyce is depicted . . . differently . . . by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I am coming to that.

Witches, Sea Captains, and Art — We Go Back to Salem

I am sipping this as I write.

Last November, during the American Academy of Religion annual meeting in Boston, I made a quick trip to Salem, Mass., with some fellow Pagan studies scholars. It was only one afternoon—long enough to visit some of the witchy shops, a magickal temple, the Charter Street cemetery, and a few other sites.

No time for the maritime history or the highly regarded Peabody-Essex Museum or even all of the historic sites connected with the witch trials or other cultural history, such as the House of the Seven Gables.

So back I go in two weeks, and M. is going with me — a trip celebrating a wedding anniversary that ends in zero. We have lots of Amtrak reward points to spend, and it’s too early for gardening here. A rented apartment awaits us. Granted, winter is hanging on grimly in New England, but we will take our chances.

Our guidebook is J. W. Ocker’s recent A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts.

We have been preparing ourselves with a series of movies — more on that soon — and I actually read all of The House of the Seven Gables, with more of Hawthorne waiting on the bedside table, to put myself in a mood of dark Romanticism and decay.

Like Ocker, I wonder, “Why Salem did attract today’s witches? Why in the 1970s?” He has some ideas, which I will share later.

So consider this to be the first of a series of travel-related posts that will appear between now and Beltane, more or less.

A personal note: Despite her French surname, M. on her father’s side is New England Yankee all the way down. According to family tradition, the name came from some French Huguenot (Protestant Christian) who fled across the Channel in the 17th or early 18th century to escape Catholic persecution, the family transforming gradually into English Puritans.

Although they moved on to northeastern Vermont, they presumably came through Massachusetts. “So,” I tell her, “you might pass by an ancestor’s grave. Perhaps even one of the witch-hunters. . .”

And at that point she starts shouting at me.

What can I say? The Cliftons were Virginians who probably spent their Sundays sipping rum and betting on cockfights, not listening to two-hour sermons and hanging so-called witches.

On the other hand, she is willing to make the trip!