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.

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!

Heartland Festival Presentations, Take 2

Once again, I am packed, ready, and excited to be going to the Heartland Pagan Festival.  With any luck, that will be me stepping off the Southwest Chief in Lawrence, Kansas, on Friday morning. (Usually I snooze through Lawrence when traveling east and wake up for the long stop in Kansas City.)

This was all supposed to happen last year, and as I wrote then, the weather turned against me. I still feel sort of ashamed about aborting the trip — I could have maybe done one of my two presentations.

These are a “work in progress” discussion of the flying ointment project and the provocatively named “Nature Religion: You’re Doing It Wrong,” which is partly material from Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca And Paganism in America and partly some new stuff.

To me, this is more stressful than presenting at an academic conference, which shows what a recluse I have become. 🙂

On Not Finding What You Were Looking For in Foreign Places

Take the door to the Dutch Consulate, but go up four flights.

Take the door to the Dutch Consulate, but go up four flights.

If you are the kind of traveler looking for history, you do not always find the history that you were looking for.

I learned that lesson years ago when M. and I went on a month-long honeymoon in Ireland. Newly Celtophile, I was all excited about seeing Neolithic monuments and Celtic Ogham stones and all that sort of thing — and we did — but I was smacked unexpectedly by the late 18th century.

It was such a powerful emotional experience — maybe reincarnational, I can’t say — with synchronicities that continued months later, that I can still feel it in my bones today.

Spending part of September in a little apartment in the old town of Corfu, an island on the west of Greece, I knew that I was visiting a place with a resiliant culture that has, thanks to its geographic location, experienced a lot of conflict. For instance, during World War II, the town was bombed by the Italians, the Germans, and the Allies at different times. Yet today the streets are full of German and British tourists. And there are great Italian restaurants.

Of course, I went looking for the Classical Pagan stuff, which is there but not emphasized nor extensive. And the Unexpected happened too: not a “reincarnational” whammy experience as in Ireland, but I found myself continually drawn to an era and events that were not really on my mind when I set out on the journey. Once or twice the ground shifted a little under my feet.

As the famous Mississippi novelist William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Except that it would take a platoon of William Faulkners to do justice to Corfu.

More to come on this.

Brief Interruption in Blogging

M. and I are traveling in Bobos in Paradise country. Yesterday I was walking up the street and a man pulled over and in a foreign accent that I could not quite place asked me how to get to Pebble Beach.

As it happened, I knew. And I don’t play golf.

Back to reality next week.

Back at the PhD (Piled-high Desk)

Rose hips and bufflo berries on the North Dakota prairie

Rose hips and buffalo berries on the North Dakota prairie. Sharptail grouse like them.

It was good to disappear. I geocached along the Niobrara River, hunted ducks in North Dakota — where “to combine” is the verb of autumn, and you accent the first syllable — and ended up finally at the Black Hills Powwow in my old hometown of Rapid City.

I ate way too much greasy food in small-town cafes but have also been reminded how much I like the taste of wild duck. I watched a badger  roam in the great empty heart of South Dakota, which is how I designate all the country south of Lemmon.

More about the powwow later.

I returned to find the “progressive” blogosphere enjoying its annual Ten Minutes of Hate against Christopher Columbus, whom we apparently must now regard not  as a 15th-century European with the mindset of his time but as truly evil.

The Italian immigrants and their descendants who pushed for the holiday were not celebrating evil, notes political blogger Walter Russell Mead.

In American history, the fight to make a holiday on Columbus Day actually had almost nothing to do with the actual arrival of Christopher Columbus in the western hemisphere.  It wasn’t about celebrating the European conquest of the Americas or the extirpation of the native tribes.

The day was made a holiday after years of lobbying as a way of recognizing the contribution of Roman Catholics and immigrants generally to American life.  It is a holiday to celebrate diversity, not to commemorate the imperial outreach of Ferdinand and Isabella, a deeply regrettable couple who were notorious oath breakers, inquisitors and anti-Semites.

Not marching, but dancing.

Meanwhile, at the powwow — and it is no coincidence that it was held October 7th–9th — American flags were much in evidence and military veterans danced first, as happens at most powwows.

Isn’t culture complicated?