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!