That Old Salem Magic


Screen Shot 2019-10-16 at 10.22.40 PMSalem, that tiny black pearl on the Massachusetts harbor, continues to hold my fascination, year after year. This October marks my eleventh annual visit. You’d think by now I’ve already seen everything that can be seen here in this little square mile, and technically that might be true. And yet I keep coming back.

Many people wonder why I, why anyone, would visit this charming New England town. Sure, everyone’s heard of the witch trials, but why would that dark historical event make Salem a holiday destination? Do people flock here to gawk at the gallows with morbid curiosity? Is the town just cashing in on a tragic past?

Salem is none of those things to me. In fact, there’s a Walgreens now where the gallows once stood. This seems fitting, because people aren’t coming here to see where innocent victims were ignorantly accused and hung. They’re coming for the myth that was born of that event.

Salem has created an American legend: the persecuted female archetype, once vilified for her mysterious, feminine powers of birth and healing, now risen from the ashes, her power increasing every decade that passes.

Despite being built upon the tragedy of innocent people being hunted and hanged for false accusations of witchcraft, now the town embraces real witches in all their forms. Every other shop is a psychic parlor or herbalist, each day in October has witch-related tours and events, and there’s even a broomstick logo on the police cars.

In a way, Salem’s ubiquitous witch mania is perfect justice for the sins of the past. Whereas once humans unleashed an evil paranoia fueled by misguided Puritan beliefs, now the myth of the monster they created is celebrated, praised, even worshipped.

The name Salem comes from the Hebrew word shalom, meaning “peace.” It is here where the witch, once persecuted, eventually found her serenity and acceptance.

Photos by K.O.

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