This Is Halloween! Salem During The Samhain Season
By Artemisia, Nicole, Maeve, Phoenix ShadowDancer, and Roisin
Salem, MA was founded by Puritans sailing from England in 1629. The town is notorious for the witch trials that took place in the vicinity in 1692. We know that the Salem “witches” were innocent victims of mass hysteria. The first “witch” was hung in June of that year. In October, 13 executed women and 5 executed men later, the witch-trials were suspended. From then on, witches, the devil, and any vestige of the occult left Salem for over 250 years and Salem reverted to yet another boring, Puritan New England town.
Not until the 1970s did the witches return to Salem… and this time they brought T-shirts.
Salem is Halloween 365 days a year, so you can imagine what events take place during the week of Halloween! A few former-residents of Salem along with some local pagans offer an insiders’ view of Salem during this season.
Fun Things To Do In Salem by Phoenix ShadowDancer
Living close to Salem has always felt like a privilege to me. From the days when I was a child, when my dad would take me to the “witch shop” (Crow Haven Corner) to today, when I go to feel the amazing spiritual and magickal energy, I have always loved the town. There are so many things that a magickal person can do in this beautiful little town, from historical site-seeing to really amazing food. One of my favorite things to do is to walk through the “witch’s memorial” (which isn’t really a memorial to witches at all…since it is most likely that the women and man killed were probably not witches) to the old cemetery, sit on the wall, and write in my journal or just meditate. It’s a beautiful site. Another favorite is to visit all of the occult shops. Of course, many of them carry the same products, but the atmosphere when you walk into these shops creates a warm, fuzzy feeling all over.
There are millions of historical sites to see in Salem. There is the Witch’s Museum (which harbors a bunch of wax figures and tells the story of the Salem Witch Trials), the House of Seven Gables, which was once home to writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, and, of course, the Witch’s Dungeon which I have actually never been to. During the autumn season, Salem hosts a month-long festival called “Haunted Happenings”, which creates an eerie flare for visiting these sites.
Finally, there are numerous groups of pagan men and women in Salem who never feel squeamish about walking around in their cloaks, and “witchy attire”. This was my favorite part about Salem. Usually, a large pagan group called the “Temple of Nine Wells” will put on a public ritual for each pagan holiday, which are inspirational and all-together fun. For Samhain, they often gather at Gallows Hill for a large public ritual (which often consists of hundreds of people) and then process to town from there in memory of those who were executed for their beliefs. No matter what your interest, the autumn season is always a wonderful time to visit the town of Salem. During this season, everyone is a witch .
Avoiding Salem by Roisin
I have never been to Salem for Halloween. I’ve thought about it a few times, but I’ve always decided not to go. I go up to Salem a few times a year, usually on weekends in the summer to check out the Peabody Essex Museum and do a little shopping. You may wonder why, and many people I’ve met, given my religious beliefs and geographic location, are shocked to hear that I avoid Salem from October 1 through November 2. The reason for that is the same reason I avoid all Irish bars on St. Patrick’s Day. It doesn’t have a lot to do with green beer and green beer vomit (but that does count for something). No, I stay away because I celebrate my heritage 365 days a year. I don’t need to be squeezed into an overcrowded bar and have some drunk spill beer on me while singing “Danny Boy” off-key. As for Halloween in Salem, I celebrate my faith in the Goddess every day. I don’t need to freeze my ass off wandering around the streets of Salem while freaky (deliberately freaky) guys and girls try to pick me up, on the assumption that Pagan chicks are poly, easy, and like to f—- anything. I also don’t need to deal with the witchier-than-thou types in Salem, whose own brand of Goddess is the only one acceptable. I also don’t like the overly commercial nature of the holiday up there. Still, Salem is a fun town to visit, but I like to do it on my terms, not everybody else’s.
When You Can’t Get To Salem, Go To Boston! By Nicole
I have lived in Boston all my life and since Salem on Halloween can be pretty a pretty crowded scene, I usually stay local and keep it simple. Salem is not the only spooky place in New England. A trip to some of the oldest cemeteries in America makes for a “grave” Halloween experience. Mt. Auburn Cemetery, founded in 1831, is the final resting place of thousands of distinguished people including 19th century poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and artist Winslow Homer as well as 20th century visionary Buckminster Fuller. Mt. Auburn commemorates the dead in a tranquil, natural setting “embellished” with ornamental plantings, monuments, fences, fountains and chapels that also makes it a place for the living. You can go, have a picnic on a tomb, write in your journal, and romanticize about the past. Park Street Church, the site of the old town granary (where grain was kept before the Revolution) dates back to 1809. The Church was the first location of Sunday School in 1818. On July 4th, 1829, William Lloyd Garrison gave his first public anti-slavery speech here and two years later “My Country, Tis of Thee” was sung for the first time by the church’s choir. But Park Street Church is best known for its cemetery, where at least 1,600 people are known to be buried, dating from the 1600s. Among those laid to rest are Paul Revere, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and the victims of the Boston Massacre. Elizabeth Vergoose, buried here in 1690, is believed to be the storyteller later immortalized as Mother Goose. There’s nothing more fall-feeling than crunching through fallen leaves around the Granary graveyard with the smell of roasting peanuts in the air and sipping some hot cider.
A day pensive day spent grave-hopping ends nicely with a night dancing at ManRay Nightclub, home of New England’s underground scene, catering to a variety of alternative cultures. ManRay can guarantee a spooktacular Halloween night! Dance the night away with vampires, dominatrix damsels, and sexy heathens… and those are the regulars! With an annual costume competition cannot be rivaled with awards like “best use of pvc tape in a costume” the night always promises a lot of laughs, dancing, and great people watching.
Disillusionment Of Salem by Maeve
Dis`il*lu”sion*ment, n. The act of freeing from an illusion, or the state of being freed there from. As a child growing up I always thought of Salem of being this real life mystical place. As a teenager I craved to be there on Halloween. The night that was already charged with so much meaning I felt would be that much more powerful there. A couple of years ago I was able to realize that childhood idea but it wasn’t what I expected. The only thing to compare it to is Mardi Gras: streets full of people, outrageous costumes, insane behavior, drinking and a few drugs here and there… not much in the way of mystical experiences. Salem is an old town with a lot of history but it was not the source of a lot of the history we were taught. There was a lot of energy but it was very chaotic and came from the people I was surrounded by not the environment. I think in my head I had pictured bustling activity of like-minded people or some such thing. While I can say that I have experienced Salem at Halloween and there were some positive things; it was an experience that freed me from my childhood illusions.
Living In Salem On Halloween by Artemisia
As someone who can claim to be quite familiar with Salem, once being a local and having much family who lives in the area, I feel that there is definitely something special about Salem. The energy in and around the area is very mystical; perhaps because it is surrounded by the ocean and marshland or perhaps it just cannot be explained. I can say for sure, however, that the endearing qualities of Salem are not due to the Haunted Happenings events each October, but rather, in spite of the hordes of people that go there for Halloween. There is nothing better than walking down the brick-laid streets looking up at the brick buildings, crunching along in the leaves, watching your breath puff in the cool, damp air on a sunny October day. This downtown area has something for everyone: great restaurants, cafes for the college kids, shops full of supplies for the practicing pagans, tourist traps for the visitors, local grocers, museums, unique book stores, plenty of good seafood, great bars full of local characters, antique shops, one of the oldest hotels in America, and great architecture. If you wander a little further off the path, you can walk out to the wharf and see the boats in the harbor, or go down to Winter Island and walk around on the beach, or sit on the benches at Salem Willows and enjoy the beautiful ancient trees overlooking the bay, or even hop in your car or on the bus and head towards Marblehead to visit the hidden treasure of Salem: Forest River Park and enjoy a walk on the waterfront overlooked by gorgeous, friendly trees and many seagulls. Whether you go to experience the beautiful natural sights, to window-shop downtown, or to get some great food, one thing you will be assured of: an eclectic group of people, ranging from the blue-collar “townies”, to the black-caped pagans, to the college students at Salem State, to the old Salem families, and the recently or not so recently immigrated, living and working in harmony and tolerance together in this unique city.
No matter what you do on Halloween… whether it’s to camp it up in Salem, participate in a Samhain ritual outside the beautiful autumn weather and reclaim your freedom of religion, spend a quiet day among the dead, or a loud night dancing—have fun, be safe, and be true to yourself!
About The Authors: Artemisia, Nicole, Maeve, Phoenix ShadowDancer, and Roisin are Keepers of the Moon. We meet twice a month to meet, discuss, act, and do ritual work in a safe, supportive atmosphere. Our goals are to facilitate spiritual growth, be spiritual resources to one another, and enact positive change in our lives and communities. These goals are strengthened through regular meetings, rituals, and celebrations, all which honor the Universal Feminine Divine. We are a group of women who believe in, practice, and foster an egalitarian society that is based on tolerance, wisdom, compassion and respect.