Festival of the Dead in Salem, Massachusetts
 

This fantastic and amusing article from the pages of North Shore Sunday offered one reporter’s experience with Festival of the Dead:

The Woman in Black
By Dinah Cardin
North Shore Sunday, Thursday, October 30, 2003

Nearly every morning this week, I've awoken to find black sexy clothing strewn about my place, a halo of black lipstick in the vicinity of my mouth and sometimes a smear of leftover ash on my forehead. One morning, I even awoke to greet a petrified chicken foot tied to a red string that had been thoughtlessly tossed near the Mr. Coffee.

Those witches know how to party. They tend to stay out late, too. You know, the witching hour and all. And they've corrupted me - this reporter who just moved to Salem, fittingly on Oct. 1, to fall into the hands of the locals and become something of a wild child.

Several years ago, I covered the waterfront on Nantucket for the local paper. Late-night shellfish meetings were a source of endless fascination for me. The lives of fishermen and those who lived in the harbor on their boats wasn't an obsession, but it was darn close. It's happening again. You simply gotta hang with the locals. The past couple of weeks have felt very Hunter S. Thompson. Very gonzo journalism.

I no longer think it strange to attend parties where cocktail conversation takes place over an open casket, its shiny white lacquer a topic of beauty.

I'm unfazed by party entertainment that includes standing back and admiring the flogging that is taking place in the back room - a naughty red-headed girl lashing a grown man tied to a wooden cross, with various black leather paddles and whips.

This is sport. This is something I tried Wednesday night at the Vampires and Victims Ball, sadly the last of my involvement with the Salem Festival of the Dead, partly because (like a mere Halloween amateur) I planned to have a few people over Halloween night, having no idea I would be invited to the Witches Ball.

And you know, every morning I've felt vaguely naughty, but mostly energized with a sense of serene power. There is something about communing and dancing with the dead at night that makes the sun sparkle with more brilliance the next day.

You ask yourself, how can you be only half-heartedly interested in Salem's Halloween festivities one week, thinking it's all about haunted houses and witch trinkets, and in the blink of a heavily massacred eye, you are clued in to the magic and the power and the hypnotically, wickedly charming people who call themselves witches?

I can tell they are people of extremes. Just around the corner from a hard smack on the bottom often follows a gentle whisper. There is a sense of comfort as the "nun" stands by to learn your "safe word," making sure you are truly enjoying the hard smack.

I spent last Saturday morning embracing the light down the road in Marblehead in a way I can't remember before. "To be alive," I said out loud to the harbor, a crisp breeze smacking the same face that the night before was tete a tete with death.

This took place at the Lyceum Bar and Grill, on the former site of an apple orchard, where many of the festival's events were held. We received ashes on our foreheads by the head witch, who then told me an aura of my maternal grandmother was around me (which is precisely who I was thinking of at this evening of necromancy). Per instruction, I placed my hand on a skull and thought on mortality, then danced and danced in front of a gilded mirror, bathed in candlelight.

This is the theme of the festival after all. Let's find strength in facing death. The appeal of becoming a vampire is to live forever. Even the witches wish for a night of being swooped on and "taken" from between their couch cushions, like in the great vampire movie "The Lost Boys."

Last night, once a band of spooks had finished the flogging, and the blood-letting demonstration - complete with "how to" instructions and razor blades - was over, we danced. Witches like trance music, a lot. Dancing seems like a pretty average party thing to do, except when the head witch, in his red velvetyness, steals me from my partner, twirls me into his robes and sinks his canines into my neck.

But I've since gotten over that too.

In the past couple of weeks, I've met a magic seeker from south Florida who booked his room six months in advance to come to Salem and parade around in a dark, hooded cloak. I've spoken to a young woman from Georgia in a lovely Renaissance fest dress with lots of cleavage, who learned from the witches that perhaps she wakes every night at 3 a.m., regardless of the time zone, because someone is trying to reach her who either died violently or by their own hand.

I've been taught to think differently at the sound of a barking dog during the lonely small hours of the morning, for it might have something to do with spirits. I'm not discounting my recent tarot card reading. The beauty of cemeteries is like nowhere else. I now hold a renewed appreciation for candlelight and despise overhead lighting.

Charm is a magical word. A witch reminded me of that this week. The witches definitely own it by definition.

I now own a spirit board, a corset and a long black velvety dress. I've been indoctrinated into the sexy, narcissistic underworld, where there is undoubtedly a certain power. Is it to wake the dead and speak to them? Who cares? Whatever it is, it's pure entertainment.



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