Festival of the Dead in Salem, Massachusetts
 

Shawn and Christian had such a great time visiting North Adams with Ron Kolek and the New England Ghost Project for their annual Contact paranormal conference, they were all too happy to answer the call when the North Adams Transcript wanted to interview them on the subjects of Witches and Salem!

Salem Witches
By Jennifer Huberdeau
The North Adams Transcript, Tuesday, October 18, 2005

NORTH ADAMS — Salem High Witch Christian Day believes that education is the key to dispelling the myths and misconceptions surrounding the public's view of Salem's current witches and of the men and women accused during the infamous trials of 1692.

"Back in the 1970s, witches started arriving in Salem to educate people to the correct definition of a witch. People also tend to gather with others of a like mind — it's comfortable. It's also a great educational opportunity," he said.

In 1692, 19 men and women were convicted of witchcraft and hanged. One man, who refused to answer the charge of witchcraft, was crushed to death. The accusations, made by young girls, destroyed the lives of many residents of Salem Village and Salem Town.

All of the convictions and trials were based on the accusations and relied heavily on spectral evidence and the belief that the accused had made a pact with the devil.

"The definition of a witch used by the Puritans in 1692 is wrong. Witches are not Satanists. The have been around longer than the Christian concept of Satan. The German root, weik, which means shape-shifter, appears prior to any mention of the devil," Day said. "The Puritans got it wrong."

Both Day and Elder Shawn Poirier said witches are neither good or evil, but magical in nature.

"Witches are creatures of magic. They practice divination, conjuring the dead, spells and fortune telling," Day said. "They connect with the spiritual realm. They spend their time learning the hidden truths and secrets."

Poirier said that during Salem's annual Festival of the Dead, which the pair founded, the group teaches children the techniques of spell casting so that they can tap into and excel at their natural talents.

"Ms. Firefly (a Salem Witch) teaches the children how to conjure spirits and banish nightmares. The course teaches them how to apply magic practically to their everyday lives," he said.

Day believes everyone has the potential to embrace magic in their lives. He also said many people confuse the practice of witchcraft with Wicca.

"Wicca is a modern creation. Some people think witchcraft is a religion where people wear Birkenstocks, eat granola and hug trees. It's not about that," he said. "To be a true witch is very rare. There are a lot of people out there that would not consider themselves to be witches but are magical because they fit the bill. It could be the little old Catholic woman sitting around reading her friends' tea leaves."

Swift's pardon
In 2001, then acting Gov. Jane M. Swift, pardoned the last of the women accused in 1692.

"We didn't really hear about it here. I applaud the action," Day said.

He said the only true witch, Tituba, who confessed to being a witch during her trial, got away.

"She was the smart one. She confessed to teaching the children tips and tricks. She was fortune teller. She wasn't supposed to be showing the girls their future husbands," he said.

In 2003, Salem announced it was preparing to leave its image of a "witch city" behind.

"It was obvious that 'Haunted Happenings' (the town's monthlong celebration) was dying out and the city was no longer supporting it. So three years ago, we founded the Festival of the Dead," Day said.

After debating if the festival should be witch centered or multicultural, the pair decided to focus on the many facets and celebrations of death.

"Everyone is impacted by death," Day said.

The festival includes a variety of events such as the Official Salem Witches' Ball, the Dumb Supper, the Vampires' Masquerade Ball, a seance and a ghost-hunting workshop.

Poirier said the Witches' Ball draws witches from around the world.

"It's the world's most exclusive party. This year's theme is the Emerald City in honor of the Broadway play 'Wicked,' " he said, referring to the hit production that chronicles the life and times of the Wicked Witch of the West. "Salem is the witch capital of the world. It is literally the Mardi Gras of the occult."

The Dumb Supper is a silent dinner honoring the dead, Day said.

Facets of death
He said the group decided to include several sides of death in the festival, including the violent side — by exploring the public's obsession with serial killers — and the sexual side.

"There's a sexual undertone to the legends and stories of vampires who come in the middle of the night to suck blood from the neck," he said.

Poirier said Salem also has a large "thriving community of vampires" living in the area.

A seance, connecting people with the dead, is also held as part of the festivities.

Poirier plans to host a class on psychic development and "Witchcraft 101" at the Masonic Temple on Church Street in North Adams in January.



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