Massachusetts - Salem (Part 2)

Let's not forget the Undead, every vote counts

In Salem in 1692, the girls bewitched by their Caribbean slave also known as the “Afflicted girls" (aka “bitches be crazy”) were brought to neighbouring townships where they pointed out other witches, these became known as the Witch Hunts. People started to accuse neighbours, children accused parents, anybody who had a grudge would soon declare their enemy a witch.

A policeman in Salem suggested the girls should be judged and sentenced, not the people they pointed to. He was then accused by the girls and hanged. Flipping heck, were there no adults in this town?! Seriously!

On a tour of Salem’s Witches Dungeon we were taken into the jail. The 'witches’ were kept in cells of different sizes, the accused had to pay for their own imprisonment, so the more you could pay the better the cell you got. If you admitted guilt you were released and all your land taken, if you did not admit guilt you would be hanged (and your land taken). Oh, and you had to pay the hangman's fee! This was the first time in history that a guilty plea meant freedom and an innocence plea meant death! Again, were there no adults in this town?! These ‘Mean Girls’ were getting on my wick, if they were around today they’d probably be on social media cancelling and ghosting people for being slightly different.


Still on a witch high, we visited the official city run Salem Witch Museum. The town is replete with museums but this was Dom's favorite. We sat in an auditorium and mannequin scenes unfolded before us explaining how the trials started, how they ended, why they happened, and what lessons we learned.

It seems before the witch madness, Salem was a town trying to establish itself and disputes were common. Declaring people witches and carting them off was a handy way to seize land. The powers that be didn't engineer the emergence of witches but it sure did help their greed. Given the animosity that was growing over the land wars, people were ripe to declare their neighbour a demon. I get that, we’ve lived in apartment blocks with some tulips in our time, I’d happily send them to the gallows if it meant an afternoon of not hearing them rowing over cleaning the dishes, again.

The afflicted girls were from Puritan stock, forbidden to play, talk to boys, etc. The Afro Caribbean slave sharing her culture with the girls unknowingly opened up a Pandora's box of mischief. There is some speculation that the girls may have been poisoned thus causing the seizures. But from their own confessions afterwards it seems accepted that the girls were creating their own fun! The cause was chalked up as “adolescent hysteria”.

The museum also pointed out that given the first accused witch was Tituba the black slave, it was her word as a black woman against these white girls, given the racial prejudice 'justice’ would have fallen on the white side.

The hysteria all came to a head after a year of trials when the wife of the Governor of Massachusetts was accused of being a witch. He called the whole thing off.

According to the museum guide, one of the men that gained a lot from the trials was Cotton Mather. He wanted to become the President of Harvard but after his involvement in the trials, the college politely declined. Enraged, he set up a rival University and named it after the biggest donor - Elihu Yale.

The museum concluded that it was one year of madness and the first and last time America has let fear overrule common sense (well, some may argue ruling by fear mongering is Trump's brand). In our current world of Twitter, Facebook, foreign meddling in elections, despots, crazypots, and killer pathogens - we are fuelled by fear, whether we know it or not. Have we really learned anything at all? (Of course we have, I’m an optimist, I’m fairly certain, pretty sure, that Biden has it in the bag...probably).

Mischievious pumpkin

Before we left the museum they talked of our misunderstanding of witches. It all began with midwives who would help birth and nurse children and provide herbal cures. These cures were seen as magic. People imagined midwives flying in the sky as a benevolent wish of protection to ward off evils from a town.

Over time this supposed magic was seen as a pagan threat to Christianity and the clergy weighed in painting these midwives as witch doctors. The green face, pointy hat, good witch versus bad witch came about with the writing of the Wizard of Oz.

Modern day witches do not see themselves as evil. They worship the seasons and a god and a goddess. They believe whatever you do will come back to you threefold (uh oh, my Catholic guilt is currently rollodexing it’s way through all my mistakes and blunders).

My ancient Irish ancestors were Celtic Pagans (which a lot of this new age Wiccan religion is based on) so I am familiar with the concept, they are regular peaceful nature loving folk, but I still can't shake that if you call yourself a witch, c'mon, you're cooking up more than apple pie in that cauldron of yours. Then again, Catholics say a wafer is the body and blood of Christ...we’re all hanging out in fantasyland, live and let live.

I was just following orders

FINALLY we were all witched out so we took a different turn and went to visit the Pirate Museum. Salem is a maritime town and does try to co-brand as such but in reality every tourist is coming here to see the town that lost its mind to witchcraft.

The Pirate Museum brings you through some pirate tales and on board a makeshift ship. Pirates were nasty pieces of work; cutting off ears, severing heads, with a ho ho ho and a bottle of rum, but successful pirates made a killing. As recently as 1995 an ancient pirate shipwreck was found just 200 meters off the coast of America. It had 30 million dollars worth of gold and jewels onboard, some had fallen to the bottom of the ocean, impossible to recover. Alas, according to maritime law you cannot claim your findings at sea until all of the treasure is recovered. Bummer Dude!

We all know the Jolly Roger pirate flag of the skull and crossbones, but in the beginning all pirates would have had a plain black flag to indicate they were affiliated with no country and therefore no laws (my 6 year old has a similar life philosophy). Over time pirates would paint their own symbols on the flags in white and red.

Each pirate on a ship would earn a “share” of the pirate booty they would procure. If you lost a leg, eye, hand in combat and kept with the crew you would get a second share to help set yourself up with an honest life when you hit shore. When I think ‘pirate’, I do always think peg leg, hook hand and eye patch (that said, they don’t feature much in my daily ponderings). Maybe next time I’m faced with an awkward social encounter I’ll think “What would Captain Hook do?”

When the last exhibit in the museum was of a man holding a bloody severed head we decided we had filled Róisín's own head with enough ghoulish things to last a lifetime and shipped out of there. We had planned to go to the House of the 7 Gables but changed our minds as a house of gothic horror is probably not on a four year olds ‘Must See’ list.

We grabbed dinner and watched flood warning signs go up as the town became waterlogged. We pulled out of town before we were trapped there for Halloween. God knows what spookiness level the town rises to on that day, one day we'll swoop back to find out.

Back in 2020 with Halloween confined to a virtual online party and a socially distanced ‘boo’ with the neighbours, I’ll have to focus my fear and horror on next week’s election.

Good witch versus Bad witch...who is the House going to land on?

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