This post was first published on SPINE Online, October 31st, 2018.
In the early 90’s Wicca, a branch of Paganism, became officially recognized as a religion despite developing activity in the 1940’s. This acceptance of a religion that actively promotes the idea of witchcraft and rituals shows that society has developed quite a bit since the time of the Salem Witch trials.
The Salem witch trials were a horrifying time that was founded in hysteria and paranoia that spread throughout the community, spurring people to isolate suspicious members and accuse them of treachery and consorting with the devil. These accusations were particularly devastating because torture and a biased justice system followed, and ended with a death sentence. More than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft, with a high number of the accused being women, but only 20 overall were executed.
Present day Salem has changed quite a bit since the days of the witch trials. Nearly 1500 local women have publically announced their status as witches, and have helped establish a strong witch tourism trend in the area. Storefronts publically announce fortune readings and a variety offer spellcasting. This tourism feeds off of the deliberate atmosphere that Salem has promoted, by hosting a variety of events like ghost tours and parades celebrating the dead. These events are popularized with the intent in gaining economic revenue, and sustaining the area.
Witchcraft has gained popularity due to the change in popular culture. People have grown up with television shows like Bewitched and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, as well as books like the Harry Potter series. Typically, witches are presented as positive members of their respective societies. The shift in trends pushed witchcraft into a popular light and in turn popularized Wicca.
However, with this tourism so fixated on the promotion of witchcraft as well as theatrical performances, the question of historic sensitivity comes to light. The Salem witch trials had represented massive torment within a community, but less attention is being focused on the historical sufferings that people faced and instead being put on celebrating Halloween inspired events to promote revenue streams.
It can be argued that this is an attempt to take and transform the brutality into something positive. The witches of Salem suffered because a powerful group of men occupied positions of power in the justice system. It can be powerful, retaking a brutal narrative and turning it into something positive that celebrates women. Women in Salem today no longer need to hide their identities and are able to commemorate these differences in lifestyle.
The Puritan church leaders must be rolling in their graves as women actively participate in their community based off of witchcraft and rituals. Salem witchcraft attracts a wide variety of tourists who want to participate in the customs and traditions, and also engage with the festive events that Salem hosts.
The power of the original Salem witches clearly lives on in Salem today, as generations later they are still remembered. If you’re interested in checking out some tourism related to these events, check out the official website for Salem.
Rachel Small is not a small person and might be the present day reincarnation of Lizzie Borden. She crawled to life one night after midnight in the basement of a bookstore.