witchcraft

Salem Witchy Tourism

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.

Photo courtesy of Rondell Melling via Pixabay.com

Photo courtesy of Rondell Melling via Pixabay.com

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.

Photo courtesy of Coco Parisienne via Pixabay.com

Photo courtesy of Coco Parisienne via Pixabay.com


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Rachel Small

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.

Rehmeyer's Hollow

Braucherei is a combination of religion and folk magic, and was seen as a kind of “faith healing” and a form of witchcraft. Many German immigrants settling in Pennsylvania between the late 1600s and 1800s were practitioners of braucherei. They followed the guidelines of the Bible and the Long Lost Friend—a book of spells, rituals, and remedies. Each practitioner had their own copy, and users of the book were called braucher, or powwowers (“pow-wow” being another name for the Long Lost Friend). Many of them had settled in York County, Pennsylvania, where even those who didn’t practice braucherei themselves held a strong belief in its power.

Photo courtesy of Olivia Notter via Flickr.

Photo courtesy of Olivia Notter via Flickr.

John Blymire was born into a family of respected powwowers in 1896. However, he became extremely ill as a boy and suffered rapid weight loss. His family, unable to cure him, believed that he had been hexed. They sought out Nelson Rehmeyer, a well-known powwower who frequently used his practice to help others in need. After examining the boy, Rehmeyer gave his family these instructions: boil an egg in John’s urine, poke three holes in the shell and place it on an anthill for the ants to consume.

Skeptics, feel free to comment, but in the Blymires’ eyes, this prescription seemed to have cured the boy of all illness. John quickly gained back all of the weight he had lost and was healthier than before. Inspired by his healing, John began to learn the art of powwowing himself.

When he became an adult, he moved to York, where he married a young woman named Lily. Their marriage didn’t last though; all of the symptoms from his childhood illness came back, and John believed that he had once again been hexed. Thanks to the words of a dark powwower named Andrew C. Lenhart—that his hex had been caused by someone he was close to—John began to suspect Lily was his hexer. His suspicion was amplified when he realized that he had lost his power to heal, and Lily divorced him for his accusations.

Desperate for a cure, John sought out the witch Nellie Noll, who told him the face of his hexer would appear on his palm if he looked at a $1 bill. Rehmeyer’s face appeared, and while initially torn about the outcome, John did not question it: his faith had never failed him before.

Photo Courtesy of Randy Roberts via Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Randy Roberts via Flickr

Noll offered him two solutions: he could either steal a lock of Rehmeyer’s hair, and bury it 6-feet under the ground, or steal his copy of the Long Lost Friend and burn it. John chose to go after the book.

Knowing he would not be able to convince Rehmeyer to hand over his book, John enlisted the help of teenagers John Curry and Wilbur Hess. Together, they broke into Rehmeyer’s house in the middle of the night. Instead of simply stealing it, however, they tied Rehmeyer to a kitchen chair and beat him, hoping he would surrender the Long Lost Friend. He didn’t.

Just as none of them thought to just take a clipping of his hair and leave, none of them had thought to disguise themselves or even be quiet in their assault. And since Rehmeyer knew who his assailants were, they couldn’t just leave. They strangled him to death and set the house ablaze after retrieving Rehmeyer’s Long Lost Friend. All of this unnecessary violence didn’t reward John: nothing got better for him.

Photo courtesy of Sherrie via Flickr

Photo courtesy of Sherrie via Flickr

It turned out that the fire failed to burn Rehmeyer’s house down, and the three men were quickly connected to the crime. They were put on trial and sentenced to prison. And John’s hex still consumed him. When he finished his sentence and was released from jail, he died. Tale of the “York County Hex Murder” spread like wildfire. Thanks to the negative exposure from Rehmeyer’s death, powwowing lost followers and faded away as a practice (at least in North America).

Nowadays, people have often sighted smoke rising from the abandoned house, and claim that Nelson’s spirit haunts the place. But was Rehmeyer actually responsible for hexing John? Nellie Noll was well-known herself as the Marietta River Witch, so many speculate that John’s hex was a trick created by Noll to eliminate her competition.

If you want to hear more about John Blymire’s tragic tale, I highly recommend you check out Lore’s telling in their episode “Desperate Measures”. Click this link to be transported post-haste!


Michelle Bonga

Michelle is a wandering soul. She doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life. She hopes she’s doing something right. She is a great person to talk to; doesn’t talk much herself. If you’re nice, she’ll haunt you forever. Or until she’s bored.

The Beggar's Drum

We’re turning back the clocks, fair readers, to the year 1661. In the southwestern reaches of England, you’ll find a town called Tedworth (now called Tidworth), where the following tale takes place.

John Mompesson was a lover of peace, quiet, and tranquillity. When he heard of a beggar named William Drury drumming in the streets without a licence, he pressed charges against him. Drury was taken to trial and had his drum taken away by the authorities, which was kept at Mompesson’s house for safekeeping. He would not see Drury after the trial; Mompesson left on a trip to London. There would no comforts found in his home upon return.

Photo courtesy of the British Library via Flickr.

Photo courtesy of the British Library via Flickr.

Since locking Drury’s drum away, Mompesson and his family often heard the sound of men pounding around their homestead at night. Yet every time he went to confront these hooligans, the sounds stopped, and no one could be found. Eventually, nightfall began to parade in more sinister, chilling noises. These would soon escalate and join together to imitate the hollow heartbeat of a drum.

Although the rhythm carried out each night, the drumming was no longer what disturbed Mompesson and his family. A Bible had been thrown into the fireplace, and invisible forces would follow and attack his children. Beastly panting was often felt in the hallways. One of Mompesson’s servants managed to communicate with one of the forces, asking it to bring him a wooden board he needed for repairs. The force complied.

Image courtesy of  Saducismus Triumphatus  (1681)

Image courtesy of Saducismus Triumphatus (1681)

Another servant—also named John—was a favourite target of torment: his bedsheets would be ripped from him at night, and wrestling matches often ensued. A priest was brought in for a consultation, but even he could not offer any solution or comfort. Any holy interference seemed to agitate the unseen and amplify the activity. Before long, the phenomenon had grown strong enough to manifest a voice of its own, but for the most part only chanted: “A witch, a witch! I am a witch!”

Townsfolk were completely aware of the commotion: neighbours and passersby could hear the steady beat as well. None of them were personally afflicted, so this was strictly a phenomenon to torment the Mompessons. However, those staying overnight on the Mompesson property would collect experiences of their own.

Reverend Joseph Glanvill, a renowned skeptic of the supernatural, was invited to stay the night and bear witness to the events that had occurred for over a year at this point. He, too, experienced the disembodied panting, objects that moved inexplicably, and the children’s suffering (for the forces loved to torment them the most). Glanvill concluded that the household was plagued by a demon or malevolent spirit—a conclusion Mompesson himself had already come to. Glanvill would be of no use to him.

Mompesson believed that Drury had died and that his experiences were because of a curse the beggar set upon him for having his drum taken away.

Image courtesy of the British Library on Flickr.

Image courtesy of the British Library on Flickr.

Drury was not dead though; in the summer of 1663 the very much still alive Drury had escaped from jail—where he was supposed to be serving time for theft charges—and bought himself another drum. While far from being dead he did, however, place the curse on Mompesson, bragging about it wherever he went.

Mompesson once again brought Drury to trial, where Drury openly admitted to using witchcraft to hex the Mompesson family. In an attempt to barter for his freedom, Drury promised to lift the curse. But his freedom was not in Mompesson’s hands: Drury was sentenced to the colonies for other crimes he had committed.

No one knows for sure what became of him though: ship captains were reluctant to transport him due to his “supernatural capabilities”. And the legends fall short for Mompesson as well—had he finally been relieved? Or had the rest of his days been marked by the beating of the drum? There are no conclusive endings to this tale; the true ending had long been dropped from the years.


So was this a case of actual witchcraft, or simply a legend created to add colour to Tidworth? Let us know what you think in the comments, or find us on Facebook and Twitter.


Michelle Bonga

Michelle is a wandering soul. She doesn’t know what she’s doing with her life. She hopes she’s doing something right. She is a great person to talk to; doesn’t talk much herself. If you’re nice, she’ll haunt you forever. Or until she’s bored.

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