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I recently had the opportunity to visit Salem, Massachusetts for the first time. I have heard mixed reviews from enthusiast and skeptics alike, but I always take these things with a grain of salt until I can have the experience myself. Home of the storied Salem with trials, Salem has been a sort of mecca for the curious, the morbidly fascinated, and those who actually identify as witches for a very long time. If there weren’t actually witches in Salem in 1692 there are plenty there now, as Salem now boast a robust and flourishing community of practitioners of all kinds. I had the good fortune to visit Salem twice on my recent visit to Boston.
My first visit was lead by friends who knew Salem well and were able to give me some historical facts and local legend. We wandered around and visited some of their favourite hot spots. A week later I did what I do best. I took a train by myself and wandered aimlessly. I listened, I observed, and I got a feel for the air around me. I walked away from the busy areas, I took a closer look at some of the historical sites, and I let myself be immersed in even the “tourist trap” parts of town. I got lunch, some souvenirs, and a tarot reading, and I left with a better understanding of the space that is Salem, MA than I had before.
I have always felt that Salem’s history was not accurately “witch” history, but our community has made it an extremely positive and enriching place in which to be a witch. I’m sure some of the schools and classes are better than others, but anywhere a rose bush can grow so can a weed. The trick is in telling the two apart and appreciating the roses. The resources are there, especially off the beaten path. Sure there are overpriced tchotchkes, dime a dozen ritual supplies, and “celebrity” fortune tellers riding the wave of tourists, but if you don’t mind doing a little digging you can really find genuinely useful things. I searched all day before I made a decision where to get my cards read, and I was extremely pleased with my decision.
At the end of a tour about the portrayal and perception of witches throughout history I found myself taken aback at the oversimplification of modern day practitioners, and even more so at my reaction to hearing myself referred to as “they” in such an off the mark explanation. I thought more about this as I stood in front of a statue of Samantha from TV’s Bewitched. To some of the local witches the statue is offensive. To me it is a reminder of a very strong reality. Throughout history we have defined and taught about cultures, religions, and subcultures not by how they are explained by the people who live them but by those who observe and report. History may be written by the victor, but it is painted through the filters and personal biases of the witness.
No, Salem’s history is not witch history, it’s American history. It’s human history. It’s the history of what happens when people in power use “fact” and “science” to justify persecution and death of a less popular idea. The history of hysteria and group manipulation is much much darker than any other history out there because it bleeds into the history of women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights. It’s a blight felt by those with disabilities and those low on the socio-economic ladder. This is not just our history, it’s your history, too.
All in all I’m glad I went to Salem, not just because of some of the neat souvenirs I found, the insight I found in my tarot reading, or the wealth of historical gems found among the cheesy tourist attractions, but because it gave me a better understanding of how I look at people and how I connect with all my roots, not just the pagan ones, and reminded me that we all need to be aware of how we react to those with differences as well as how we absorb and react to blanket facts and data. In the 1600′s science and the process of deduction lead to the deaths of innocent people. Has much really changed since then?
I remember very little about her aside from the fact that she was not the sister I had asked Santa for. I was an only child, but not in the “only child syndrome way. I was quiet, self-entertaining, and very protective of my privacy. Still, I had always wanted a sister to share my life with. Then my mom started dating Russ, who just happened to have a daughter my age. I was ecstatic. Finally, I would have a sister! Unfortunately, what I got was Chassey.
In addition to the fact that she came as part of a package with her father, who was loud, rude, verbally abusive, and constantly trying to intimidate me behind my mother’s back, Chassey had all the grace of a llama with a bag over its head. She was bratty and had absolutely no respect for me or my things. At seven this bothered me extremely, because I was a very reserved child who took very good care of things I knew we couldn’t easily replace.
Every time Chassey spent the night she had to sleep in my bed. I’d lay there all night unable to sleep through her snoring and farting in my bed, that’s right, farting in my bed! When she was awake it was worse. Because she wouldn’t do her homework on her own I was forced out of my quiet room and my brand new desk to sit with her at the kitchen table while she whined and kicked me under the table. I quickly learned to hide anything important to me because she dumped a whole cup of water all over my coveted Disney Princess watercolor book. That was the final straw. No one messed with my Disney Princesses!
I can’t say I was sad when my mom broke up with Russ. I also can’t say that I ever wished for a sister again. Instead I learned to love the fact that I could choose my family and surround myself with sisters, brothers, and all kinds of others. It is this change of perspective that has directed me to treat my close friends like family, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I was taken aback today when Hubby told me he thinks the internet and social media has killed the gesture of writing love letters. Granted, he is not much of a sentimental guy unless the mood strikes him, so to him it doesn’t make any sense to write me something he can’t just tell me the next time he sees me or talks to me on the phone. He doesn’t email, doesn’t Facebook, and doesn’t text unless there’s a pressing issue with a gun to his head, and he has only written me a handful of cards and letters. So, he’s not a words guy. He makes up for it.
Maybe this brings to memory the post where I lamented the disappearance of the printed word, but is written word also endangered? Will our grandchildren have to hear recounts of text messages and Facebook wall posts? Have men forgotten that women like cards and cutesy notes? Do we still like cards and cutesy notes?
Perhaps I’m a sentimentalist and love letters have run their course, but I enjoy finding little words scribbled on paper and tucked away for me to find. Ok, so I am a bit sentimental, but what’s wrong with that? Why is it unacceptable to be a hopeless romantic these days, and why should social media and the global community change us? I’m all for a cutesy YouTube video or an iPod list (They’re the new mix tape, ya know), but give me something I can hold when my Android battery dies. Give me something to cry on that won’t short out if I do so. Give me something to stick in a shoebox in the attic so our grandchildren can read them at our 50th anniversary. Adversely, give me something to burn if we don’t work out and I need emotional release. I can’t keep replacing iPods like this.
There is no way to list all the women in history who have changed the world in which we live. Just the same there is no rubric for which ones deserve the most acclaim and the unique privilege of being written about in the blog of yours truly. If I sat and poured over the timeline of women’s history, I’d end up with an overwhelming number of women who made it possible to even have such a blog, or even the ability to read and write. Let’s get a little more personal than all that and honor the women who have made the most impact on my history. The list is long, but I will cover a few.
Let’s start at birth. I come from a long line of strong women on both sides. My great-grandmothers overcame hardships and stigmas, and sometimes had to be a little creative or daring, to make sure their families were provided for. While one worked as a Rosie the Riveter, another sold moonshine from her basement during Prohibition. My grandmothers joined the work force as career women. My mother, a diabetic since early childhood, knew the risks of continuing her pregnancy with me but did it anyway. She lost her sight in the process. Not only did she adapt, and being discontent with being “disabled”, she flourished in both her career at a local community college and her personal life. She made sure I always knew I was loved, and she never sacrificed a good time. Beautiful both inside and out, she taught me through her actions and words that grace and strength are not exclusive to each other. Without this I would not be the woman I am today.
There have been several teachers in my life who have made a huge difference. My 5th grade teacher, Ms Borges fed the writing bug and encouraged me to write poetry. We still talk to this day. She may be appalled to find my writing success is thus far limited to the scope of a blog. Then I went to high school, an all female, former boarding school connected to a Catholic convent, whose catch phrase at the time was, “Where Young Women Exceed Expectations!” There I encountered the likes of Ms. Sutter, lovingly referred to as Ms Debbie. I may have been less than adept at the French language, but I learned invaluable lessons about individuality that have given me the courage to be the woman I want to be instead of the woman others want me to be. There were other women on the administration who inspired me and taught me more about myself than about the subjects they covered, because while I remember very little about high school physics I will always be prepared to prove my worth and strength as a person rather than as a woman.
Last but not least, and I hope I don’t embarrass her, is one of my best friends. I have watched her sacrifice everything she has for her son, friends, sisters, and parents without asking for anything in return. One of my first female friends in Philadelphia, she became like a sister to me years later as roommates. She has coached and held me through sickness, break-ups, and personal crises, and has never judged me for any of it. She is a beacon of perseverance and the quintessence of resilience. I have seen her bounce back from a fall more times than I can count, and she never lets it get her down for too long. Because of her I am never afraid to be an individual, nor do I view mistakes as fatal. She has taught me to laugh at myself and never take anyone too seriously. She embodies the saying, “those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Thank you, Cat, for always being willing to laugh at me, and for always being honest even if it might hurt my feelings.
This list is by no means complete, but these women are on my mind and in my heart as I look up at posters of Amelia Earhart and Marie Curie. The women I have written about deserve a bit of recognition for the impact they have had on my world every bit as much as any woman in a history book. Think about the women in your own lives, my friends, and whether or not they know what a difference they have made. Maybe it’s time they learned.
Go now, hug your matriarchs!
A good friend of mine wrote a blog this week about the possibility of printed literature becoming an endangered species. I remember the feeling I had when I realized my VHS tapes were defunct and my portable CD player was rather archaic. I also know the feeling I get from holding a 10″ record, catching its aged scent as I place the needle to let anything from Louis Armstrong to Tchaikovsky teach me about times in which my current form did not exist. While I do own an iPod and a computer, and while I admit I would have no readers at all if not for blogging, I dread a day when books are a rare commodity.
On a very basic level, I enjoy reading for hours at a time. The eye strain and headaches I get from staring at a screen all day at work make me not exactly thrilled about staring at that of a Kindle. What kind of book-burning name is “Kindle” anyway? I imagine they could come in handy for students on a budget or anyone on the move without the capacity to carry paper books, but I enjoy being able to tuck post-it notes in my text books to more easily access the important passages. I’m sure somewhere there is a highlight or tab function on a Kindle, but my compulsion for categorization requires various colours and codes.
On a more detrimental note, at least in my opinion as a bibliophile and history enthusiast, is the impact the “digital revolution” will have on our descendants and their knowledge about our world. Envision this. Some catastrophe causes the human race to thin out considerably, possibly even dying out completely in some places. Centuries later, once the world has repopulated and formed new ways of thinking and doing, archaeologists dig up the ruins of our “modern age”. They don’t find books that speak of our history, philosophies, inventions, and cultures. They don’t find diaries or travel journals. They don’t find photographs of spectacular landmarks, celebrated people, and every day life. They don’t even find paintings. Instead, they find useless chunks of plastic, glass, and metal in various shapes and sizes. Unable to access any of the coded information, a world of knowledge no longer exists. Our descendants will know nothing of the world that preceded them. Our identity will be gone. There will be no art, no literature, and no way for the world to know what we accomplished in our time on this planet. We will cease to exist. Convenience items like the Kindle, computers, and digital photo frames do nothing to serve future generations. Once the power drains from them or the electronic components wear out they are nothing more than empty casing.
Some of you may not know this, but I collect old books. I’m not sure you can call all of them antique, but I do own quite a few of those as well. I care little about famous titles or how much they are worth to buyers or other collectors. I acquire what appeals to me for no other reason than that it makes me happy to look through what children were reading in 1843 or what a housewife may have been taking a break with in 1937. I have learned a lot about differences, and often about surprising similarities, in thought and form of communication through printed word since the days of Gutenberg.
While I have no problems accepting new technology and developments, I also hope there are others who love and revere books as much as I do and who see the merit in keeping the art form alive.
Go now, my friends. Cuddle up with a good book.
It seems only right that I should start a new blog with a story about the woman who inspired me to write something more useful than I have been. Her name is Dolores Ashcroft Nowicki, and last weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to sit and listen to her give a three day lecture on the Egyptian pantheon. Honestly, she could have discussed how to remove lint from the bed sheets and it would have been just as enjoyable. Dolores is an elder among elders, and a teacher to us all. To listen to her talk is akin to sitting around a grandmother on a stormy night, as she gives a sense of confidence, safety, and community no matter how dark or torrential the world outside may seem. We have more to take in that anything we can learn from a lecture, record in a notebook, or publish in a book. I feel I have been given an opportunity that future generations will never have, because she exudes and energy and inspires in a way I could never convey to anyone who has not experienced it personally. In the same vein, Dolores makes her audience feel like a close friend, a confidante, family. While she is present, one feels as though he is the only one, or among an intimate crowd, around which Dolores’ world centers, and indeed he is. All of her energy focuses on the faces, hearts, and souls before her, as if we were her children. At the end of her time speaking with us she imparts her final words of wisdom, faith, and love and sends a bit of her heart and soul home with each and every one of us with an emotional connection forged strong enough in a mere three days to make one want to cry and stay at her side forever just to hear her words. This is the embodiment of our path. This is our legacy. This is where one realizes that she is part of something huge. This is where I am inspired to make this path not just the path I live, but to make it my life. This is my smack in the face. This is my calling. This is that voice inside me screaming, “you have a higher purpose than this! Get out of bed and do it!” This is the assurance that I have not closed all my doors, that there is still something greater in this world for me. This is a god-form-kick-in-the-astral-ass, and I am no longer content or willing to sit here and let the noise of the mundane life drown out what is imperative that I hear and heed. This, Dolores, is my empowerment.